Seeing the Signs

Observing signs in the modern age.

In the city…

There’s a man standing facing the flow of foot traffic when I get to the train station. I notice an easel stand with a sign clipped from fasteners on the top edge. The thick black words on the sign ask of the passersby, “Do you know where to look for eternal salvation?” I make it up the first set of steps through the gate. He tries to hand me a small pamphlet from a rack holding hundreds of copies of the pocket-sized publications. I put my hand up flat and tell him I’m all set on his salvation. When I walk to the turnstile, I notice his pamphlets strewn in and around a trash barrel, tossed there by commuters wanting to save face.

There’s a girl no younger than me who sits on the steps leading to the underground trains. There are other places in the city where she sits, but she frequents this one the most. She sits on a ratty piece of blanket and wears a hooded sweatshirt even on the hottest days of August. The girl sits on the landing of a double set of stairs that lead to or from the train, depending on which way you’re headed. This allows for maximum foot traffic. It provides a daily amount of readership for the cardboard sign that sits propped against the wall beside her paper coffee cup, weighted by a paltry amount of coins. “Pregnant and hungry…ever relying on human kindness,” is written on the cardboard in faded black sharpie ink. She’s been using the same sign for over a year now, which baffles me.

In the country…

There’s a plywood board nailed and tied to a high tree on a winding back road. This route is the quickest between two towns unless it’s late-morning on a Sunday. That’s when you’ll find yourself stuck behind a horse-drawn Mennonite buggy. The plywood sign gets overgrown by the leaves in that high tree it’s fastened to, but you see it once and you’ll always remember what it says. That is, until it changes, which happens every four years with each presidential election. Pass it today and you’ll read a warning, unilateral and direct: “If you are a SOCIALIST get the hell out of my country.” I fear the message is lost on the bearded and bonneted buggy drivers.

There’s a simple yellow barn tucked beneath the hills of a blue mountain. Less than a hundred sets of eyes graze it on a given day, and that’s highballing. The side facing the road projects a simple message in thick letters of cracking white paint: “REPENT! SOON IS THE DAY WHEN THE ROAD TO SALVATION FADES!” I humor myself and mentally buy a can of white paint to change the first exclamation to “repaint!” Salvation could use a fresh coat.

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