Yesterday, we drove to the Pittsburgh airport to pick up my niece Eva. Since I didn’t have time to write a blog post before we left, I contented myself with jotting down some of the messages I found along the way.

On Route 22 west of Altoona, a billboard proclaims The Power of More. Another billboard exhorts us to Think BIG, and a third, advertising surcharge-free ATMs, touts Money for Nothing. I will see each of these billboards at least once more before we reach our destination. Advertisers pretty much always believe in the power of more, don’t they?

McDonald’s Is Now Hiring People Just Like You. No doubt.

Fight Mannequinism. Uh, O.K. A mile further, also on the left-hand side of the road, we pass a church marquee: If Ignorance is Bliss, Why Aren’t More People Happy? Good question. I think I’m going to keep my eyes on the right from now on.

Thirty miles from Pittsburgh, we pass the World-Famous Climax Drive-Thru, a “Gentleman’s Club” in which one does not need to get out of one’s car in order to view a strip show. That might be a better arrangement for everybody, I’m thinking. A few miles further, a sign advertises Bee Hive Live Dancers. I’m picturing strippers with very big hair.

I guess you could call this the strip strip.

Big Flavor, Little Price, says a billboard for something called Getgo’s. A couple miles further and there’s the store. Funny how that works.

You get an odd impression, driving along a big highway that bypasses all the towns, that stores far outnumber shoppers, and that Western Pennsylvania is nothing but strip malls. Where are all the people?

Right before the mammoth Monroeville Mall, where Dawn of the Dead was filmed, there’s a short section of road with four massive furniture stores, one after another. The Power of More. When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth, as the tagline for Dawn of the Dead put it.

Then we merge with Rt. 376, and an even odder phenomenon appears: the median-strip flower garden–a couple beds of petunias and some severely trimmed little bushes–featuring a big green sign with gold letters. The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy: Saving the Places We Care About.

I don’t know about you, but I personally don’t care about median strips at all. They are pretty much non-places, in my estimation. The same goes for highway interchanges, where some of the other prominently signed petunia beds are sited. Once upon a time, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy was a reputable, science-based land trust dedicated to saving, you know, forests and stuff. Now they’re a glorified garden club.

In all, we spot five of their gardens between the Squirrel Hill Tunnel and the Pittsburgh International Airport. The petunias all look the same, but each sign is different, because each includes a different list of sponsors–Mellon Bank, the Heinz Foundation, whatever. Money For Nothing.

2 Replies to “Signs”

  1. Oh, this is *funny*…in large part because I’ve driven through Pennsylvania several times and know the kind of strip malls you’re talking and about, and in larger part because I grew up in an area of suburban Denver that was *all* strip malls radiating like spokes from the central main mall. Median strips, though? I’ve never thought enough about them to have an opinion, really; which says more about them and their importance than having an opinion, in a way.

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