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Wacky signs

Medium has some strange messages for S.L. Valley

The messages can be mystifying but often they lure people into Nielsen's Frozen Custard in Millcreek.

"Before the parade passes by, try our floats," the sign says as the Days of '47 draw near.

"People come in and say, 'We didn't see your float in the parade,' " said Frozen Custard co-owner John Gadd. Does Nielsen's have a float in the July 24 procession? Nope, Gadd said, all the floats are the root-beer kind inside the shop.

The Salt Lake Valley is dotted with such signs: baffling billboards,

humorous marquees and abundant examples of creative spelling and punctuation. There's even a street sign that denies the existence of a towering landmark a few yards away.

Let's take a tour. We can't cover everything, of course — but reading the wacky signs here is safer than scrutinizing them while barreling down State Street.

Gadd and his grown children Kathy, John and Paul concoct new witticisms for their Frozen Custard sign every month or so. Gadd says he just wants to lighten things up for passers-by. The sign, at 3918 S. Highland Drive, has been known to tackle presidential politics. Gadd won't enter into a discussion of his personal views, but his election humor has been on public view: "Are we all feeling bright-eyed and Bushy-Quayled?" was the post-November 1988 sign, and bracketing the Clinton-Dole race in 1996, it was "The problem with political jokes is that they get elected."

"Forget world peace — use your turn signal," pleads the marquee over the Bagelry at 5901 S. State in Murray. That message is one of the most popular among many that have appeared on the sign since the shop opened four years ago. Now it's been held over at customer request, according to Bagelry manager Sergio Takahashi. He and other managers pick through the Internet and library books for wry quotations, which they rotate on the marquee every few weeks. Past favorites of Takahashi's include "Be nice to your kids, they'll choose your nursing home" from last winter and "Have you ever stopped to think and forgot to start again?" which appeared a month ago.

One international traveler found a downtown Salt Lake street contradictory, according to Utah Travel Council communications director Tracie Cayford. "We gave this one man directions to Temple Square, and he went downtown to where he was supposed to turn," she said. He thought he was lost when he looked up and saw a sign that said "No Temple," very near where he had been told the temple would be. Perplexed, he returned to the Travel Council and learned that the city has abbreviated its signs for North Temple, South Temple and West Temple. So what happened to East Temple? he asked Cayford. She has yet to find the answer.

Another sign, at the western edge of Salt Lake City, announces that here is a state where we can laugh at ourselves and our liquor laws. "Cold beer nuts" is on one side, and "Cold bee? Welcome to Utah" is on the other, facing travelers coming in from the airport. That blue-and-white billboard has been above Wheel-In Market at 1306 W. North Temple for at least 10 years, according to owner Carl Hodges. It's a relic from the era when outdoor advertising of alcohol was illegal in Utah, way back in 1990.

"I remember they had a bag of beer nuts in the cooler," to make good on the sign's promise, said state Alcoholic Beverage Control spokesman Earl Dorius.

Next we have a potentially romantic misspelling on 300 West near the Children's Museum of Utah. A small red-and- white sign in the median forbids left turns "EXCEPT BUSSES." This may mean buses can turn left. But if we look up "busses" in any dictionary, we find it means kisses. So it seems that if drivers along 300 West are affectionate, they may use that lane near the museum to turn left.

"I see no problem with a kissing lane," said Larry Curtis, Salt Lake City, who happens to be a newlywed.

Yet no one wants to take credit for the busses sign. "That's the city's," said Utah Transit Authority sign shop manager Lee Nielson.

"That's UTA's," said Salt Lake traffic operations manager Art Valente. He added his staff of about 20 workers keeps track of 60,000 signs within the city limits.

Well, I'm dealing with highway signs for the whole state of Utah, said Nielson. His shop paints some 3,000 square feet of signage every month. "Sometimes we misspell them on purpose, to see if people are reading them," Nielson said. "Just kidding."

The mother of one UTA sign painter did catch a misspelling, said Nielson. About two months ago she saw a sign on I-15 that announced the exit for "Murry." She immediately alerted her son and he retrieved the sign and inserted the "a."

Such silent letters confound writers of all stripes, and so do apostrophes. They sneak in — or out, as one did on the sign at Dirk's Fine Drapery & Dry Cleaning, 1871 S. 700 East in Salt Lake City. "Were the best," it says. This is either humility — perhaps Dirk's was the best but now doesn't want to brag — or the apostrophe that would have made it "We're the best" escaped.

That punctuation mark may have flown to Highland Park and the corner of Stratford and Glenmare, where the Valley Green landscaping's signs read, "Annuals," "Perennials," "Vegetables" and "Herb's." Herb's what? One wonders what Herb has besides a possessive apostrophe.

E-MAIL: durbani@desnews.com