Reinvention

Stop me if I’ve said this before, but it had great impact: a few months ago I was listening to “Fresh Air” on NPR, my favorite return-home radio program. The interview was with a college professor and social media expert. She was talking about how her students, in this age of social media, were not able to reinvent themselves in college as prior generations had, because Facebook and Twitter and Instagram followed them around, keeping them anchored to their past.

Whereas I’m sure that this college professor’s students felt that pressure to remain in their past, the ones who make the hard decision to shed the past and move on are going to be all the better for it. Bear in mind this comes from the man who earlier this year said to himself, “Huh. It’s been 25 years since I graduated high school. Wonder if there was a reunion. Oh, well.”

It sounds strange coming from someone who takes photographs of old signs, but there is an impossible danger to living in the past. I have an appreciation of the past, which is not the same thing. Ever had a friend who wished he was still in high school? Genuinely frightening, right? I appreciate my high school years for what they were, but put a bullet in my head if I had to go back and relive them.

Things are changing and changing rapidly in my life, so in honor of that, I decided to throw together some of my pictures of newer signs with an appreciation of the past:

The Inside Scoop neon sign, Coopersburg, PAThe Inside Scoop, Coopersburg, PA

This sign, to me, speaks volumes about what a truly good sign is all about. Honestly, this sign strikes such a mood that they could serve you ice cream in flavors like Dead Camel and Frozen Wart and you’d still go in a second time because of the atmosphere. This was one of the very first sign pictures I took and is one of the main reasons why I still do this.

Neato Burrito neon sign, Harrisburg, PANeato Burrito, Harrisburg, PA

Serendipity. This summer I was in downtown Harrisburg trying to find the Pep’s Grill “Bar” sign. I found it all right, but what I wasn’t  finding was parking. Eventually, I ended up on a cross street, right underneath the Neato Burrito sign. I was pretty sure I was parked illegally, so I ran over to Pep’s Grill and got a few shots of it. It was one of the hottest days of the year. I was sweating pretty good. There were two Mennonite girls in light blue dresses and bonnets and sneakers on the corner, handing out tracts. They handed me one as I went back to my car. I put it on the passenger’s side seat and was about to put my camera away when I said to myself, don’t be ridiculous, take the shot. So I snapped off a few of the Neato Burrito sign. Love the style, love the way the background shows up in this. No regrets, other than I had already eaten lunch.

The Capitol Restaurant neon sign, Bloomsburg, PAThe Capitol Restaurant, Bloomsburg, PA

For years, The Capitol Theatre in Bloomsburg was something other than a theatre, although the marquee stayed. It was student housing when I first took a shot of it in 2011. This year, they decided to make a restaurant out of it. As you can see, where the marquee was, they put up an LCD panel, and they eventually put one on the other side. I’m so glad they restored it, that you know what, I don’t even care that they’ve pretty much ruined it.

Again, things are changing, but I’m not really sure at this moment how they will go. One thing’s for sure, though: I’m not looking back.

The End of Limbo

For the last few months I’ve been trying to concoct a post on signs in the Central Susquehanna Valley in Pennsylvania, where I spend a good deal of my time. Due to economic reasons, four days and three nights I spend working in the Lewisburg area. Away from my wife. It’s been like that for nearly three years. It’s been difficult to write about, because to be quite honest, I’d rather talk about travel and signs and inspiring things instead of whining about my own problems.

And then I found out this week that I’m going to be able to do work from home at the start of the year. So now that I’ve reached the end, it seems this the perfect time to bring out some of the signs I’ve taken shots of during the last few years.

Henry Voelcker neon sign, Danville, PAHenry Voelcker, Danville, PA

This beauty is down a side street in my wife’s hometown. I stumbled upon it one day in 2011 and got a few shots of it, but being the pronounced goof that I am, wanted to get a shot of it lit. Every time I was in Danville about dusk, I would drop down the side street and see if it was lit. And if it wasn’t, I’d drive off and come back a little later. No deal for the longest time. Finally, I decided it was high time that I forget about it happening naturally and stepped inside one day. The guy working there was very nice and turned the sign on for me. As you can see, only the “Henry” lit up. But a small victory none-the-less.

Bea BUtler's neon sign, Danville, PABea Butler’s, Danville, PA

I got this one the same day that I took the picture at Henry Voelcker. This one is right on Main Street in Danville, and it firmly falls into the category of hiding in plain sight. I had been down this way several times and never saw this one. In truth, I never found it until I did some research of previous sign pictures in Danville. Bea Butler’s was a dress shop, although I’ve never been able to find out any real information about it, when it closed, or much of anything.

Brooks Apparel, Sunbury, PABrooks, Sunbury, PA

This was also taken in 2011, along Market Street in Sunbury. Brooks appeared to be a clothing store in Sunbury, and again, the internet is mum on the subject. I had an early appointment in Shamokin Dam the morning I took this, and the morning sun was fantastic, shining on all these panels. A few weeks ago I drove past to see that this whole facade had been painted a dull tan in readiness for a new business. It made me feel good that the old place was at last being used for something, but I was sorry to see this wonderful cranberry-and-turquoise go away.

The Pike Drive-In, Montgomery, PAThe Pike Drive-In, Montgomery, PA

Eventually, when you live in limbo as I have, you try and find things to do, so I made little mini-excursions after work. One day, I just followed US 15 up to Williamsport just to see what I could see, and I ran across this fantastic drive-in, right at the beginning of the season. I didn’t get a chance to see a movie there, because my schedule never coincided with when they were open. This is one of the drive-ins that is in danger of closing because of the digital conversion. Check it out at projectdrivein.com and see how you can help.

Sunset Rink, Shamokin Dam, PASunset Rink, Shamokin Dam, PA

This sign has gone through the wringer in my time here. It’s always been a grand old 50s-60s relic, and I love the shot of the ice cream cone at the top left, but it was in pretty sad shape when I first saw it in 2011. It further deteriorated in a storm, and for the first quarter of this year, the while panel was broken and the sign read ”   set   ink.” Fortunately, they restored it shortly thereafter, and I got this shot this summer.

There are, of course, plenty more, which I’ll be sharing shortly. The fact is, I do have a soft spot in my heart for this area, and since we have family in the area, I’m not completely leaving it behind. Thanks so much, Susquehanna Valley. It was difficult, but I’m thankful for the time I spent here.

Tales of Philly Sales

During this last week I had a great conversation with someone I met on Facebook who lives in the Charlotte area but grew up, as I did, in Binghamton, New York. We got to reminiscing about some things that are no longer in the area, such as the signs at Walter’s Shoe Store and Elgin Rugs, and stuff every good Binghamtonian should know, such as where to get the best spiedie.

Asking yourself, what’s a spiedie? The native food of Binghamton. The nectar of the gods. That which I must eat every few months or so or I start to twitch. More here…

So in amongst the conversation was a mention of Philadelphia Sales Company. Alas, I have no pictures of this place, since it closed before I ever owned a camera, but it’s an important component of why I do what I do. While I tell you all about it, I’ll scatter in some pictures of other Binghamton landmark signs I did manage to get in time.

Greyhound Station, Binghamton, NYGreyhound Station (restored), Binghamton, NY

Philadelphia Sales Company, or Philly Sales as they were more commonly known, was the Wal-Mart before there was Wal-Mart. They had everything for less and you didn’t question its origins. Four floors of random stuff from ball gloves to fabrics. The building it was housed in was not in the best neighborhood, and when you entered from the parking lot, you were greeted by the view of the back side of some ancient tenements which had somehow managed to stay upright despite seventy or more brutal winters.

The original entrance was essentially through a narrow shed at the front and right of the building. During the winter this became a dirty, sloshy, claustrophobic mess, but once inside, you were rewarded with the smell of popcorn. Philly Sales had an old popcorn popper and they kept it in the entrance, and if you grew up in the are in the 60s and 70s, this is a grand memory. To tell the truth, I can only recall getting the popcorn once or twice, but the aroma was overwhelming, cheering, warming on a chilly day.

Red Oak Diner Sign, Binghamton, NYRed Oak Diner, Binghamton, NY

The building itself was a marvel. What it housed prior to Philly Sales is unknown to me, but it certainly never looked like it was meant to be a department store. There were steps in odd places. Some sections were cavernous, others were laughingly small. The first floor, past the popcorn machine and all the candy a child could ever want, was a section of glassware. Midway along this area of glassware was a sign telling you to “Watch Your Head.” And they meant it. At this point, the builders, tired of high ceilings, decided to lower the ceiling to child level. I’m guessing it was five and a half feet from the ground, because my mother could enter without bending, but at a certain age, I could not. It was a proud day the moment my hair touched that ceiling. A right of passage. Some people have bar mitzvahs, I had this.

Competition KItchens and Baths neon sign, BInghamton, NYCompetition Kitchens, Binghamton, NY

To get upstairs, you had several options. Staircases seemed to appear out of nowhere. I swear there was one that went from the fourth floor to the third that had been a secret passageway. But each staircase had something special: an indoor neon sign with an arrow, lighting the way. “THIS WAY TO THE THIRD FLOOR.” These signs were relics even in the seventies. I’d like to think somebody has them somewhere.

There was neon sign outdoors as well, on Clinton Street, which was technically its address, although hardly anyone ever entered from that side.

Ellis Brothers Furniture neon sign, Binghamton, NYEllis Brothers Furniture, Binghamton, NY

My family has a friend who worked there for a period of time. She said that there was definitely a sitcom that could have been based on that place, and that her boss could have been played by Don Knotts. The crazy tales she told only added to the place’s slapstick allure. We went frequently.

And then Wal-Mart burst forth from the South, rendering it irrelevant. At the time, we welcomed the colossus in, somehow never dreaming that this old wacky place had created such fond memories. For instance, Phily Sales had a bin of white tube socks. Fifteen feet by nine. You could jump in it if you needed to hide from danger. No one ever needed that many white tube socks, but they had them in case you did.

It’s odd to think of a place I know so well no longer exists. The whole building is gone now, and a new one in its place. It makes me sad that I don’t have a picture of it, but maybe that makes the memory stronger.

Anybody else have tales of Philly Sales? I’d love to hear them.