The billboard blues
By Correspondent Jack Hamann
(CNN) -- Billboards -- ugly and redundant as they are -- do have their place, I suppose. But that place certainly does not include vast stretches of open highway in the American West.
There once was a family of billboards that actually seemed to fit along rural highways. Six small signs, placed a few hundred feet apart, with five-part harmony plus a word from the sponsor:
Beneath this veil
Your head grows bald
But not your chin.
As a kid in the family car, I remember seeing the remnants of Burma Shave signs nailed to tattered fenceposts. But those small and witty ads were quickly being elbowed aside by endless miles of bloated billboards. The newer oversized ads were never subtle, rarely clever and always the biggest nuisance wherever the scenery was most spectacular.
A new threat
Somewhere along the line, many states realized that billboards were breeding like locusts. The Keep America Beautiful campaign helped spur a mass sterilization program, wiping out thousands of intrusive signs along scenic corridors throughout the West.
Yet ... on a recent family vacation through the entire length of the state of Utah, I was dismayed to discover a new threat ... an insidious offspring of the billboard behemoths.
Utah is easily the home of America's most stunning landscapes. Yet, like many states, Utah has gone out and planted thousands of medium-sized blue, white and orange signs throughout that landscape, one per mile, virtually every mile in the state.
The cause seems worthwhile. The program is called
"Adopt-A-Highway," and it tries to credit the sororities and scout troops and sandwich shops and others who give a few hours a year to pick up litter along the stretch of road they've adopted.
But on long drives, the signs pass in irritating rhythm, like a giant clock, an unwelcome reminder that in this timeless vista, another minute just passed ... and another ... and another.
Miles of eyesores
Some states attempt to make their signs look, well, scenic, with interesting shapes or colors or designs But Utah hits you with an ugly orange diamond-shaped logo that reads: "DON'T MESS UTAH!" Mile after mile after mile.
Citizens of Utah, if you really care about litter, sponsor a mile of highway, and then ask the highway department to tear down your sign. As they might have said long ago:
Dear Utah if
We'll do our driving
Correspondent Jack Hamann's column appears regularly in Nature.
p.s.: Idaho ... your signs aren't all that much better ...
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Utah Adopt-A-Highway program
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