Monday, August 20, 2007

Signs Along The Way

Whether I’m traveling between our permanent residence in Illinois and my book-writing hideaway in Minnesota, or business-tripping my way across the country (or out of it), it’s come to my attention that signs are often obvious, but sometimes not.

For instance, once right after checking into a hotel, I located the elevator and scurried to my room to use the “facilities.” (Okay, I often engage in this procedure, but this time I’m talking about this once.) As I flipped the seat cover up, I noticed a sign on the toilet lid. “No lifeguard on duty.”

What?! This WARNING caused me to shoot a double-take at the size of the toilet! GADS! Surely it’s not that big! And if it is, I’m just gonna have to dive in to do my business since I’m desperate!

After eyeballing the toilet and determining it was safe to plop down, I ultimately decided the toilet was also standard issue. So what was up with the location of that sign? While utilizing my standard procedure to unpack my bag (1. toss nightgown on bed 2. lay out cosmetics; 3. iron tomorrow’s outfit), my mind twiddled the possibilities. Although I figured I knew, one can't be too careful when on the road. Eventually I headed out to my business meeting and forgot all about the oddity. However, that evening, after I grabbed a bath towel off the rack , I was able to decode the encrypted-by-misplacement warning when I discovered another sign screwed to the wall - previously hidden by the towel - which politely instructed me not to take my room towels to the swimming pool.

Placement is everything, ey?

On several occasions I’ve noticed a scary sign or two at the check-in desk, the type that instruct, or “highly recommend ,” guests not leave the hotel lobby after dark without an escort, and/or announce that security cameras are in place 24/7. Believe you me, I don’t have to read those signs twice. When the check-in folks notice my bulging eyes and raised eyebrows, depending upon the number of stars in the hotel’s listing, I’m either instructed to “Walk in a group” or offered the company of a security guard. Obey, I do.

I remember well the first time in 1995 that I drove in England and hit the outskirts of a little town outside Manchester. Just about the time the two-way road shrunk from narrow to impossibly narrow, there posted along the roadside was a sign displaying our familiar circle with a line through it, the one that overlays, oh, say, a left-hand arrow so you know it means "NO LEFT TURN." However, this sign simply had the circle with the line through it. I yelled to the heavens, “Don’t what?! DON’T WHAT?!” Did it mean don’t enter? I hit the brakes and the car behind me nearly rammed me before zipping around me, horn blaring. Not until later that evening was I told that the sign meant "END OF SPEED ZONE," which gives motorists permission to - and oh, baby, do they! - hammer down. And remember, that’s just when the road narrows to what looks to be a half-car short of two cars wide. Oy. But if you check this link now, it says that sign means NO PARKING. I'm wondering if England's since changed the meaning of that sign (due to folks like me), or if the sign I saw (no color in the background, just white) has been discontinued (due to folks like ME), or if a local was just pulling my leg. Anybody out there know what the circle with the line through it (white background) meant back in 1995?

My favorite “two-fer” signs in a category I’ll call “Things Tourists Need to Know” was also located in England. Each sign was posted on the same wall inside a highly trafficked historic site. One arrow pointed left, the other right. To the left, "CASTLE." To the right, "TOILETS." Well now, that pretty much covered the bases. I found this worth a picture, which was the only shot I took during that tour. Go figure.

But here's what caused my most recent guffawing over signage, which I shall categorize as a cluster of signs. The first in the "grouping" was a six-inch, hand-made plaster sign purchased by me at a craft fair. I long ago hung it in my MN writing hideout on the wall behind the toilet. (I placed it where I’m guaranteed to see it - often.) “Lord, Help me through the changes in my life.” (That’s not the funny part.) Shortly thereafter, a hand-printed message on a Post-It note appeared on the wall right next to it. George, my retired engineer of a husband, had, in his unmistakably tidy all bold caps, printed, "MAKE SURE TOILET ISN’T RUNNING." (Signage note not funny, but the placement sure tickled my laugh-o-meter since it occurred to me that should God’s printing look like George’s, perhaps God cares about - and answers - more pleas concerning everyday and practical “changing” things than we might imagine! Talk about your "signs!")

My most recent visit, however, was the first time I noticed an addendum to the bottom of the Post-It note, which is what really set me to laughing. Since both of our grown sons and our landlord write in an untidy combo of print and cursive, it’s hard to tell whose stealth mind induced the smart-aleck question. “Why? Is that too fast for it?”

Now, I realize this is a great joke for five-year-olds, but still, the entire string of messages cracked me up. But I also just (as in just) noticed that the majority of my stories in this post are about bathroom humor. Hey, if only I’d included poop, this entire message would be guaranteed to hurl the youngsters into fits of howling. (I laughed just typing poop! HAHAHAHAHA - laughing AGAIN!)

Then again, if YOU laughed when you read the four-letter P word, let me know and I will heretofore make adjustments in my future posts, figuring that I’ve also heretopreviously misjudged my target market.


Joe said...

RE: UK traffic sign
Was the line through the white circle red or black? A black line through a white circle means that national speed limits apply. I don't recall there being a white circle with a red line through it. You can learn more from this website courtesy of the DfT:

If you're interested, you can get a much more detailed description of these signs from this pdf, again courtesy of the DfT:

Charlene Ann Baumbich said...

You can bet your bippy that when I go back, I'll be WAY more prepared for the "obvious," thanks to your astute direction.