Some Thoughts on Back to the Future

Back to the Future is one of my favorite movies. It’s the first movie I watched in the theater by myself. It had been a while since I had seen it, and I was secretly worried that it wouldn’t hold up after all these years. Here are my thoughts, in numerical order:

  1. 1985 sucks.
  2. No, really.
  3. At least this version of 1985. I mean, there’s graffiti everywhere, one of the movie theaters is X-rated, they’ve pasted some monstrosity over the gorgeous Western Auto Parts store sign, and Marty’s wearing a padded vest you can get at Chico’s. Really, 1955 is much cooler.
  4. But that’s the big joke, isn’t it? History is much less kind to 1985, and it’s almost like Robert Zemeckis realized that it would. So kudos to you, Bob.
  5. Power of Love: still holds up, somehow.
  6. By the way, great cameo, Huey Lewis.
  7. Has anybody seen Huey Lewis lately?
  8. The Pepsi Free joke (“If you want a Pepsi, kid, you’ll have to pay for it.”) really only worked in 1985. Pepsi Free was discontinued in 1987.
  9. How many Pepsi references are in this movie? The clunker Pepsi Free joke, there’s a Pepsi box underneath Marvin Berry’s amp, Marty drinks a Diet Pepsi, the can on Marty’s shelf when he wakes up in the morning…
  10. By the way, who sleeps with their arm behind their back like Marty does? That just looks so uncomfortable, and he obviously makes a habit of it because he wakes up twice like that.
  11. Libyans in a micro bus? I thought this was hilarious in 1985, but man, does that seem like a weird, dated reference now. But I’m still delighted that they crashed it into a photomat booth, even after all these years.
  12. Eric Stoltz originally had the role of Marty. Every now and then I try to picture it, and it doesn’t work.
  13. Such language: there’s a lot more swearing in this movie than there probably needs to be. Most likely because they wanted a PG rating rather than a G rating, I’m guessing, and in 1985, uncalled-for swearing got you that. This was before the day that such vague things as “Sci Fi Violence” were enough to get you to PG.
  14. Is it such a crazy idea to breed pine trees? Is it, Mr. I’m Gonna Build Me a Time Machine?
  15. Whose idea on what school committee was it to name the dance “Enchantment Under the Sea”?
  16. “Now, Chris,” says Bob, the director, “when you hear the words 1.21 Gigowatts, I want you to freak out. Got that?” “I got it, I got it…”
  17. Would we still remember John DeLorean’s car company if not for this movie?
  18. Where are George McFly’s parents?
  19. I mean, Marty just waltzes in in a radiation suit armed with a walkman and an Edward Van Halen tape, and no one is there to stop him. No wonder George is a Peeping Tom.
  20. Does Billy Zane have a line? He seems to be content standing behind Biff chewing gum.
  21. Thomas F. Wilson is much better playing young Biff than as middle-aged combover Biff.
  22. Does Marty have to go exactly 88 miles per hour when the bolt of lightning passes into the flux capacitor? I’m not sure what science is involved in this.
  23. Lone Pine Mall. Great joke. I think I watched this movie three times before I caught it.
  24. Weird moment at the end: when Marty returns to the Lone Pine Mall and watches Doc get shot a second time, then witnesses the aforementioned awesome microbus/photomat crash, instead of running down the well-worn path to see if Doc is all right, he throws himself headlong down the embankment like he’s jumping into a foxhole. I’m not sure why.
  25. If this is George McFly’s first novel that’s being delivered to the house, what has he been doing for a living up until now that has given him such a nice living room?
  26. So, is anybody’s life worse off at the end of the movie?
  27. Even Biff seems much happier. Despite the fact that he cheats his customers into thinking they’ve received two coats of wax when in fact they’ve only received one, Biff seems genuinely content as a small business owner.
  28. That Toyota truck that magically appears in the garage at the end is the best thing that 1985 has to offer.
  29. Best thing in the credits: Old Man Peabody’s son’s name? Sherman.
  30. Worst thing in the credits: Old Man Peabody’s daughter’s name? Daughter. Daughter Peabody. Well done, guys.

While I Was Away

Quite honestly, I didn’t expect it would take this long for me to begin posting again. I had grand plans of getting together a lot of my summertime signs and posting, but that somehow never materialized. I could come up with some excuses, but as we all know, excuses are tiresome and never matter much in the end, so moving on from there, I might as well share where I’ve been over the summer and fall.

The short answer: not that many places. But, wherever I could, I tried to make the effort to find some new things and new spots. For instance, this fall, we were summoned to the wedding of my cousin in the North Shore of Massachusetts. Due to time constraints, any Boston sign-gathering was out of the question, but we had time enough on the return trip to hit up some places I had researched. My eye fell upon a stretch of U.S. 5 just west of Hartford in the town on Newington. There were several classics along this stretch, the first of which (the Siesta Motel) I couldn’t get to because of construction. I was a bit disappointed, but there was no reason to look back, as I came upon a bowling alley that had a sign I didn’t even know about.

Bowl-O-Rama, Newington, CT

I’ve shared my frustration with the lack of great old Bowling Alley signs in my area, so I found this one irresistible. I had just bought my Pentax 15mm f/4 and was itching to get good use out of it. I was amazed at the color results of the lens, even more so at my next stop, which was right next door at the Maple Motel:

Maple Motel, Newington, CT

The colors were so vivid, even compared to the shots I took with my other lenses, like so:

Maple Motel, Newington, CT

Mind you, the subject is all that matters. Further down the road, I came upon the USA Motel, which was a much smaller sign than I figured, and had a whole bunch of modern, plastic stuff hanging below it. However, it was very easily accessible, and it wasn’t that hard to get a shot that captured only the good bits:

USA Motel, Newington, CT

But none of these were what I was after in the first place. I had been admiring shots of the Olympia Diner for some time now, and it seemed foolish to let it pass by once again, even though it’s a landmark and not likely to go missing anytime soon. Fortunately, the light was perfect, and all was right with the world:

Olympia Diner, Newington, CT

It was a great little excursion, and a reminder of how fun a little side trip can be.

The Spot, Bethlehem, PA (Cure for the Summertime Blues, Part 1)

One of the great things about taking pictures of old neon signs is getting close to history. Much more than that, these signs represent so much in a community’s collective history. One look at a certain old sign is bound to wake up long-dead memories.

Nothing spurs on great memories like the ice cream stand. I’ve often noted that the best reactions I get from pictures I’ve posted on Instagram come from ice cream stands. It represents so much: summer, vacation, childhood, all the things we remember as good. Nothing beats good ice cream, not even a good ice cream sign!

But here’s my start of a series of summertime pictures, The Spot Drive-In in Bethlehem, PA. I took these last summer in the morning. It was terrifically quiet, but even with the lack of noise and foot traffic, these shots create some memories. Heck, I grew up somewhere else and it brings my back to my local ice cream stand!

The Spot, Bethlehem, PA
The Spot, Bethlehem, PA

The Missing Ghost of Pottstown

A couple of years ago I made a trip to Pottstown, Pennsylvania because they had done a unique thing: they hired a local artist to restore some of the old, faded advertising painted on brick walls. These faded ads are commonly known as ghost signs. These shots served as a previous post of mine titled Bringing Back the Ghosts.

A few days later someone contacted me to let me know that I had missed one. It haunted me. I knew that I had to go back and find it, but I had no idea where to look. There were four that I saw in plain sight, including a marvelous Coca-Cola ad, but the fifth was hiding. This past weekend we drove around Pottstown and I decided to get a shot of The Very Best, which is a bit of a local legend, while I waited to spot the fifth ghost.

The Very Best, Pottstown, PAIf you look carefully, you can spot another ghost. Namely, me.

In order to get back in the direction I waned to go, I had to make a turn around the block and down another side street. As we turned and looked back across the railroad tracks, the ghost suddenly appeared, visible behind some buildings. I wheeled around the block and dipped into an alley, and on the other side I came face to face with the remaining restored ghost.

Merkley's restoed ghost sign, Pottstown, PA

At last, the complete set. And just to the left of this one was the rear entrance to the old Sears store, an actual un-restored ghost sign!

Sears and Markley's, Pottstown, PA

For more about ghost signs in general and specifically the restored versions in Pottstown (and one in Shenandoah), visit the Bringing Back the Ghosts post.

Drexel Hill Style Pizza

One morning on my way to work, I made a detour off the Blue Route (I-476 around the west side of Philadelphia, to the uninitiated), as one often has to do if one has to get anywhere with any sort of speed. Along PA-3 in Broomall, I came across this seasoned campaigner:

Drexel Hill Style Pizza, Broomall, PA

The Chicago Style Pizza and the New York Style Pizza are well-known variants, and in the upper corners of Pennsylvania, the Old Forge Style Pizza is favored. But Drexel Hill Style was a new one for me. Apparently this is a more Greek style, and a quick internet search yielded this info. Looks pretty good. Sadly, it being the morning, I was unable to partake, and it’s not close enough to work for me to hit it up on my lunch break. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the sign…

Drexel Hill Style Pizza, Broomall, PA

In Deepwater

I recently bought a replacement for my aging 75-300 Sigma lens, which pretty much ripped itself a new one from the inside during a photo shoot a couple months ago. I replaced it with a brand new Sigma and I’ve been pleased with the results. A few weeks ago I skipped across the border into New Jersey and trolled for signs along US 130. Honestly, I didn’t find much, but my one discovery was the Deepwater Truck Terminal in Deepwater, NJ. I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again: I’m a sucker for really big letters. I’m even a bigger sucker for big letters in neon on top of a building. And I’m darn near obscene when it comes to rusty dusty old letters on top of a building.

Deepwater Truck Terminal, Deepwater, NJ

One of my favorite things to do is get some super close-ups going with a long lens when I see such a sign, so I dove in head-first. I just love the kind of tangle of letters it produces.

Deepwater Truck Terminal, Deepwater, NJ

Tick Tock Diner and Rutt’s Hut

The short version: since I got a new job, I’ve hardly had time to draw breath, so this is why I haven’t posted for a good deal of time. However, I have quite the backlog of sign pictures to share, so I figured the best way to do so is post considerably smaller posts.

First off, having returned from a funeral last March, we stopped through one of our favorite spots, Rutt’s Hut in Clifton, New Jersey. The dogs are done in the Texas Weiner style peculiar to New Jersey, which is to say that they are deep fried, but rather than coating them with the special Greek sauce, Rutt’s Hut makes its own mustard and relish, which makes the hot dogs that much more special.

Rutts Hut Hot Dogs, Clifton, NJAnd yes, I ate every single one…

Their sign was damaged in Sandy, but they restored it pretty well. It doesn’t have that rusty old-world charm anymore, but you can’t have everything.

Rutts Hut Hot Dogs Sign, Clifton, NJPhoto-bombed by a bird again…

Just down from Rutt’s Hut is the Tick Tock Diner. This got in the news in the last year because the former manager of the place got arrested for trying to murder his uncle, but before then, it was justly noted for its food, and for its stylish looks.

Tick Tock Diner, Clifton, NJ

So that’s the short version. That, and this is crossed off my to-do list. More to come, I promise!

 

The Endings

This winter was harsh and not just because of the weather. In January, I learned that I was losing one of my clients, one that I had worked with for six years. Then February came, and the temperatures plunged below freezing for nearly the entire month. One night in February, our elderly neighbor slipped and fell and we found her a few days later in the foyer of her home, clinging to life. Fortunately, she managed to survive this ordeal, and is currently recuperating.

And then March came, and on the 15th, Laura received a text that her Aunt had passed away in the Boston area.

The week was full of preparations to go north for the funeral. Laura’s sister Hannah was flying in from Texas, and her sister Rachel was driving to our house so we could all head up together. On Wednesday of that week, the fearless weather people suddenly decided that the Lehigh Valley would see four to eight inches of snow on Friday, so we had to make an early start of it.

Unlike most of the storms this winter, this one was going to avoid Massachusetts and points north, so I decided to change course. Instead of the direct route through New York, I went north, up to Newburgh and on to the Taconic Parkway. And yes, this provided me with an opportunity to cross a few signs off my list.

Both signs along this trail were remarkably similar. Both were diners, and both featured Native Americans. The first, the West Taghkanic Diner in Ancram, NY, was in the process of being repaired, as you can see from the scaffolding. Hopefully, I’ll get the chance to return when it’s a nicer day and the sign is completely fixed. Looks good to me now!

West Taghkanic Diner, Ancram, NY

West Taghkanic Diner, Ancram, NY

The second of these two is right down the road on NY 23, the Chief Martindale, which is right off the Taconic Parkway exit. This sign has been stripped of its neon, the portrait of the chief has been repainted over the years, but it is a decided throwback:

Chief Martindale Diner, Craryville, NY

Meanwhile, on the diner itself, the neon DINER was lit up during the day:

Chief Martindale Diner, Craryville, NYWhile the snow piled up behind us, we continued on through on 23, crossing into Massachusetts. I had pretty much turned my attention toward getting us in before beginning of the dusting that was slated to hit Boston. In so doing, we ended up going through Stockbridge, and on the edge of town, I discovered something that is terribly elusive in our area: the neon bowling sign. This is the Cove, just outside Stockbridge in Great Barrington, MA:

Cove Bowling Center, Stockbridge, MA

I shot another in RAW, and was very happy with the results. The colors are slightly different after processing, but I think this was truer to the dreary day:

Cove Bowling Center, Stockbridge, MA

We all got in that night. It was good to see everybody, but we were sad when we thought of the reason that brought us all together. The nature of life is that it never stays the same. Even in our frustrations about how things are not changing, there’s always more going on than meets the eye. We sat and we talked and quietly pondered what would happen tomorrow, at the funeral. We knew tomorrow would be different, but how and why and what exactly we would be doing were yet to be written.

Knowing When to Leave

Overall, I’ve had pretty good success as far as getting shots of old signs and not having anyone complain. I probably have more positive stories than negative, because most people recognize the fact that the more pictures are taken of their sign, the greater the publicity. I’ve been given the raised eyebrow twice, and told to outright leave the premises one other time, and two times total I’ve felt the need to get in my car and get driving immediately. The first time was at the Nor-Pole Drive-In in Orangeburg, during which I’m reasonably sure my license plate number was noted.

Motel Deska, Wernersville, PA

This was the second. I was on my way back from Lebanon County when I spotted this old rusty devil along US 422. I did a U-Turn and pulled off to the side of the road. There’s a hill below, from which I took some shots. The field was open before me, and I couldn’t resist getting some closer shots, including the one above. I took five pictures in all, and suddenly I began to hear this odd snapping noise. I look over at the motel and out of the corner of my eye I see a man bursting out of the motel, his arm raised, his fingers snapping wildly. He didn’t say anything, but he had conveyed his message. I dipped back down the hill, got in my car, and drove off.

Later I discovered perhaps why the reaction. A quick internet search of this place revealed a cadre of bad reviews. Oh, well, such things happen.

Let me know if you have had some similar interesting entanglements!

Hey There, Georgia Girl

Georgia Girl Drive-In, Woodbine, GA

My parents didn’t live in Georgia for long. In fact, if truth be known, it was the shortest time I’ve ever lived anywhere in my life. Back in the early 70s, my father got a teaching job in the Brunswick area and we lived in a duplex on Jekyll Island. The job, and the beach home, lasted less than a year, and even though I was younger than three years old, I still remember the day we drove off, leaving the enormous bridge to Brunswick behind.

As an adult, I lived in Georgia for about five years, just across the border from Tennessee. I still have my old Georgia license plate to prove it. Nowadays I only seem to pass through there on my way to Florida.

In 2013, when coming back from Florida, and we made our mad dash to Wright’s Dairy-Rite in Virginia, there was a little part of the story I left out. I fully intended to make a stop at the Georgia Girl Drive-In in Woodbine, Georgia, but I realized that time would not allow us to stop at Bar-B-Q King in Charlotte for lunch, and hit Wright’s in Staunton in time for neon magic hour. So, with much trepidation I put it off.

Much trepidation because I knew the old place was abandoned, and that any day now someone would get the idea to take the sign down. Or, judging by its age, it might fall down on its own. So I made every intention of hitting this up on our way down to Florida last October.

The sun was out and shining bright. Since the Georgia Girl had long since closed, Google Maps were useless, so I was counting on reports of others as to its actual location. Fortunately the directions were not too hard, and there it was, still standing.

Georgia Girl Drive-In, Woodbine, GA

Standing, but just barely. The abandoned car added to the ambience. Fortunately, this was right on US 17, so I wasn’t too worried about carrying forth with my photography plans. The difficulty was pretty obvious from the start: the sun had bleached the side of the sign with full sun on it. The other side was vibrant, but I would have to crawl through the weeds to get that shot.

Flashback: the Temple Drive-In in Williamstown, PA. First time I took shots of that, I came down with dozens of chigger bites. Eight-to-five said there were chiggers in them thar hills. I decided discretion was the better part of valor and stuck to taking shots from the sunny side.

Georgia Girl Drive-In, Woodbine, GA
Georgia Girl Drive-In, Woodbine, GA

And all of this was good, and showed off the rustiness and dustiness, but I knew what the other side looked like and I knew that was a better shot. I waited for the sun to go away, attached my longest lens, and walked down the sidewalk a bit to see if there was anything I could do. It wasn’t the easiest shot, because of green trailer standing in the way. I had to put the K-5 into live mode and held it above my head as high as my arms could reach. Several tries ended in miserable, blurry failure, but in the end…

Georgia Girl Drive-In, Woodbine, GA

We drove off, having been honked at only once, and made our way for Florida and vacation, but we were so glad we could get this little piece of history.

And here’s where it is!

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