Beat of Laurel: Amazing signs and wondering on the road
By Bob Reilly
As a professional driver over the past seven years, and driving since I was 16 years old, I have seen some oddly interesting things on the road, starting right here in our hometown of Laurel and across this nation. At this point in my life, many of these ridiculously astonishing things are what drivers, pedestrians and other vehicular contraptions do while on our local roads and highways.
Most would become instant viral memes if I could grab a picture of the event.
However, aside from the absurd behavior of people on the road, one of the more interesting and often humorous observations I’ve made while driving across the region are the bumper stickers, car stickers and customized license plates.
As a marketing and branding person, I’m often baffled at road signs and their intended audience. Here are a few examples of some local road signs that I found to be humorous, confusing, interestingly juxtaposed with the surroundings, common-sense defying or all of the above.
Use Crosswalk. I took a picture of this particular sign because of a clever juxtaposition. The picture was taken during one of the frequent political events on the streets of Washington, D.C. It shows a street theater person dressed in some kind of orthodox religious garb, draped in crosses, gripping a large cross in both hands and pointing it at people driving by as if to perform some kind of exorcism. He was standing on the median in the middle of a crosswalk.
Walk This Way. No, not the song by Aerosmith, or the hip hop mashup of the song they did with Run DMC. This sign was at an intersection with a symbol of a pedestrian walking across the street. Fine. Except that this particular sign was upside down, and some confused people were trying to figure out how they could walk across the intersection on their heads.
Trucks. Don’t Park on the Grass. I understand our society is hoping to one day have autonomous vehicles dominating the highways and byways, however, I’m not sure if artificial intelligence vehicles are the norm. Who is the intended audience here? Trucks? Come on people!
Let’s consider license plates for a moment. Like me, I would guess quite a few readers have tried to figure out exactly what those combinations of letters and acronyms on license plates mean. It can be fun pondering and debating your speculations with others in the car. It can be an enjoyable, brain-teasing moment just wondering “Could it be (fill in the blank)?” A game, of sorts.
But, as most games tend to go, some might argue, there must be winners and losers.
Now, I would suggest that the license plate game be played with people comfortable with multiple possibilities as to what a license plate might be saying, not multiple truths. Unless you actually know what the license plate owner is saying in the coded lettering, there is no truth, only speculation.
For example, I recently saw a vehicle ahead of me on Route 1 with the license plate CTLVR. Now imagine if four people were in a vehicle looking at the same vehicle with the same letters on the plate. You’re likely to get a range of possibilities as to what each person thinks the letters mean. One person may say, “It means cat lover, duh.” Another person in the car may respond, “No way man. It means CT Lover. The person is a radiologist.” The third person will chime in, “Come on people! CT means Connecticut. It clearly means Connecticut Lover.” The fourth individual laughs at their input and sets them all straight by shouting, “Wrong, wrong, wrong. You’re all wrong. It means Cute Lover.”
Well, in this day and age, it’s often not enough to have fun simply speculating on what a string of letters (and often numbers) could be. Individual speculation easily bleeds into individual truth, a hill of combat and a personal commitment to stand one’s ground. Lobbying others to agree with your truth and doing everything in your power to ensure the correct answer is Cute Lover. Period.
So, lighten up folks, and have a little fun just pondering and wondering. Let the ideas fly and laugh a bit. Life is short. And if the person who owns the CTLVR plate is reading this column, please let us know the meaning of that letter combination so we can put this major controversy to rest.
How about bumper stickers (and other stickers) folks slap on their vehicles?
I personally find these personalized statements the most interesting — sort of like tattoos for your vehicle. Not quite as difficult to remove as a real tattoo, but not necessarily an easy task, for sure, as evidenced by fading election stickers for Bernie, Bush, Hillary and others from days gone by.
Car stickers are personal statements or beliefs made public, like advertisements of how people self-identify. Emblems supporting sports teams, social-justice advocacy, animal welfare (and all those dog breeds!), organization affiliations, country-of-origin pride, family life and business logos, to name a few. Most often, especially in our region, the stickers are political in nature.
For every pro sticker, you will find an anti sticker expression. For example, pro-choice and anti-abortion. Pro-Biden, anti-Trump. You get the point. Some of the stickers are humorous, or at least attempt to be.
Some cars are literally covered with stickers, and in some cases, all those stickers can be a cosmetic improvement.
Recently, I approached a car heading out of Laurel on Route 216. The car was plastered with stickers emphasizing a goddess theme, stickers reading Caution: Goddess on Board, Goddess Rules, I Am a Goddess: Bow Before You Say Hello, and so forth.
Well, out of my deep well of curiosity, I pulled up alongside the vehicle to catch a glimpse of the occupants.
The driver appeared to be a slightly nervous middle-aged male. He was grabbing the steering wheel for dear life and nodding his head as if to say, “Okay, yes, okay, yes, I’m listening, okay, okay.” Next to the driver, in the passenger seat, was a woman with blue-green hair who appeared quite animated, moving her lips rapidly as if to say, “Do you hear me?” while pointing toward the ramp exit onto I-95 North.
I’m not 100% certain, but I think I identified the goddess.