The Trouble With Signs

By Jay Sedmak
SNPJ Publications Editor/Manager

I returned home from a week-long vacation a few days ago, and as I was collecting my thoughts for a blog post I soon began to realize that there are a lot of signs out there that we probably don’t give much thought to. I’m talking about signs in the literal sense here – you know, the type affixed to sign posts, mounted on walls and doors, dangling from ceiling hooks or chains... in short, signs.

Having traveled through two airports en route to my destination and then taken up residence (albeit temporarily) in two separate venues during my stay, I became acutely aware of the fact that we are bombarded with signs, some of which are more meaningful than others. I mentioned this fact a couple of years ago in a similar vacation-related post, and this year’s annual get-away only served to reinforce my theory: we see so many signs that we’re often blind to them.

“Sign-blindness,” I suppose, could be blamed for one of the most ironic motor vehicle accidents that I have ever witnessed, an accident that involved a police officer, no less. It played out something like this:

My wife and I were in the process of loading groceries into the rental car following one of our mid-morning visits to a nearby supermarket. As we were shuffling items from the grocery cart into the trunk, I noticed a police cruiser (of the SUV variety) circling a nearby plaza, looping from the main road into the parking lot, then back onto the road again at various intervals. I didn’t think much of it at first, and eventually the cruiser headed off out of my line of sight. I thought the officer had left the area completely, but as we were in the process of returning the grocery cart to the store, we again caught sight of the cruiser, and from my vantage point it appeared as though the officer was steering the vehicle through the well-manicured median just in front of the entrance to the grocery stone.

Nah, that couldn’t be the case. Why would a law enforcement officer drive purposefully through the median? I shrugged it off, and we proceeded back to our vehicle. Now mind you, this entire scene had transpired in the span of just a few seconds, and by the time I had refocused my attention on the police cruiser – PLAN-N-N-N-N-G!

I was stunned. What just happened? I turned to my wife, who was as wide-eyed as I was, for her input. “I think that cop just lost the light bar off the top of his SUV,” she proposed. I looked at the cruiser, now stopped dead in the median turn-around lane, and shrugged. “Maybe. But how did that happen?” We decided to walk the short distance from our parking space to the cruiser. We were curious, but told ourselves we were doing so to see if the officer needed assistance (right... from two out-of-towners on vacation). We didn’t make it very far – by the time we had taken three or four steps, the officer had exited the vehicle and was conducting a visual inspection of the vehicle’s front bumper.

Ok, the light bar might have broken free from its mounts, slid down the windshield and hood, and bounced off the plastic front bumper. Sure, that’s a plausible explanation, but the sound we’d heard didn’t match that scenario. We heard a definite “plang” – more metallic and resonating than plastic on plastic. Still puzzled, we left the scene via the far parking lot entrance. And that’s when we discovered what had happened.

Remember the “sign-blindness” I mentioned a paragraph or two back? From all indications, the officer involved in this incident was attempting a U-turn, but in the process he failed to notice that he was headed straight for the “No U-Turn” sign at the far end of the median. The “plang” we’d heard was made when his vehicle impacted the sign, which in turn was launched some 20 yards out of the median and into the traffic lanes. We passed the scene of the accident, dropping our speed to a crawl (and laughing hysterically) as we watched the police officer attempt to reposition the now-mangled sign and post back into its concrete receptacle – quite unsuccessfully, mind you. I can just imagine the call he made to have the sign repaired: “Dispatch, can you send out public works to repair a downed ‘No U-Turn’ sign? And can you have them move the sign, say, maybe 20 feet or so. I think it might pose a hazard in its current position.” Oh, the irony of it all...

My wife and I joked about spilled coffee, runaway jelly donuts and nearby auto body repair shops on our short drive back to the condo. Needless to say, we were quite aware of all the signs we passed on that return trip, and we even learned a little something that day: keep your eyes on your goal, but don’t forget to watch for the signs!

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