MAD DOG: Signs of the Times

I recently took a trip up the California coast and back down the center, and if there's one thing I learned -- aside from the fact that there isn't enough salsa in the world to make a three-day-old half-eaten burrito that rolls out from under the car seat taste as good as when it was fresh -- it's that there are way too many signs in this world.

Some signs are useful. The ones that tell you how far the next town is are wonderful. Of course they'd be better if a huge truck wasn't always in the way when you want to see them. Signs that let you know what road you're on are good too, especially since if you're like me you spend half your time wondering if you're still on Hwy 101 or whether you should have taken that turn about twenty miles back. And McDonald's signs are always welcome, not because you're desperate for food, but because it means you'll be able to go to the bathroom without worrying about whether anyone can see you standing behind the open car door, wondering what to do with that now full Coke can, or feeling like you have to buy a cup of coffee at the Gouge-Mart so you can use their facilities, knowing that if you do you're going to have to pull over again in fifteen minutes to eliminate it. And hope no one sees you standing behind your open car door.

The first odd sign on this trip was in Sebastopol. It's common as you drive through small towns to see signs promoting fundraising meals, such as the Fire Department's pancake breakfast, the Kiwanis' Sunday tri-tip BBQ, and the high school's spaghetti dinner which they hope will raise enough money to send thirty students to Dubuque for the state udder painting finals. But in Sebastopol they do things differently. I passed a Buddhist center there with a big sign out front that read: "Teriyaki -- July 7th."

Many of the road signs we see are put up by state workers who have a good sense of humor. I was driving down the windiest road ever created -- you know, all hairpin turns with a steep drop down either side. After a few miles of crawling along at 4 mph and chugging Dramamine I came across a sign that said, "Winding road, next 6 miles." Now that put a scare into me. Even scarier is the fact that I wrote a note to myself about this while driving that road.

Another favorite highway sign is the one that says "Speed enforced by airplane." I don't believe it, do you? Think about it. Even if they did use planes you'd hear them coming and slow down. After all, airplanes aren't known for their ability to sneak up on you. Of course I guess that's what they said at Pearl Harbor and we all know how that turned out -- they took out a bunch of old battleships and gave us Pokemon and Hello Kitty in return.

If the state really wants people to obey these "Speed enforced by airplane" signs they should think about making them more imposing. They could do this by putting pictures of the B-2 Stealth Bomber on them -- that would certainly let you know they mean business. Well, either that or you'd think it was the international symbol of "Government Money Dump Ahead."

Another sign I saw recently was in the middle of the Mojave desert, where they see less rainfall in a year than Gary Coleman has had sex in his lifetime. Yet there it was, telling you that the road is "Subject to flooding." I saw a hospital sign with an arrow directing people to "Patient Discharge." Right, like there's a line forming to get this week's 20 gallon ration of used mucous and pus. I saw a sign at a KFC that announced an "All U Can Eat Buffet." Underneath it they advertised "Drive-thru". Now that's going to be one slow moving line. And last week I watched the end of "Survivor" and the beginning of "Big Brother", both of which are signs. Unfortunately they're signs of the devil.

Speaking of the devil, it's amazing how many signs are dedicated to him on the road, and I don't just mean Rt. 666 in Utah. On this last trip I stopped at Devil's Kitchen in Lassen Volcanic National Park. In the past I've seen Devil's Punchbowl, Devil's Elbow, and Devil's Lake in Oregon. I've seen Devil's Valley, Devil's Golf Course, Devil's Garden, and Devil's Cornfield in California. I've also eaten deviled eggs and deviled ham, but I was smart enough not to do it at any of these places. Hey, I'm not going to push my luck.

It's interesting that so many places are named after the devil while so few are named after God. Sure there's God's Country, God's Little Acre, and God's Big Mistake (that's Newark to you), but shouldn't God get equal billing? Wouldn't it make you feel a whole lot better to be driving down the road and see signs saying, "God's Kneecap -- 5 miles" or "God's Tennis Court, Next Exit"? Even better, how about "God's Gouge-Mart -- Public Bathrooms." Now there's a sign I could get behind.

More Mad Dog can be found online at His novel, Skywriting at Night, is available from Xlibris Corporation.

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