I love word play as much as I love motorcycles, and entertaining ways to combine these two passions are conveniently posted along roads where I ride. Signs guide the way and state the rules, but more than a few give me reason to laugh out loud. Often it’s by accident, but other times by design.
Signs have alerted me to my arrival in Peru, Washington, Holland, Wales and Florida—all within my home region of western Massachusetts. You can go to Egypt, Sweden, Norway and China without leaving Maine. You can find yourself in Scotland, Lebanon and Miami Beach within the borders of Connecticut. I’ve ridden through Satan’s Kingdom in Massachusetts (there’s another in Vermont). It’s been suggested that I go to Hell (that’s in Michigan). Perhaps you’ve had Intercourse on your itinerary when you visited Pennsylvania or come up on New Erection in Virginia. Maybe you rode your Tiger to Triumph, Idaho, or your Road King to Harley, North Carolina, or your Gold Wing to Bahia Honda in the Florida Keys.
Sometimes streets come together with wonderful irony. In Concord, New Hampshire I’ve found myself at the crossroads of Church and State. In St. Johnsbury, Vermont, I stopped where Summer met Winter. On a trip to Buffalo, New York, I wound up at the corner of Clark and Kent. (Strangely, Lois Lane was not nearby.)
Last summer on my way to Ohio, I passed a succession of dirt roads ending at the paved road on which I was traveling. There was a blue splotch on my GPS screen so I guessed these were access roads to lakeside homes. On familiar green signs were posted names like Shore Road and Lake Drive, but a few had wry humor that I wouldn’t expect from the highway department. Were property owners given the opportunity to name their own roads? There was Test Drive (perhaps a car dealer’s vacation spot), Semi Circle (for a trucker or maybe a math teacher?) and the one that gave your humble scribe an ear-to-ear grin, Ernest Heming Way.
I’ve seen roads that are conveniently posted to let you know there’s no way out:
- Graves Avenue/DEAD END (Massachusetts)
- Entrance Road/NO EXIT (New Jersey)
- Power Avenue/NO OUTLET (Pennsylvania)
Other street signs that made me chuckle include:
- Keepa Way (Maine)
- Goa Way (New Hampshire)
- Old New Salem Road (Massachusetts)
- Back Road (New York)
- Psycho Path (Maine)
- Sonova Beach Road…emphasis on the first syllable, I presume (Florida)
Some road signs are so amusing they become targets for thieves. One street sign in New Portland, Maine—the one for Katies Crotch Road—is stolen routinely. The road’s been there a good long time, but where the name originated is not entirely clear. One theory is that a family with the last name of Katie used to live at the road’s intersection with what today is Route 16, and crotch referred to the V shape of the intersection. Sounds reasonable. Another story says there used to be a tavern on the road run by a woman named Katie. That may well be. Then there’s the version with a woman named Katie who lived along the road and liked to sit on her porch while wearing no underwear. Sure, why not name a road for that.
Whatever the origin of that road’s name, I’ve ridden twice to New Portland, Maine, to photograph the sign. Both times it’s been missing. Earlier this year, the town elders of New Portland voted not to change the name of the street even though it costs about $200 to replace the sign every time it’s stolen which, reliably, is soon after a new one is put up. Selling Katies Crotch Road signs could be a business opportunity for a local merchant and a way to save the town recurring $200 projects.
If someone wanted to steal Main Street signs, a trip to Orange, Massachusetts, would be in order. Right in the center of town, North Main Street, West Main Street, South Main Street and East Main Street intersect. Four Main Streets in one town? Whose idea was that? While I was sizing up my photo op, a man walking his dog asked what I was doing. I mentioned the signs. He said he’d lived in that town for 31 years, it never occurred to him, but he found it amusing. Then he said, “Here, do this…” and hit the WALK button. Traffic stopped from all four directions, I walked into the middle of the intersection, shot a photo from an angle that shows all four Main Street signs, and thanked the guy for his good idea.
Though my grandmother told me never to make fun of someone’s name, I admit to having laughed at names on signs displayed by the person so named. Doctors top this category and two of my favorites are Dr. Foote, Podiatrist (Hamilton, New Jersey) and Dr. Katz, Veterinarian (Leverett, Massachusetts).
While some signs are ironic or funny by accident, others are made funny through selective graffiti. You may have seen a small red circle carefully added to a deer advisory sign. Caution: Rudolph Crossing. And what about an ellipse drawn around the waist of the pedestrian stick figure in a crosswalk sign? Makes it look like he’s hula-hooping.
Some purveyors of graffiti cover only certain letters, such as NO HORN BLOWING EXCEPT FOR
DANGER, seen in Connecticut. Two miles from my home, three letters on a sign are regularly covered to create SLUM BER LANE. This has been going on since I was a kid, and perhaps longer than that. (As of this writing, the sign reads properly…time for someone to carry on the tradition!)
Other signs are amended with new wording. In Hampden, Massachusetts, there’s a STOP sign to which EATING ANIMALS was added. A second sign editor trumped that by adding WITHOUT GARLIC. In the moose-rich country of north central Massachusetts, a wildlife advisory sign along Route 119 was targeted by a clever editor who placed a Rocket J. Squirrel sticker alongside the moose.
The selective graffiti genre approaches genius along a nicely winding stretch of State Route 32 in Connecticut, just south of the Massachusetts border. There, on a speed limit sign, a neatly stenciled rectangle of spray paint has transformed the numeral 0 into the letter Q. The result: SPEED LIMIT 4Q. (Say it out loud a couple times.) Makes me laugh every time I ride by.
Maybe I’ve been appointed by some higher authority to go riding in search of humorous word play. It could be a sign.
NOTE: The photos in this column I shot with my own cameras. I invite readers to share descriptions of humorous signs they’ve seen personally in the Comments section below. -Bones