Posts Tagged With: Wall Drug

Billboards I Would Rather Never See

“I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall, I’ll never see a tree at all.”
Ogden Nash

While I agree with my favorite poet on the relative esthetic merits of billboards and trees, I must point out that Mr. Nash never drove across western South Dakota on I-90. You do see many more billboards than trees there, not because the former are so plentiful but because the latter are so scarce. As a result, anyone making this drive regularly—even someone who appreciates the sweeping beauty of the prairies as much as I do—can’t help but develop a certain appreciation for billboards. By now I’m practically an expert on the finer points of billboard advertising. Such as:

For heaven’s sake, use a readable font in colors that contrast with the background.

Those signs printed on fabric-like vinyl and attached to a frame (technically, I suppose, they aren’t “billboards”) are probably much cheaper and easier to create than old-fashioned painted signs on boards. But western South Dakota may not be the ideal environment for them. Your brilliant advertising message is hard to read when it’s streaming in wind-shredded tatters from the bottom of the sign.

Entertaining humor is a great marketing tool. Just ask the people at Reptile Gardens and Wall Drug.

Tacky humor, however, is just, well, tacky. Two cases in point:

A relatively new restaurant in Rapid City has several new signs. As a frequent traveler, I appreciate the variation in the scenery, especially since the “Q” in the restaurant’s name is handy for the alphabet game. But I wince every time I pass their sign that announces, “We’re like a cult with better Kool-Aid.”

Really? Never mind the minor detail of whether the nice people from Kraft Foods are okay with the use of their trademarked brand name on someone else’s billboard. I realize that, since the 1978 Jonestown tragedy, “drinking the Kool-Aid” has become a particularly tasteless way to describe someone’s blind adherence to an idea. But I wonder whether the marketing person who came up with the line for this billboard really knew where it came from. “Hey, let’s link our restaurant to a deranged cult leader named Jim Jones who led a murder-suicide of over 900 of his followers. What a great way to inspire people to come in for a pleasant meal!”

Then there’s the brewery/restaurant whose marketing people, apparently inspired by the old Burma Shave signs from the 1930’s and 40’s, have put up billboards with line-by-line limericks. However, I’m not sure the modern ones quite compare with the classics. Here’s one of the originals:

“If harmony
is what
you crave,
then get
a tuba
Burma Shave.”

Now here is the brewery’s attempt:

“There once was a farmer named Leer
Who owned a cow who gave beer.
Reds, stouts and others
Poured out of her udders . . .”

And the last line’s too tacky to quote here.

I’ll just say that it involves potty humor of a type to make five-year-olds giggle and adults with any taste at all cringe. And as if tacky and tasteless aren’t enough, the last word of the fourth line (I so wish I were making this up, but I’m not) is spelled “utters.”

Next time I drive across I-90, I really need to take along a good audio book and keep my eyes on the road.

Categories: Odds and Ends, Travel, Words for Nerds | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

No Fair Skipping the Q

If you're going to entertain yourself on a trip across western South Dakota by finding the alphabet (in order, and no cheating by skipping the Q) on billboards, I'd suggest starting well east of Kadoka.

That's assuming you're traveling from east to west. Going west you're heading toward the Black Hills, with its tourist attractions eager to catch the attention of I-90 travelers. Going east, don't bother with the game, because the billboards are so sparse that between one and the next you'll forget which letter you're looking for.

The challenge of the billboard game, of course, is finding the rarer letters: X, Z, and the infamous Q. The X (as in "exit") isn't a problem along the Interstate. The Z is rarer but not impossible, thanks to the CraZy Horse carving and occasional other amaZing attractions. Q can be more of a problem; thank goodness for Quick stops, antiQues, and Quiet campgrounds.

The hardest letter to find here, surprisingly, is J. This is why it's important to start east of Kadoka, where there is a sign advertising the Flying J truck stop near Rapid City. (Back when it was a Conoco, J's were really scarce.) For the discerning, there is also an inconspicuous J near the bottom of a billboard at the Kadoka off ramp. If you miss either of these, you might as well start hoping someone passes you in a Jeep.

During a recent trip across the western half of the state, I noticed quite a few new or freshly painted billboards for Black Hills tourist attractions. Based on this as an informal indicator of economic health, South Dakota is doing well.

I do have a few suggestions, though, for tourism businesses. As long as they're refurbishing billboards, how about making a few additions? Wall Drug could advertise its Zany cowboy Quartet and Quirky back alley and let us know the roaring T-Rex will make us Quiver in our flip-flops. The 1880 Town could add a Quick-draw contest. Reptile Gardens could promote its Jumping cockroaches and Jungle flowers—or maybe they could add a Jaguar or a Zebra.

You may think by now that I am a fan of billboards. Not so much. I do think they have their place—which probably includes the long stretch of Interstate across western South Dakota.

Still, creative travelers don't need billboards to entertain themselves. My daughter used to keep herself occupied by counting road kill, which she wrote down in a notebook under various categories: pheasants, deer, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, and UFO's (Unidentified Flat Objects).

Even someone who likes billboards might have to admit that there are way too many of them along the last few miles east of Exit 61 as you approach Rapid City. The road is littered with billboard after bigger billboard after enormous billboard, flashing lighted ads, and such an ugly clutter of signage that you can hardly find the exit. It isn't exactly the best way to welcome travelers to the beautiful Black Hills.

It reminds me of a parody by my favorite poet, Ogden Nash:

I think that I will never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
I'll never see a tree at all.

Maybe some of the Exit 61 signs could be removed and spread out along I-90 eastbound. Only, of course, if they have plenty of Q's, Z's, and J's.

Categories: Just For Fun, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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