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FROM THE VALLEY: Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign

By Tom Valley

On my way back from a short stay at the St. Lawrence River, I took notice of the various signs I passed along the way. Some were normal highway information and some were – in my opinion – nothing more than roadside litter.

Just my dog, Maggie, and I were making the trip. My wife decided to stay a few extra days and work on fixing the things that I thought I had already fixed, but … yeah … whatever.

Back to the trip. First, let me make something clear: I get the concept of advertising. I understand the need to get your product's name out there and the financial gain for landowners and sign companies. That's fine. My issue is with redundant messaging (more redundancy ahead) placed close together in a short stretch (told ya) on huge nature-stealing billboards. It's the equivalent of “Hurt on a plane, find someone to blame” incessant TV recitations; they're impossible to escape.

As an example: About a half-an-hour after I started out, I approached the beautiful area of Alexandria Bay. There were several gigantic billboards advertising the same local motel. As I got closer I noticed that the first one boasted of a “free breakfast.” A few yards down the road, another one read something to the effect that “you can't beat a free breakfast.” And then again, another … “can you smell the bacon, yet?” All within a mile. Ridiculous.

Who in their right mind is going to fall for such obnoxious, man-made blight, greedily placed in such a scenic part of the state and buy into their cheap, shallow enticement?

I only stayed three days. The gall they have.

Next. By the way, I remember years ago there was an enormous billboard not far from our house. It said “KEEP AMERICA BEAUTIFUL.” So obeying its message, I went out late one night, took a chainsaw and leveled that sucker to the ground in ten minutes. (Okay, I lied ... it took twenty minutes. Not.)

Truth in messaging is another thing. As I was tooling past Watertown on I-81, there was a sign cautioning me to slow down: “Men Working Ahead.” When I pulled up to the area, I noticed 5 guys in their fluorescent vests standing around talking. The only person actually working was a gal driving some type of heavy equipment. So being the jerk I am, I slid my passenger window down and yelled out “I saw the sign. Where are the 'men working' ?”

That didn't exactly fly as well as I expected. So I apologized and told them it was just the bacon talking.

After another 30 miles or so, and another cup of coffee, I had to 'go' – if you get my drift. I saw a sign indicating that “Rest Rooms/Text Area” was just ahead. So with a sigh of relief (no pun intended) I got in the right lane, onto the exit ramp and pulled off the highway.

I parked the truck next to a sign with an arrow pointing to the bathrooms. Right alongside was another sign that said, “No Dumping” I thought to myself “Well, which is it?”

Actually, it didn't matter. I had no plans on doing any dumping. But when I got back to the truck, I let Maggie out for a quick break. Unfortunately, for the grounds keeper … Maggie can't read.

After another hour on the road, I reached the NYS Thruway (in Syracuse). The only advertising signs – if you can call them that - along that stretch are the ones indicating which services/vendors are available at the rest-areas. Other than that, just the normal fare of mileage and speed-limit information.

However, somewhere near the Rochester area, I saw an official sign that said “Lake Erie Watershed.” That was it.

What in the name of Veronica Lake am I supposed to do with that piece of information? And who in the name of Ricki Lake cares? Is that really so important that I couldn't do without knowing it, as I strain to see what it says, while barreling down the highway at 70 miles-an-hour with tractor-trailers the size of Antarctica on all three sides of me?! Good Lord.

That's pretty much it. Time to sign out.

But before finishing, I'd like to switch gears and say something about an acquaintance of mine who recently passed (at age 99).

Mr. Ted Baker was an extraordinary man. A life filled with dignity, respect and class. Ted Baker was all about being a gentleman. His soft-spoken charm and warm demeanor were welcome throwbacks to a time when graceful communication was the norm, not the exception. He will be sorely missed. Rest in peace, my friend, you were a special, one-of-a kind man.

And that's the way it looks from the Valley.

The author Tom Valley sees signs of humor everywhere


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