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The Herald  December 8, 1988
 
Along the way, take time out to read signs
 
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
blocking out the scenery, blowing my mind
do this, don't do that
can't you read the sign?
 

That old song is a classic, partly because there's a ton of virtue in an ounce of truth.  The powers that be invent the rules and scatter signs about to enforce those rules in their absence.

I'm of the notion that some of those road signs cluttering up the countryside do indeed protect the traveler from serious harm.  For instance, STOP is a pretty good one to watch for.  None of the SHARP CURVE signs in the mountains are wasted either.

With road signs, business signs, mailboxes, license plates, and advertisements galore, a traveling bicyclist can get in a lot of light reading along the way.  A cyclist is going slow enough to soak it all in while folks going 55 mph have to read fast and hit the high spots.  Reading on the road has added a lot to my enjoyment of the sport...

The first unusual sign I can remember seeing was a handmade job right here in York county.  It hung on a fence post beside a secondary road ... NO TRESPASSING.  SURVIVORS WILL BE PROSECUTED.  The sign worked real well.  I wasn't the least bit interested in trespassing, nor did I even care to meet the owner.

I forget exactly where I was when I saw a notice on a pasture fence describing how incredibly fast the local bull could run across the field.  Anybody who could run faster than the bull was cordially invited into the pasture.  Everybody else had best stay out.

I saw a fancy cattle crossing sign in Sumter county that had a huge yellow light on top.  The cattle owner turned the light on anytime the gate was open.  For some reason, this scene reminded me of a Road Runner cartoon.  The big black-on-yellow silhouette of a milk cow, along with the caution light on top, looked just like something Wile E. Coyote would order from the Acme company.

I have a picture I took in Florida of a DETOUR sign right in the middle of a two-mile long bridge.  Traffic was being diverted over to a temporary structure for a short distance, and then back to the permanent bridge.  It all made sense once I passed through it, but as I cruised along enjoying the ride across the bay, that first glimpse of the DETOUR_1000 FT sign blew my mind to shreds.  Either I was on "Candid Camera" or I had ridden a long way to become shark bait.

The directional signs for U.S. 17 through Savannah are so confusing I ended up riding my bike on a part of the interstate highway network.  I didn't last long out there before one of Savannah's finest took occasion to alter my behavior.  He pulled me over, blue lights and a burst on the siren, and started chewing me out before he had the door to his cruiser open all the way.  "You're riding your bicycle on my interstate, and I can't let you do that."

I was shocked.  I had never before met the man who owned the interstate.  Worse than that, I didn't even know I was riding on an interstate.  I explained my predicament (totally confused, didn't see the signs), and the cop told me to get my tail off of his interstate at the very next exit, which happened to be U.S. 17.  "For your future reference," he said, "don't you ever come out here riding again."  Unquote.  For the cop's future reference, I wouldn't visit Savannah again in a helicopter, thank you, let alone on a bicycle.

Riding westward across the Florida panhandle, I was anxiously looking forward to reaching Central Daylight Time. In the lower 48 states, there are only three lines dividing time zones, and for me it would be a paramount accomplishment to reach one of them on my bike.  I wanted the sign at the line to be as big as a K mart, with checkered flags and banners all over, and a wide yellow stripe across the road like a finish line.  When I finally arrived, I almost missed it.

There was an utterance in small print on a sign half as large as a NO PARKING sign, indicating Central Time Zone.  That was it.  I suddenly felt like I hadn't reached much of a landmark at all, and I never even bothered to reset my watch.

Time.  in 1979 I pedaled behind Rusty Wilkerson from Rock Hill to Melbourne, Fla.  This other Rusty knew everything about bike touring, while I knew nothing.  Late one evening Rusty pointed to a sign advertising the motel where we would spend the night.  15 MINUTES FROM HERE, the sign proclaimed.

Forty-five minutes later, it was good and dark, and we were yet to reach the motel advertised on the sign.  I was personally ready to disassemble the practical joker who painted the sign when I realized that sign had been addressed to people going by in cars at 60 mph.  At 15 mph on our bikes, it was going to take us a lot longer than any 15 minutes to reach the motel.

To this very day, whether I'm driving or riding, I still despise signs that give directions in time rather than distance.  To borrow a phrase from Harold Reeves, "That's stupid!  That's what that is.  It's stupid.  Why do they DO that anyway?"

I have biked past a small engine repair service in Gastonia named the Grenade Factory.  Reverse  psychology makes interesting publicity.

The direct approach works, too, as in the case of the Picture Book Horse Farm in Florida.  What a name, for what a place.  The drive passed through a huge gate shaped like a horseshoe.  the gate had roses growing on it, and I have never seen so many meticulously well-groomed square miles.  I just expected to see Roy and Dale ride by in a Jeep any time.

Somewhere in lower South Carolina I saw S.C. license plate number 1.  That's all that was on the plate ... just "1"  Closer inspection showed the car belongs to the S.C. State Highway Commissioner.

I stopped at a Hardee's in Georgia that had a humongous NO BICYCLES sign beside the door.  They had a schoolyard-type bike rack set up way across the parking lot, away from the building.  I asked a teen-ager in the parking lot what all this was about, and he just rolled his eyeballs skyward, "All the people in this town are crazy, man." I felt just like the guy in that classic song:


   The sign says long-hair freaky people need not apply
   so I tucked my hair up under my hat
   and I went in to ask him why.

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