Portable signs. They’re popping up everywhere. You know the ones. They loiter outside gas stations, strip malls and community centres. Their clipped messages hawk everything from 241 SOFT DRINKS to KEEP GRANDMA OFF THE STREET BINGO NIGHTS. The classic rectangular sign typically sits atop a pair of wheels, its white backdrop enabling movable black and red plastic letters to speak freely. The new, sportier models come with deep black façades, trendy fluorescent fonts and hover above slender metal legs. Like pernicious weeds, these mobile billboards are taking over the landscape.
Now I could go on and on about what I don’t like about portable signs — words like ugly or offensive or unsophisticated come to mind. But I’d rather spend the time telling you what I actually like about them. Just so we are clear, I’m talking about the older white signs. Not the new black and fluorescent version — those signs are just showing off.
It’s the messages themselves that I find fascinating; they serve up freedom of speech at its best, and its worst. Think about it for a moment. You can rent your own sign, put it on your property and broadcast pretty much whatever you choose. Hand in hand with this inalienable right goes freedom of expression, freedom of spelling, freedom of grammar and freedom of stupidity. All of which make for some entertaining reading.
Let’s start with freedom of expression. For some strange reason, churches are particularly enamored with spreading the good word using these signs. Who knew religion had such a sense of humour? The Presbyterian Church postulates: THERE ARE SOME QUESTIONS THAT CAN’T BE ANSWERED BY GOOGLE. The Baptist Church, not to be outdone, offers up: WALMART IS NOT THE ONLY SAVING PLACE and CHOOSE THE BREAD OF LIFE OR YOU ARE TOAST. The art of the one-liner is alive and well and working outside places of worship everywhere. But some of these sermonettes are a bit much. Take for instance: A FREE THINKER IS SATAN’S SLAVE or YOU GIVE GOD THE CREDIT - NOW GIVE GOD THE CASH. They don’t sound like the kind of churches you’d want to be a member of. Do they?
Next, spelling mistakes and bad grammar. I’m guessing the restaurant that advertised COFEE & MUFIN was simply running low on the letter F. This directive, found on a small town’s official welcoming sign, says a lot about what lies ahead: ENGLISH IS OUR LANGUAGE NO EXCETIONS - LEARN IT. And why is it that signs at schools have a high incidence for error: WE ARE COMMITTED TO EXCELLENSE and OUR TEACHERS MAKE A DIFFERANCE. If I was giving out grades, I’d give the first one a C and the second one an E.