Off the Beaten Path

On a couple of occasions I’ve been asked how I find the signs I find. There are a number of ways to answer that, but there’s no real good short answer. Some of them are obvious, some of them you have to search for, some of them are complete happy coincidences caused by taking the road less traveled. The best place to look for the signs I’m looking for are the old U.S. highways, especially the ones that used to be major thoroughfares before the days of interstate highways but are now largely untraveled.

I travel a lot. A LOT. One of my regular routes is the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which not only beats up my car, but has the added benefit of shearing me for nearly four bucks every time I use it. Not that I’m bitter.

This portion of the Turnpike was built at a time when Interstate 80 did not exist, so rather than create a new exit, the powers that be decided that what motorists would want to do is get off at the old exit, hit a stop light, continue through the intersection and then get on the new highway. Again, not that I’m bitter. The stop light is at PA 940, which chugs along through the Poconos. Up until a few weeks ago, I looked neither to the right nor the left, preferring to go straight on to I-80 and my destination, but one morning I had some time and figured What the heck? I knew 940 eventually met up with 80 again, so I might as well check out the old road.

Nothing much for a few miles, until the intersection at PA 534. And here’s what I found:

pegasusThis shot was taken a few days later, during magic hour.

I’m not especially sure the age of this Mobil Pegasus, but the research of done seems to suggest that this is older than most. I’m not sure how long this place has been out of commission, either, but I giggled like a schoolgirl when I saw it.

pegasus-close-up

I must have passed by this location a thousand times, and it was just a half-mile off the highway.

Never NEVER stop exploring.

March Madness

 

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…jones-humdinger-close 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?jones-humdinger 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.

Back to the Beginning

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.

glendon
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.olds-front
No regrets.

So I risked life and limb and crossed the road to get a couple shots from across the road and got this beauty:Olds-side

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.

The Roxy and the Ford

First off, welcome.

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 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.

daves-June10 laufik-June10

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.

Roxy, February 2013
Roxy, February 2013

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.

Ford Northampton

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…