Roads (Slightly) Less Traveled

Signhunting is not an exact science. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of resources out there for discovering where the good ones are, but at the same time, not everything has been photographed, and Google is only as good as your keywords when you’re looking around on the internet. I like to use “neon sign”  along with the city or town that I’m researching, but invariably I come up with a Bud Light sign or the ever-popular “Bimbo en Repose” for you art and mud flap aficionados. So, every once in a while I kick it in American Pickers mode and just hit a road I’ve never hit before.

Returning from the Llanerch a few Saturdays ago, we headed up route 1, hoping to find something more. However, that area, as interesting as it is, contains no neon or anything old and interesting. Somewhat disappointed, we decided to head back via the Schuylkill Expressway.

“It’s all right,” I said. “It’s Saturday,” I said. “How bad can it be?” I said.

(Philadelphia natives who are reading this: I hope you were not injured when you hit the floor laughing)

After spending three lifetimes to drive the space of two miles, we were allowed to go free. And being somewhat frustrated and being the proponent of the road less traveled as I am, I followed my nose. My nose told me to go up 422, because I had some unfinished business in the town of Royersford.

We had been through a few months before, looking for a neon relic that’s attached to Lebow Furniture. I had to give it a miss due to time constraints, but now I was ready to roll. I wasn’t sure exactly where it was, so I followed my nose down Main Street. Before we got there, we saw a colorful old one in front of Plotts’ Oil. We stuck a pin in that one, because I was after Lebow.

Lebow Furniture, Main Street RoyersfordLebow Furniture is still in operation. Anytime you see a local furniture place still operating these days, it’s pretty encouraging. Especially in a grand old Main Street like this.

Lebow Furniture

Not as encouraging was the appliance store just down the street. The sign for McKissic and Sons is still clinging to the side of the old building, but there’s no other hint that there’s been anything there for years. I dig the arrow shape:


All that remained was to reverse course and get the Plotts’ Oil sign:

plottsOrange and yellow? Two words: Yum yum.

It occurred to me when I got back that I had found only two signs rolling around Philadelphia and environs and I found three gems on Main Street in Royersford. Which just goes to show you that you don’t always find what your looking for in the most obvious places.

To-Do List Updates

I’ve been very busy lately gathering some links to sign pictures through the interwebs. In case you haven’t gone to the To-Do List page lately, I decided to break things up into states, because quite frankly the list was getting too long and disorganized. Plus, I’ve had some crossings-off of the list, most notably, the Llanerch Diner. If I would get off my lazy butt and process the pictures I took from Hot Dog Johnny’s in Buttzville, NJ, I would have that one as well.

In the process of creating these subpages, I created two new ones, for Ohio and Delaware. Originally I wasn’t going to do an Ohio page, but when I saw a picture of Bun’s Restaurant in Delaware, Ohio while researching Delaware locations, I knew I had to add it. I also promise to get a Maryland page out soon.

Also, for the visually stimulated, I have a board on Pinterest dedicated to my To-Do list.

Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud

Once in a while I’ll watch a movie, usually an old one, where I see an old sign in the background, and I salivate like Pavlov’s dog. Even if I know the sign has long since been replaced. Something beautiful and unattainable. I am somehow mournful and encouraged at the same time, as most men (not I) must feel about watching a movie with Megan Fox in it. Not even a remote chance of that happening, and yet, she still exists.

That was, until this year, when I watched Silver Linings Playbook. In case you missed it, the movie is set in the Philadelphia suburbs, and several key scenes in the movie take place in the Llanerch Diner, Upper Darby’s own. As you can imagine, the idea of capturing a neon diner sign is appealing to me no matter what the circumstances, but one that’s featured in a movie? Get out. Immediately, this went on my to-do list.

We made the pilgrimage to the Llanerch two weekends ago. Obviously, since I had seen the place from several different angles from the movie, I knew it wasn’t the best ever, but it was now somewhat famous.

Llanerch Diner TopI started in taking pictures of the DINER on top. As you can see above, the Diner portion of the sign is quite old The Llanerch part with the coffee cups was most likely added within the last twenty to thirty years. An odd contrast, I felt. I wondered what the original looked like.

Then I tried to work in the whole building. The Llanerch in red on the building is quite stylish, and has probably been around a while. And then that lovely delivery sign above it. Let’s just say there have been better uses of Helvetica.


Along the side, facing US 1, was a third sign that I didn’t know about. This was the discovery, for me. A great old shape, with another script ‘Llanerch’ and ‘Diner’ spelled out in individual blocks. A great sight, but then, the worst signage atrocity I could possibly imagine: a nasty old LCD panel straight outta 1991 parked alongside.

Llanerch Diner Side Sign

To say I was disappointed would be overstating it, but it wasn’t, as I had hoped, this amazing experience. Not what I had expected, not the worst but certainly not the best.

I imagine it’s probably like meeting Megan Fox.

Along the way I made a side trip to get shots of the Anthony Wayne Theater in Wayne, PA, which I’ve added to the movie theaters page.

Anthony Wayne Theater, Wayne, PA

Side note: remembering my mention of Tommy Lee Jones in last week’s entry, Robert DeNiro also didn’t win Best Supporting Actor in 2012, which is also infuriating.

Christoph Waltz won for Django Unchained.


ritz-ice-creamThe Ritz Barbecue, Allentown, PA

Lately, I’ve been reading a book a friend of mine recommended. It’s by the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, Steven Pressfield, entitled The War of Art, and it’s been coloring everything I see. The main focus of the book is crashing though the barriers to creative achievement, which he personifies as “Resistance.” Far too often we give in to Resistance and don’t do the things we need to do start and complete creative projects, whether it be a book, a painting, or a business.

It’s Sunday night. Usually, we do nothing on Sunday nights, because I’m going to have to get up in the morning to take the long journey in to work. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, this requires a two-hour one-way trip in the car. But a small voice in my head whispered the words “Ice Cream,” and it wouldn’t stop. The closest place to procure such delicacies is The Ritz Barbecue, just to the side of the Allentown Fairgrounds. And The Ritz has neon signs. And it was getting close to neon magic hour.

Laura was all on board for the ice cream, so we got ready. On the way out the door, she says, “Aren’t you going to take the camera?”

Some part of my brain, no doubt the part that doesn’t work properly, said that I shouldn’t. I’m not sure why. Some weird form of guilt that has no basis in fact or logic. Resistance. I shook it off and scooped up the camera bag.

We pull into the parking lot of the Fairgrounds, and what I saw blew my mind. Unbeknownst to either of us, the Blue Mountain Classics Car Club was having a Cruise Night in the parking lot of the Ritz. There were about thirty or forty classics lined up, shining in the waning sun.

“And this is why I should take the camera,” I said.

Super Deluxe 8


Lesson learned. If I’d stuck to the normal pattern, I would have missed out on this whole thing. If I had listened to my own foolish notions, I would have been flailing around trying to capture this on my iPhone. But I cast all those things aside and got this great shots, got to see some great cars, and oh, by the way, got some Peanut Butter Cookie Dough ice cream.

Which sort of brings me to dreams and aspirations, and how they are available when you make the effort to announce your intentions. We get so beaten down in life that we naturally suspect that we can’t get what we want. I think we get upset at those that are successful because they act as if they can get anything that they want and then do just that. Donald Trump, for instance, annoys the crap out of me. But you know, the man has made his money because he believes he can. And secretly, I admire those convictions.

Bel Air at the Ritz Barbecueritz

The Apostle Paul says in the book of Romans that God “calls into being things that were not,” and honestly I don’t mean to sound like I just stepped behind a pulpit, but I believe this. I also believe that we, as mere mortals, can do the same thing, to call into being things that are not.

So I say this, just to release this dream into the air:  I want to drive the length of US 1 from Maine to Key West. Driving in one of these classics. Taking shots of all the great signs I see along the way. In my head, this seems impossible. But once I say it, it not only sounds possible, but likely.

What’s your dream?

The Nature of the Beast

We had just finished watching Lincoln. Being the out-of-touch slobs that we are, we were unaware if the movie had won any Oscars, or if, in fact, the Oscars had been cancelled in favor of a very special episode of The Bachelor. So I popped the iPhone in my hand and searched imdb for such information. It was while I was searching for a good reason why Tommy Lee Jones had not won a Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens that I suddenly realized that Laura had asked me to open the window. Ten minutes earlier.

We’ve all seen it and some of us have lived it: a couple in line waiting for a table, both of them on their smartphones in silence. We recently witnessed this phenomenon in a restaurant where the couple in question had a three-year-old daughter. The daughter was climbing and squirming on her Dad’s lap, touching the screen, blocking the screen, doing anything to get his attention, and I suddenly thought: it’s not going to be too long before we’re playing out the scenario in Wall-E where we’re all 400 pounds staring at screens every waking hour.

sherman-house fainberg-square

I love Instagram. It’s allowed me a creative outlet to post the pictures you see above. It’s motivated me to travel more, seek out new and more interesting things to photograph. I’ve met many interesting people and I’ve seen a great many interesting things from other people’s travels. But at the same time, it is a para-reality: whereas I know a certain amount about the people I’ve met in this community, I don’t really know them. I could, and perhaps have, walked directly past a person I’m following or who is following me.

Eventually, we have to come to the same conclusion: social media is no substitute for real people and real relationships. There is no sense in making social media, any social media, any more than it actually is. It has as much to do with our deepest selves as a billboard with our own face plastered on it. How else can you explain the hordes of tweens with nothing on their Instagram feeds but 950 pictures of themselves?

gulf-square mr-chicken-square

Who you callin’ Mr. Chicken?

Two things I take out of all this: one, I will continue to write this blog, post to Instagram, and bring you shots of my travels. We are fellow travelers on this journey, but those closest to me, my wife and family, are the most important and take precedence. In light of that, on weekends, I’ve decided to not post anything on Instagram and do my best to ignore the fact that I own an iPhone.

The second, no social media can beat actual human interaction. I would love to do an Instameet, having blown my chances previously. The previous two in my area have taken place in Bethlehem, at the Bethlehem Steel. What I propose in an Instameet is a mini-sign tour (and whatever else) in the historic section of Bethlehem. There are three good ones downtown within easy walking distance. In a perfect world, I would like to see if the Bethlehem Hotel is open to a neon magic hour shot on the roof. Who’s with me?


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Instameet

About a month ago, I was checking through my news feed on Instagram and found out that there was going to be an Instameet at the Bethlehem SteelStacks on August 3rd. In case you’re not hip to the jam (as the kids are saying these days), and Instameet is, well, people meeting together and Instagramming. Self explanatory, really.


There was even word that a few of the steelworkers would be on hand to tell stories of the days when “The Steel” was in operation. So, lured in with this opportunity, and being the good IGer that I am, I planned to attend.


“The Steel”

In the meantime, Laura and I were trying to work out a good time to go to the optometrist, because we hadn’t been in a while. My work schedule is wacky. Zany, in fact. A good time during the week to go to the eye doctor does not exist, so we booked our appointment for noon on August 3rd. The Instameet was to be at 3. That would give us plenty of time.

Not thinking, of course, that one of the things that they do to you at the eye doctor is put drops in your eyes to make your pupils dilate to 43 times their normal size. We got out of there at 1:30 all right, more than enough to get to the other side of  Bethlehem in time, but our eyes looked like black marbles. They assured us that we would be fine in an hour. So we walked out, and our reaction to the harsh sunlight was not unlike Quasimodo’s. I checked my phone. I couldn’t see my phone. I couldn’t see anything inside of ten feet, in fact. Past ten feet was fine, so I could see well enough to drive. So we drove home until this blew over.

2:30 rolled around and we continued to look  like cartoon characters. We sat still in our chairs. I stood up and room did a quarter turn and I sat back down again. We weren’t going anywhere. In fact, it wasn’t until the next day that we were back to normal. One hour and we’d be completely normal. Suuuuuuure.

So, apologies to all who did attend and did have their pupils at normal size. In honor of the Instameet at The Steel, here’s a few shots I took in May when we were down there:

steel-1 steel-2 steel-arches steel-buildings

And, since, this is all about signs, here’s a few of my favorites from Bethlehem:


The Fritch sign, although technically well into the city, is the sign that welcomes you in to town along PA 378. This has been a landmark for years. This was taken last year, when I got the gumption to take the long walk up to the bridge to get these.



Along the oldest part of town is the other great landmark, the Hotel Bethlehem. I really need to talk to somebody about getting up on the roof and getting this sign properly.

This old music shop is just up the street from the Hotel. I do love me a good ghost sign:



I absolutely backed my way into this one. I wasn’t looking for this sign, but it seemed to find me. Pretty much all I had to do was follow my nose. The smells coming out of the Vallos Bakery were heavenly. Although I wouldn’t recommend the rusty, peeling doughnut. To eat, at any rate.

Things To Do in Philadelphia (when you’re halfway alive)

Thanks to several people who have been visiting my To-Do List page and made some great suggestions. It’s terrifically encouraging and it prompts me to get off my sorry duff and research some things my own darn self. Particularly in Philadelphia, which is the nearest major city to where I live. And which I have avoided, due to the fact that I was attacked by the Schuylkill Expressway as a child.

Said sorry duff gotten off of, if that is the correct English, I’ve made quite a few new additions to the list, all in Philadelphia. Please let me know of any more that you know of, and if some of these (particularly Philip’s on Broad Street) are still alive and well.