From last Wednesday’s talk of those Highway Patrol silver Dodge Chargers that blend so seamlessly with other traffic to the challenges of co-existing with all those 18-wheelers to the all-too-frequent sights of deer just off the painted edge lines posing in eternal repose, I think it’s a logical step to gaze beyond my windshield a bit further than the asphalt lanes in front of me.
The musical aficionados in my reading audience may have been reminded of the Canadian rock group Five Man Electrical Band’s signature song, “Signs,” to which I alluded in my title, and, my, do I ever see a plethora of signs when I’m driving.
Of course, there are those involving driving regulations and route numbers that we all see as pretty important stuff, but the ones that I really find more interesting are those that carry a little piece of notoriety on them.
Any markers that are historically relevant are always of interest to me, as I’ve rarely wasted an opportunity in my life to read every word of them. Brad Kelley and I discussed our mutual love of that type of signage when we both worked on a committee with several others to develop historical markers that now adorn Stadium Park on our city’s east side.
Of course, those signs are so chock full of information that they could never be read during any drive-by, but I’m also interested in the more concise ones off the edges of my roads. Such signs are generally indications of what a town’s citizenry is most proud, kind of a town’s little imperative, “Hey! Pay attention to me!”
While an accomplishment recognized on a sign on a city’s outskirts may be on a grander scale, say, the sign I pass entering Bellefontaine that acknowledges Olympian snowboarder Louis Vito, whose talents brought him global recognition, often it’s a high-school athlete or team that brought back a state title and will, in perpetuity, be acknowledged long after their Springsteen “Glory Days” are over.
One such sign I pass when I head into St. Marys on my way to Lady Jane’s is on the town’s north-side entry and always prompts a wistful smile. It’s the one that recognizes Roughrider state champion squads, and the football ones — the 1979, 1990, 1992, and 1993 teams — were heavily peopled by athletes who were students in my English classes, many of whom who were as good in the classroom handling anything I threw at them in my college-preparation curriculum as they were on a football field on Friday nights.
I still see their faces in my mind’s eye each time I drive past the sign, not boys anymore but men in their 30s and 40s, surely looking much different than the ever-youthful appearances that I left behind so very many years ago.
When it’s time for my monthly business trip to Southeast Ohio in the Gallipolis and Ironton region, I drive a very undulating thoroughfare, State Route 141, really, especially in the fall, one of the prettiest roads you’re likely to find in the entire state, with its steep banks of antiquitous trees which create almost a cathedral-like setting along several stretches where tree boughs intertwine high above the road. The road switches back and forth across Symmes Creek. Approximately halfway between Gallipolis and Ironton, you’ll find a pin-dot community in Lawrence County by the name of Waterloo.
While the community of less than 700 people exists today in relative obscurity, a sign just outside the small town will remind motorists that they are about to enter the home of the Waterloo Wonders, the acknowledged epithet of a basketball team from one of the state’s smallest high schools, the Waterloo High School Generals, a team that won Class B state titles in 1934 and ’35.
Under the tutelage of a head coach with one of the great names in sports, Magellan Hairston, those Wondrous Generals took on all comers, often playing four or five times a week, often in gyms far from home after a small caravan of cars you’d see with historical plates today, and lost but three times in a hundred games by displaying uncanny shooting, deft passing and even the type off on-court antics that reminded some of a younger and smaller version of the famous Globetrotters.
Sometimes the signs I see trumpet a city’s first, as in Bellefontaine’s marker that acknowledges the city for having the very first concrete road in America.
Water towers sometimes are used to present a community’s welcome signage, such as Xenia’s that proclaims the city to be the bicycle capital of the Midwest. While I’m not so sure the proclamation isn’t self-anointed, the city can certainly can lay claim, given the five former railroad lines that have been converted into bike paths, including one that passes through Xenia that is the nation’s third longest continuous bike path, at 73 miles, that runs from Cincinnati to Springfield.
Another water tower that always creases with a smile what my father used to call my “kisser” is found in Ashley, Indiana, in DeKalb County. The precursor to the tower is the corp-limit sign that proclaims Ashley as the “Home of the Smiley Face.” A few rotations of my Michelins later, I’ll see, peering above a bank of tall trees a water tower painted yellow and sporting not only the familiar smiling emoji so often sent by smartphones but also a nifty black bow tie just below the face.
And, so it is these past couple of Wednesdays for my observations both on and off the roads I drive for both my leisure and my labor. Please file them under “Windshield Observations.”
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.