Another Time, Another Place

As I mentioned before, it’s been really difficult to get out there and get some sign pictures. Vacations always allow me some roaming time, but this year, with our schedule being crazy and Hurricane Matthew and the election and the sun was in my eyes and my dog ate it, well, almost zero planning time went in to this year’s trip. Which meant my annual research into signs we might see did not happen.

We booked it on down to Daytona, and the plan was to book it on back. We got up at 4am, so by the time it was light enough for a breakfast place to be open, we were already in South Carolina. I got off in Walterboro to get gas, and what did I see next door? The ever-present fireworks stand. Only this one was equipped with neon.

FireworksI should say, this side was equipped with neon. The other side, the side where the sun was shining, was not. The neon side, however, faces the highway, which makes the most sense.

Still, good fortune. It had been so long since I had grabbed a shot of a halfway-decent sign. It got my blood going.

We passed into North Carolina, then into Virginia. Since we left earlier than most years, the trip through the Shenandoah Valley was in total daylight. Normally, we’d lose the sun before Staunton (as it did when we made our crazy ride to Wright’s Dairy-Rite), but this time we got to see a lot more.

And something passed through my mind from research past…wasn’t there a drive-in theater around here?

I had seen it from the road a few times. It was on Route 11, parallel to I-81, on a flat stretch. On the way down, since it was daylight, we could see it, but only after the exit. Normally on the way back, it was too late to take a picture. But now…

I knew what it looked like. I knew what the terrain looked like. I just didn’t know the exact location. And then, the road started to even out a bit, the landscape began to flatten out, and US 11 was visible to the west. We watched and waited, and then, there it was. I got off the highway. Stephens City, VA.

Family Drive-In, Stephens City, VA

The Family Drive-In, much to my surprise, was still in operation. Not only that, but they were showing movies that night, and people were filing in. I would have loved to have stayed for the Monster-Rama, but unfortunately time and Cat waited for no man.

But as long as we were on US 11…

I decided to stay on the old highway to see what I could see. After all, some of the best signs are found on the US roads, so I figured my chances were pretty good to stumble upon something. We rolled through Stephens City, and on the edge of town, our stumbling paid off.

Redwood Budget Motel, Stephens City, VAThe motel itself was closed. I pulled the car over and got out. A man was walking along the road. He looked at me with my camera and he asked, “Are you an engineer?”

I smiled. “Photographer.”

He motioned his head at the sign. “Can you make that thing look any better?”

I said I would do my best.

Soon we were in West Virginia and sun went down. It was a good day, one that I didn’t expect. And it never would have happened if we had left at the same old time and did the same old thing.

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