Last week, I went back to my home town of Binghamton, New York in the middle of March to see a community play that my parents were part of. It was a cold day, par for the course in Upstate in March, but not outrageous. A call for snow that night: again, nothing unusual. Just after six, my wife and I get off the highway and on to NY 12.
Now, don’t ask me what made me think of it, but as soon as I started up the road, my young man’s fancy turned lightly to thoughts of neon. There’s only one neon sign along that section, and that was at Jones’ Humdinger. Humdinger was the ice cream palace of my youth, the place I went to after Little League games, and it’s still going strong since the 50s.
It’s Mid-March, I thought. They won’t be open.
Then I thought again, don’t they open in March?
And then again, Why would you open an outdoor, wait-in-line-for-ice-cream kind of place in Upstate New York in March.
And then I spotted it, from a distance, the neon ice cream cone on top of the building… Open, yes, but there was no chance that anybody would be outside, waiting in line for ice cream when it’s 32 degrees and a chance for snow…would anyone? And this is why I love Upstate New York. Ice cream when it’s cold? Dadgummit, yes. Just try and stop me. 32 degrees? Only barely freezing…what are you, some kinda wimp?
Enjoy the soft serve, my friends. You are an inspiration.
For a long time, I thought the first picture of a sign I took when I switched to digital was a the fascinatingly rusty News Agency sign in Quakertown (I’ll share later), but when I went back and looked at the timeline, my first sign shot was taken in the odd little community of Glendon, Pennsylvania. Glendon is an off-shoot of Easton, and it’s entirely possible that you can only find it by accident. It’s a small strip of land wedged in between a hill, the river, and the railroad tracks, and in that little area, there is the old Glendon Hotel with its 60s era Sprite sign.
I first got a shot in 2009, a couple days after I received my Pentax k20d. It was a decent shot, but the day was pretty cloudy and gloomy, and I was still getting used to the camera, so the results weren’t the greatest. As it so happens, I pass by this location quite a bit these days, and on this day I was armed with my k5. Cloudy and gloomy again, so I wasn’t really tempted to stop. That was, until I spotted what was parked out in front of the old hotel: an Olds that looked more at home wandering the streets of Havana than Eastern Pennsylvania. My Hoopdie-sense was on high alert. But I passed without stopping and went on to get some lunch.
I knew I was going to come back through and that little voice went off in my head: “That Olds isn’t going to be there forever, you know.”
“Might be,” I countered. “I somehow doubt it’s still mobile.”
“You don’t know that,” said the voice.
And I had to admit, the voice was right, so when I came back through, I got out of the car and snapped away.
So I risked life and limb and crossed the road to get a couple shots from across the road and got this beauty:
Red wheels. Irresistible.
So when I came back the next week, sure enough, the Olds was gone. I haven’t seen it since. The moral of the story: every moment is precious, and nothing lasts forever. Listen to that voice and make sure you never miss an opportunity.
Second, if you’re here, you either know me personally or have seen my sign obsession spilled out for all to see on Instagram. By now you probably know that I’m on a mission to capture signs that may or may not be here a year, a month, or even a week from now.
Third, I love neon and I love the movies. Which means, when in Eastern Pennsylvania, visit the Roxy in Northampton.
The Roxy is one of those classic one-screens, originally titled The Lyric Theater when it was built in 1921, it was Art Deco-ed to the hilt in 1933. I hit this one up when I first started taking sign pictures in 2010, and got some great shots during the day. Not only that, but I got a couple of bonus shots: notice to the left of the theater some grand 50’s-60’s lettering on Dave’s Vacuum Cleaners and Laufik’s Jewelers. I got a few shots of these as well.
One slight regret: I’ve never gotten a good shot of the Roxy at night. In 2011, I made a trip out there specifically to get a shot of it at “neon magic hour,” right at sundown when the signs are first lit, but when I got there, it wasn’t open. So this one has become one of my white whales.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I found ourselves out in the area again. The sun was going down, I was driving down PA 145 in Walnutport, when suddenly, Mr. Hyde came alive in the back of my head and yelled at me to pull off the main road and head for Northampton. Fortunately, my wife is used to these sudden compulsions, and after promises of flowers and back rubs allowed me to continue my quest.
We pulled up in front of a coffee shop two doors down from the Roxy. The sign wasn’t lit yet, but it was still a little early. I got out of the car and snapped off a couple shots to feel productive, but I was a little disappointed already: Dave’s and Laufik’s had gone by the wayside, replaced by a none-too-pretty sign.
But fortune favors the foolish: as I waited, I noticed a Ford Fairlane parked in front of us.I love old cars almost as much as old signs, so I couldn’t let this one pass. I snapped off a couple with my phone and with my K-5, and heard the door to the coffee shop open. The kid who owned it stepped out. He was glad to see someone appreciate it and let me see inside; it’s all original paint, extremely well-kept. The kid bought it a few months ago and had grand plans for it.
One of my favorite things is finding something in a shot I didn’t see when I took it, and this one provided a great moment. When I processed this in Photoshop, the flock of geese flying over the town came into focus, adding just that much more to the shot. I love it.
But the White Whale is still out there. The Roxy’s sign didn’t light up after the sun went down and I didn’t have time to wait, so the quest will continue…