I like signs that really mean what they say, even if what they say might be a little more than what you thought at first glance. Like “coldest beer in town.” I saw that sign at a lonesome pit stop down a rural road in middle-of-nowhere southwest New Mexico.
It was one of those pit stops that only gets a few visitors a day. There’s a couple who has lived in the homestead down the valley. They run the place. Wife shows up early to open it up for the coffee drinkers. Husband comes in later to greet the evening drinkers.
There are only a few seats, next to a few shelves with grocery item odds-and-ends, next to a fridge with the cold stuff. A single bathroom, handmade leather keepsakes at the counter, thrifty nickel newspapers, and ice cream for the kids sold in a large ice chest.
All the things you would expect in a place that promotes the coldest beer in town. Really, people aren’t there for the drinks. They are there because it was the only stop for miles and because it looked like a place you only read about in books.
New places, the kind of homogenized places with little personality, don’t have signs worth reading or worth remembering. Everything is about how to place orders on the app or how to find the menu online. Signs don’t say what you want to know about the business. Why you’re there and why you should come back.
A sign like “last stop before the next one” is a favorite one. Or the slightly rusted and discolored “$5 charge for whining” sign that hangs over the clock-in/clock-out machine is classic. They say something about the establishment and the people who run it.
I once went to a sign printing place that had signs everywhere. Signs on the company trucks outside the place and signs on the floor you had to step over as you walked in. Signs that were slowly printing out from a big machine, and signs hanging above you, representing annual events and festivals through the years.
My favorite sign was the one on the door greeting customers before entering. It was one of those signs that listed the hours of operation in the form of a riddle. “Open most days about 9 or 10, occasionally as early as 7, but some days as late as 12 or 1,” it started. “We close about 5:30 or 6. Sometimes about 4 or 5…