A low-cost alternative to the sign ordinance

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Anthropologists will tell you the ability to use a sign as a stand-in for the real thing is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

This dates back to the time when primitive man first painted pictures of buffalo on cave walls to describe his hunt. We now know this was just man's way of explaining to his wife why he came back without dinner, but the sign breakthrough stands.

Most of us use the ability to read signs every day without even knowing it.

For instance, if I see the outline of a woman holding a little girl's hand, I know I'm at a crosswalk.

If I see a silhouette of a leaping deer, I know to either look out for Bambi or buy a lawn mower.

And most importantly, if I see a skull and cross-bones, I know the pickles I just ate tasted spicy for a reason.

So that seems simple enough. Signs are all good and they help us out.

Well ... not so fast. At least not around here.

It seems that Cape Girardeans are playing a little too fast and loose with their primitive behavior, and as a result signs have taken over.

City officials point to sections of Kingshighway as evidence of signs run wild. And it's not hard to see their point.

Gas stations boast as many beer and cigarette sale signs as can be crammed into a little lot, tattered banners advertise sales that are long over, and directional signs lead impressionable motorists to garage sales they never wanted to attend. These have all become nuissances in recent years.

About a year ago, public officials decided to crack down. They said signs could be part of the scenery, but they shouldn't be the scenery.

They declared Cape Girardeau would no longer be known as the sign Mecca of Southeast Missouri. And after a great deal of hard work, they produced a careful and well-crafted ordinance.

Some people think this ordinance is too harsh, some not harsh enough, but everyone seems to believe the sign problem will persist.

So in the spirit of the times, I've got a solution that may not be perfect, but it's the best I can do.

Ignore them and they'll go away. It's that simple. It worked with your annoying little sister and it will work with signs.

Call it reverse psychology, call it nonviolent resistance, call it whatever you want, but if enough consumers avoid businesses with signs, businesses will take the hint.

Signs only work because they attract and influence people. That's why cavemen used them and that's why we use them today.

So next time you do your errands, only fill up your gas at the place without beer signs and only do your banking at the place without the free-checking banner flapping in the wind. Signs are like Hollywood stars -- they must be looked at to be important.

That means if a community collectively looks the other way, all those obnoxious signs will shrivel up and die.

Just one man's idea that admittedly will probably never work. But it never hurts to try.

TJ Greaney is a reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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