July 2010 Issue
My Ohio: Roadside Attractions
A trip through Ohio reveals humorous, oddball and sometimes poignant messages.
Some people stop and smell the roses. I drive and read the signs.
I am a connoisseur of road signs. Not the highway billboards raised by folks with advertising budgets and spell check; I mean the homemade signs I pass on back roads. They may be as temporary as a Dollar Store marker on cardboard, or solid as a rented marquee rolled across a gravel parking lot, trailing a power cord. But there is real wisdom there, mixed in with pleas for lost dogs and the endless quest for fill dirt.
A mile of county blacktop is better than the Louvre. We are Picassos, once freed from the bonds of pretense and grammar.
I recall a diner in Wayne County that offered a Zen special, “Two eggs and Taost” and I wondered if an order would make me wise. Sometimes good intentions rub against the company name. Last fall the sign at Drop Dead Tattoos in Lorain County read “Thank You Veterans — Drop Dead.” (I think I could be happy at a job where I could answer the phone, “Drop Dead.”)
Country churches shine. Many post Scripture or social notices, pointing the way to eternal life or the next spaghetti supper. But proverbs and potlucks are no match for a deacon with a twinkle in his eye and a box of snap-on consonants. “CH___CH, What’s Missing?” read one I passed north of Lebanon. I laughed out loud after I figured it out.
I remember a pizza parlor in LaGrange that advertised “rivers Wanted.” I am pretty sure the D had dropped off, but it was a pretty thought anyway. Poetry has been woven from less.
I do not pass a lot of sadness, but there is some. In a neighborhood of sagging porches and turned-out pockets I read: “Yard Sale. Clothes TV Baby.” I think I know what they meant. I hope I do.
More often I see signs of happiness, such as those at the end of a driveway welcoming home a staff sergeant or some private first class. There is no poster board wide enough to hold all that joy.
And when the produce stands blossom, the landscape will have subtitles — “Cuke” signs will bloom again on Route 83 from Killbuck to White Woman’s Rock, Polters in Fremont will offer berries almost too pretty to eat, and just about any green place from Williams Center to Warrenton will be renamed “Sweet Corn.”
As I drive, I try to put a face to each sign. I imagine the owner of that diner, who has spelled “toast” about as many times as he has served it. That morning he was distracted, because he was going to tell a good waitress he had to let her go. These are tough times, people tell me, to build a life on hash browns. I conjure the buzz of the parlor needle and picture a young woman declaring her individuality by getting a tattoo just like the one in a music video. She will find community in the inky embrace of the body illustrated, once the bandage comes off.
We are born to community, I guess. I do not know if that marks us as Ohioans, or Americans, or just people. Neighborliness is in our DNA. We like to share our stories, even if that means tacking them to an oak tree with a staple gun, until the wind takes them down.
Beauty is in the windshield of the beholder, I suppose. My friends do not see much to admire in a cardboard arrow pointing to a yard sale where you can buy the complete works of Shakespeare or most of a ’73 Plymouth — at least the important parts. They race through life on the interstate, trusting in a GPS and their deductible.
I am happy in the kingdom of U Pick M. Elms and fence posts are waiting there to tell me stories, in crayon. Poetry has been woven from less.
John Hyduk is a freelance writer based in Fairview Park.