Growing up in Southern California, nearly every summer vacation included a family trip in the station wagon to visit relatives in Missouri and Arkansas. The route we traveled on was always the old Route 66, another story all by itself. The drive was mercilessly boring so the least little thing would amuse me and my six siblings as we made our way eastward.
Looking out the car window for something to entertain us was a good way to pass the hours. The giant jackrabbit signs perched on hills above Route 66 for Jack Rabbit Trading Post were a spectacular sight. They taunted us for miles while we imagined all the wonderful curiosities that the Jack Rabbit Trading Post held – I mean, arts and crafts – I was THERE! And then finally, we would spot the one that read, Here it is! Oh, the pain as we sped by each and every one.
But the absolute best sighting was the Burma-Shave signs. These were a brilliant ad campaign for shaving cream featuring six sequential signs that passengers in cars could read as they passed – they were spaced far enough apart that the sentence was read naturally. Here is one message from 1963, the last year Burma-Shave used this promotion:
Our fortune / Is your / Shaven face / It’s our best / Advertising space / Burma-Shave
This has been so woven into our collective culture that artist Norman B. Colp created a public art installation inspired by the Burma-Shave signs installed in the 42nd Street subway tunnel. Called The Commuter’s Lament, or A Close Shave, the installation is a series of signs attached to the roof of the passageway, with the following text:
Overslept, / So tired. / If late, / Get fired. / Why bother? / Why the pain? / Just go home / Do it again.
At this point, you realize that I am fascinated by popular culture and how the influence spreads into art, collective memory, and history. So imagine my delight when walking down the street today and spotting a series of painted rocks with little hand-lettered messages. Each one was carefully placed to make sure pedestrians would see them. While these did not have the clever poetics of the Burma Shave signs, they spoke with a more gentle and encouraging voice:
Live, Love, Laugh / Breathe / Be humble / Keep Going
It might be a child’s project, or perhaps a creative release for someone who wanted to have some fun. I was delighted and will continue to be on the lookout for more signs of encouragement.