“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind. Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?” – Five Man Electrical Band, released in 1971. Composer, Les Emmerson, Ottawa, Canada.
I just finished listening to that cut from 1970-1971. Wow, the kaleidoscope of memories from my “mind of mush” years came leaking in. Google it and hear this obscure anti-establishment lyric. It’s all about a rush of anger at signs, mainly signs of directives. The songwriter blathers about disobeying and mocking every sign he sees because…well….uh, because…I guess it was the hippie thing to do to “stick it to the man” and everybody that looks like him. (Actually, watching the news today, that old sentiment seems to be new again.) If you give it a listen with mature ears it’ll make you cackle, but when I was 11-12 years old I was singing it as a duo with my radio at the top of my lungs. But, ya know, it never caused me to act-out with sign damage or civil disobedience. I think it hilarious knowing after they recorded the tune, they drove up to a stop sign and stopped. It’s evident since they survived the journey home. I’m happy to report, Les Emmerson, the composer, is now almost 73 years old and still playing their old hits. After making a few million off his songs, he no doubt bought a mansion. I will assume here he must’ve hung a no trespassing sign somewhere on his high-walled gate. He, himself, turned out to be “the man”. ($$$$)
Signs are on my mind of late. My 18 year old daughter, D’Anna, is learning how to drive. She’s really doing very well. She’s learning how to interpret road signs galore. If she turns right on a red light where a “no right on red” sign is displayed, off comes the points on her upcoming driver’s test. If there were no signs of instruction, she certainly would be introduced to frequent collisions. And, of course, if there were a lack of signage concerning geography, she would wind up two states over in short order.
Almost 10 years ago, while living in Buffalo, NY, I had an evening business appointment in the southern tier close to Gowanda, NY. The “southtowns” beneath Buffalo are blessed with beautiful, picturesque countryside. You name it, they’ve got it, including ski resorts. I want to say it was December of 2007. From where I lived, I knew it was a good hour’s drive. I looked at the clock and off I went. As often true in the western New York frontier, in a moment’s notice, a lake effect snowfall began (compliments of Lake Erie) while on my journey. Dusk was done and I was being mesmerized by the gigantic, flakes flying toward my windshield with a velvet black background. A word to the wise. Exercise caution! One can fall asleep as the snow effect can seduce and hypnotize. I was in my trusted “Moose”, a stout Isuzu Trooper, and felt the 4-wheel drive would get me there on time….(said the all-knowing-Texas-born-and bred-fool). Fast forward about 50 minutes or so, I suddenly found myself lost as a flock of baby Canadian Geese. My cell phone, and that’s all it was back in those days, had zero bars showing. Dreams of the tragic movies about Mt Everest climbers raced through my mind as I realized I was experiencing a full-blown blizzard with very little light and very little speed. Truly, the depth of snow can reach a foot or more in an hour in that part of NY, and it did. I had printed directions from Mapsco. (Remember Mapsco? You may have to Google that one too.) I will tell now, it didn’t cover road directions in certain areas as you’re about to see.
Without too much detail on my wintry maze, I arrived at a sparse area. If I were to describe it, I would sum it up as an old gas station/general store in a wooden frame-style building that looked to be from Opie’s Mayberry, and then nothing for 6 miles. There was an old silver mobile home from time to time, but there were no street lights to aid my snowy vision. There was nothing but black and white. I noticed something else strange….NO STREET SIGNS! Wrong. I saw one small street sign at a tiny country road intersection, but it was encased in blowing snow making it illegible. I got out to see if I could wipe it off, but it was too tall, not to mention the snowbank was already to my hips. Every other country road, including the main road I was on, wasn’t labelled with signs. I was just about to give up and go back the way I came in the darkness when I saw a distant light. As I approached the light, I could make out a building with a few pick-up trucks in the parking lot. Unlike the gas station/general store a few miles behind me, this looked to be a modern building. My watch said it was about 9:30. I pulled up into the parking lot and saw it was a civic/recreational center of some kind. I made my way up to the front entrance and felt as if I were in another country altogether. Turns out, I was. I had somehow made my way onto the sprawling Cattaraugus Indian Reservation.
To say I was a flopping fish out of water would be an understatement. It was clear by the looks I received from the citizens there, I was no longer in Kansas with Dorothy’s old Auntie Em. Turns out it was domino night. A group of men, around a card table, looked at me as if I had a grass skirt on. I said, “Hi, how are ya? I could use some help.” One of the men responded in a frigid way that went nicely with the weather outside. When I said I was lost and couldn’t figure out why there were no street signs, the man said, “You don’t belong here, that’s why.” I’m the only one that chuckled at his reply. When I told them I was on my way to the town of Gowanda, they were slow to give me directions using landmarks only. Apparently, if you live on the reservation, you have no need for street signs. It went something like, “At the post, turn right. At the bear crossing sign, turn left, cross the log bridge…”, etc. It took a chunk of time, with the icy trek given me, but I made my way out of the reservation. Embarrassed and frozen, I arrived almost an hour and a half after my scheduled appointment. They accepted my apology as I warmed myself by their fireplace. Needless to say, I went back another direction at the end of the meeting.
Signs are important. A necessity, really. Scroll up and see the picture from an old friend who recently visited the canyons of Grand Junction, Co. Would Les Emmerson reject that sign and sing, “WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT?” Watch that last step, Les. It’s a long one.
How many signs will my D’Anna see as she drives out on her own? “No U-Turn, Green Arrow Turn Only, Duck Crossing, Elk Crossing, Deer Crossing, Gator Crossing, School Zone, No Passing Yellow Line, Comfort, Tx -7 miles, Cut And Shoot, Tx -5 miles, Woman Hollering Creek, Tx -10 miles, Hell, Michigan -4 miles, Paradise, Tx -25 miles, West, Tx -10 miles, Italy, Tx -6 miles, Fishkill, NY -50 miles, Welcome to Muleshoe, Tx” etc. She could see them all. They exist.
My most memorable signs were not posted on the road. Do you know what I mean? Have you been there, done that? You’re thinking of one now. How about the signs that whisper, “Don’t look at a solar eclipse without protection,” “Don’t go to their house tonight,” “Your buddy has an open can of beer in the cup holder. You shouldn’t be in the car,” “Slow down before rounding this curb,” “Get your eyes off of her/him,” “Don’t stay angry. Peace, be still,” “Apply for THAT job,” “Run from THAT job,” “Don’t invest in that offer,” “Don’t take that last drink,” “Oops, the label says Opioid,” “You’re sinking into a bad place here,” “Refrain from kicking his teeth in,” etc. Some of these can bring a laugh, but most can bring heartache, destruction and depression. Have you ever had a LOUD thought about turning here or there, only to find out later, a bridge collapsed or a tragic accident took place ahead of your intended direction, at that precise time? Your default inner response was something like, “Wow. I dodged that bullet.” I know, it helped to smooth over, to clumsily explain the obvious whisper that nudged you earlier. You physically shrugged and off you went with your day.
Some signs will be spoken softly to your heart while other signs can be heard aloud by a passerby, friend, family member or a teacher. Often, in amazement, you recognize it only in retrospect. Other signs can read like this one: “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” -King Solomon, Proverbs 14:12 (NIV) Or, from someone who knows you and the road you’re on better than you know yourself, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” -Jesus, Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV).
Without groveling — dishing out sin-sick self-history — I will say, I am living proof that a non-audible sign can be clearly given, that no one else hears, and then pushed off as silly fears of anticipation or imagination. Watch the footing, the edge is close by. Heeding such a sign will definitely add fuel for the race.
“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.