Gone Fishin’ (for Signs)

I suppose the mark of whether you are a good employee is the amount of work that piles upon you the last week before you go on vacation. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know, but since I’ve been vertically and horizontally swamped this week, I choose to believe that my work will be missed. Which brings me sideways to my point: next week I’ll be on vacation.

My family has been vacationing in Daytona Beach since the mid-80s, when my grandparents moved to nearby Ormond Beach. The last two years have been spent in New Smyrna Beach (please read as New Sa-myrna Beach, to sound like a native). And last year, we ran into one of the drearier Novembers Florida has had in recent memory, so there was little beach time and much more fishing for signs.

Shangri-la Motel, New Smyrna Beach, FL

During a brief amount of sun I managed to get to Shangri-La. Or at least, the motel version. This was a real old “motor court” style of place, with the individual cabins a la It Happened One Night. While I was snapping away merrily, a woman came out of one of the cabins. Turns out she’s one of the owners, and she let me know a little bit about the place. The sign has been out of order since a hurricane hit the area a few years ago. It might work, but when they tried it, there was some electricity arcing going on, so they felt it best to leave it off. The cabins, of course, are a rarity, and apparently the local architectural college has students come by on field trips.

Hall Machine, New Smyrna Beach, Florida

Just down US 1 is this beauty, which is essentially a bunch of walls of fading sign-painterly goodness. I ran into the owners this time as well, but they were a little more skittish. Apparently, they’ve been getting flak from the local powers-that-be for not cleaning up their appearance. Quite honestly, it’s some character of old Florida that I can’t get enough of, and told them so. They were pleased with that and let me take shots to my heart’s content.


Back in Daytona. Love this place, and I hit it just right, during a fleeting moment of sunshine. I think I ran into the owner again, but this one didn’t talk. He just stared at me at an angle and generally looked like he might bark at me if he were a German Shepherd. When neon hula girls are at stake, no amount of stinkeye is enough to keep me away.

There’s very little of old Florida signs left, unfortunately, so I’ve pretty much tapped that resource out. Unless of course, you know of any places I need to go (hint, hint). If so, please comment on this post.


What is it that draws us to abandoned and broken places? Is it simply just because they are different from the everyday, or do they cause interesting questions in the mind of the viewer, or is there something within us that feels a kinship with its lonely and broken appearance. Perhaps all three.

Izzy's, Allentown, PAIzzy’s Allentown, PA (post-fire, now torn down)

The Orange Car, Allentown, PAThe Orange Car, Allentown, PA

It wasn’t a good weekend last weekend. My computer of six years took a sudden and irrepairable nosedive on Saturday. On Sunday, my car started hesitating while shifting gears and my check engine light came on. The fun continued yesterday, which started with me in the dealership, went on to work, where everyone else was also having a bad day, and finished off with me dropping my B&H catalog in the toilet (don’t ask). My brother-in-law posted something on Facebook about having a horrible day as well.

You never wish a bad day on anyone, but it was nice to know that I wasn’t alone.

11 and 15 Fuel Stop11-15 Fuel Stop, Liverpool, PA

A few months ago, I stopped by an old gas station along US 11 and 15. It’s been closed for as long as I’ve been driving along that stretch of road, but its hand-painted sign along the top has always intrigued me. I finally had the time this trip through so I pulled off, and for the first time, I took a good long look at it. Pretty desolate outside, but inside was a scene from one of those abandoned places urban spelunkers all flock to:

Inside 11-15 Fuel Stop, Liverpool, PA Inside 11-15 Fuel Stop, Liverpool, PAI began to think of this place yesterday, when I was going through my set of circumstantial turmoil. I thought of every dark, depressing place a person can come up with. And it just didn’t ring true. Turmoil hits us all, sooner or later, as does depression. But they’re not the same thing. Turmoil happens, conflicts happen, but if you handle them the right way, you learn and grow. Depression is its own thing, and turmoil just prolongs it.

Depression is the above picture, a spreading disease. Turmoil can look rough, but it’s alive, active, still hopeful for a chance. And turmoil, once conquered, becomes one of your greatest allies.

I look at these pictures of the 11-15 Fuel Stop and think about how unusual it is. I think about what must have happened here to make it look like this. But mostly, I think of what has been overcome. I have been here and I have moved on. May we all have turmoil and work through it. And as the great philosopher Kelly Clarkson says, “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”

Save the Drive-In

In passing by a storefront in Lewisburg just recently, I saw a flyer for Project Drive-In, an initiative started by Honda. Many of the few existing drive-ins have found themselves in a good amount of trouble lately, owing to the fact that the film industry is ditching film in favor of digital. The two closest drive-ins to Lewisburg, the Pike in Montgomery, PA, and the Point, in between Northumberland and Danville, are among those in danger.

Pike Drive-In, Montgomery, PA

Also, another one of my favorites that I just went by this last weekend, the Fingerlakes Drive-In just outside of Auburn, NY, finds itself in the same predicament.

Fingerlakes Drive-In, Auburn, NY

Kudos to Honda for championing this cause. You can visit their Project Drive-In site at projectdrivein.com

Somewhat related is my latest video, taken this summer. I took a trip down US 209 from the Lykens Valley to Tamaqua and stopped by to see if an old buddy of mine was still around. The sign for the Temple Drive-In caved in more than a year ago, and its twisted appearance is absolutely fascinating. The Temple has been closed for some time now. Its last-gasp effort to keep itself open was to start showing X-rated movies in the late 80’s. I guess they over-estimated the market for outdoor porn and soon closed for good.

The Heart of Easton

For the last four years, I’ve had cause to go in to Easton, PA once a week. It’s the hometown of former heavyweight champ Larry Holmes, who was apparently nicknamed “The Easton Assassin,” although I had never heard such a nickname until I moved to the area. It has a certain reputation, deserved or not. It’s quite hilly, and the serpentine drive along US 22 is much like a trip on the Wild Mouse at the State Fair.

Lafayette Bar and Coffee House, 2012, Easton, PA

Lafayette Bar and Coffee House, June 2012

Over a year ago, I posted a photograph on Instagram that I took of the Lafayette Hotel/Bar/Coffee Shop in downtown Easton. So I related the story of the picture’s origins: I drove up and parked in front, got out of the car with my Pentax k20d in one hand and my iPhone in the other and snapped off a few shots. A couple of guys were moving a ratty-looking couch out of the building. Another guy asked me what I was doing in that kind of city-dweller way where you’re not sure if the person is looking for a) a friend, b) a couple bucks, c) a good conversation, or d) a way to rip my camera from my cold, dead hand. I presumed it was somewhere in between a and b and left after about ten minutes because I was doing more talking than snapping.

A few days later, I tell this story to my friend Oscar. And he tells me a hair-raising story of an experience he once had down there. So, fair or not,  I half-hint at this in my Instagram post.

Nearly a year later, and I find out that I’m in the midst of a slight disagreement. The Easton Main Street account on Instagram took issue with my opinion—or at least with my half-hint—and defended the Lafayette with honor. I made my apologies and we moved on. A few days later, Easton Main Street posted a fascinating shot of a sign just around the corner and tagged me on it. A couple bought this old brick place on the far side of the block, which had this old sign that read “Horns,” stripped of its neon, but a lovely, rusty relic.

You didn’t have to ask me twice.

So on my weekly trip to Easton, I skirted back into the heart of the city. There was another sign I was after that I had spotted out of the corner of my eye one day. The State Café Grill, just around the corner from Easton’s famous State Theater. I didn’t know if it was old and well-kept or new and of the tradition, but it was just my speed. I hit this one up first:

State Cafe Grill, Easton, PA

One of the true high points of the drive along Northampton Street in Easton is the Northampton National Bank sign on the side of the grand old building. I tried to get some information on this online, but somehow that proved fruitless. Please let me know if you have any information regarding this restored sign:

The Northampton National Bank, Easton, PA

On to the Lafayette. My memory is a little fuzzy from my first visit, but it seems to me several things have changed.

  1. The street is one way there, and one way in the opposite direction. I think that may have changed. I had to go around the block to park.
  2. The area around the Lafayette seems to have cleaned up considerably since the last time I was there. For certain, they’ve added some cool jazz-themed murals along the side. Again, maybe I’m mistaken, but it sure seemed that way.
  3. There’s a record store across the street. I’m definitely sure that wasn’t there before. Old vinyl and old signs, these are a few of my favorite things.

Fortunately, where I came to park put me in the perfect position to catch the “Horns” sign. Now that, I’ve seen it up close, I want to give it a great big hug:

Horns, Easton, PA Closeup of Horns sign, Easton, PA

I stopped in at the record store. Some decent stuff. I always gravitate toward the jazz section and I always seem to judge a record store by such things. Double Decker (mentioned earlier, across from Zandy’s) is still my favorite in the area, but this is a good one.  I find it fascinating that both record store locations are just across from classic signage.

Even though I had the previous shots from the Lafayette in practically the same weather conditions, I took some more just to see if I could improve on my previous ones. I got one from across the street and focused in on the jazz paintings on the wall:

Lafayette Bar and Coffe House from across the street, Easton, PA Lafayette Bar and Coffee Shoppe, Easton, PA, 2013 Trumpeter Mural, Lafayette Bar, Easton, PA

So, does Easton deserve a bad reputation? Probably not. It’s definitely improving, and rapidly so. I lived in Chattanooga and saw the changes that were made to it. When I first saw it in 1990, it was a shabby, soot-covered wreck with very little to recommend it. Look at Chattanooga today. It gets on all sorts of lists as a tourist attraction and as a great place to live. Will Easton get to that point? Here’s hoping. The seeds are there. I think they should be given every chance to grow.

The Long Lost Video of Auburn

While I was digging up stuff for the last post, I finally got around to editing the video I had taken while trying to get the Genesee sign, the Hunter Dinerant, and the ghost sign. So here it is in all its splendor and glory, and the few surprises I found around the corner. Be kind, gentle reader…

An Engagement

skaneateles-bake-shopLast year at this time, my sister-in-law Rachel wanted to know if we would be available to take some engagement pictures. After all, she and her finacee Derek were going to get married in October of 2013, so why not to take engagement pictures that reflect the season. She also wanted to know where would be best to take them. Laura and I did not hesitate. We chose our favorite spot, Skaneateles, NY.

The trip coincided with something I wanted to cross off my to-do list, a spot in nearby Auburn, New York that I had been just itching to get. The confluence of the Hunter Dinerant, a great ghost sign behind it, and the Genesee Sign in the distance. In the process, I found two other great signs. So, since quite honestly I’m rushed with all the wedding preparations this week, here’s a selection of these:

Genesee-Fays-Hunter Genesee-Fays-3

We found this one just down the street…dauts-fine-food And this one around the corner…bee-line

Happy wedding week, guys!