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2014 - "Become Ocean" by John Luther Adams (CalArts BFA 1973) named winner of 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Music [story]
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Now and Then in the SCV | Commentary by Darryl Manzer
| Sunday, May 4, 2014

darrylmanzer021014Some of us remember the days when we had so many billboards in our valley that we were concerned for our safety during high winds because they might fall over on the roads. Large wood structures that were also prone to fires.

If there is any road side signage that I really miss, it has to be the Burma Shave signs. If you’re too young to remember them, you really missed out on some great little pieces of poetry. They kept us kids occupied looking for the next set along the road.

There were folks that claimed they distracted drivers. Not so much as those big signs on the way to the beach that advertised for various tanning lotions, with a beautiful lady telling us we could get a healthy tan and maybe her, too, if we used the lotion she showed. Of course that she was at the beach in high heels and a one-piece suit did nothing to curb our teenage enthusiasm. Distracted? Yes. But the girl sitting next to you would bring you back to reality every time. “I wouldn’t use that lotion. It smells like burning oil.”

Even when that girl wasn’t next to me, I could still hear her words and not look so intently at the billboard. And I really could smell some burning oil… at least I thought so, but it could have just been the Packard’s normal odor.

And one day those signs started coming down. When I drive to Las Vegas, just how do I know about the Golden Nugget or all those other places that used to have signs along what is now I-15? Just a drive to Gorman revealed I was missing a lot of neat stuff and should rush out and buy it all. That stuff must have been some great deals if they could afford to advertise on the HUGE signs.

Make another note to yourselves. Most of those huge billboards had illumination so that even at night you could see them. Out in the middle of the Mojave you’d see a glow just over the next rise in the road. Sure enough, there was a sign for the Stardust, Sands or Hacienda complete with chorus girls telling you the “Slots are loose” and the “Buffet is $1.99 all you can eat.” Each one was brightly lit with bulbs that must have had a total wattage of half the output of Hoover Dam. It did keep me awake.

Now they are mostly gone. A slice of American life snuffed out by those wanting to see the far distant mountains instead of the infinite advertisements that lined almost every road and highway. We can’t know what awaits us in the towns and cities ahead. We have to wait until we get there.

Nostalgia can’t trump the logic of getting rid of those pesky billboards. As the showdown continues between the “block the billboards” folks and the “block the billboard blockers” folks, I can see that eventually some sort of agreement will end all this. Maybe.

I can’t wait until the new electronic billboards are built and an advertisement for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue is shown, because now it can be a video and not just a static display. How about a 20-foot-tall Kate Upton in a bikini walking along a beach?

All that means is that we may have to get some new rules and regulations about what can be shown on the electronic billboards, and at what time. Just like television.

It wouldn’t be the first time “suggestive” pictures were shown outdoors on large screens right here in the SCV. Why, both drive-in theaters had those great “B” movies with actors and actresses in loincloths and barely-there attire. Didn’t even have to buy a ticket to watch that because we had a few great places to park the car along the road and watch for free. Maybe the new billboards can bring us that little bit of “history” up to date.

So did enough qualified signatures get on enough qualified petitions? Will we see the anti-electronic billboard referendum on the next ballot? (Or will we see Kate Upton? I vote for Kate). Like I said before, this is going to be a long, hard ugly battle. I for one want it less ugly. So if we have to have the electronic signs we want the contract to state that video advertising of the SI Swimsuit issue must be displayed.

I find that an unreasonable and irresponsible solution.

Those electronic boards we see in Las Vegas are great for that city. But in this case what happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas. That is what many hope for.

I, for one, don’t really mind the electronic billboards. It makes the city some money and gets rid of other large signs. Not a bad trade-off. Maybe.

Maybe a few small electronic Burma Shave-type signs, too.  The first could say:

“These signs are small – And teeth are gnashing – But in City Hall – Checks are cashing – Awesometown.”

And…

“Daddy stares – At Kate so fair – If he don’t stop – he won’t get there –Awesometown.”

And to finish…

“I hate big billboards – Yes I do – We once had hundreds – Now just a few – Awesometown.”

Plus…

“Big or small – With lights so bright – We may not have – A real night – Awesometown.”

I could do this forever. I wonder if some company would like to start an advertising campaign like Burma Shave’s signs? That is really fun to write.

But…

“Fingers tired – Mind now weak –May be time – For me to sleep – Not in Awesometown.”

(Still in Kentucky.)

 

 

 

Darryl Manzer grew up in the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s and attended Hart High School. After a career in the U.S. Navy he returned to live in the Santa Clarita Valley. He can be reached at dmanzer@scvhistory.com and his commentaries, published on Tuesdays and Sundays, are archived at DManzer.com. Watch his walking tour of Mentryville [here].

 

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