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 Case of the Missing Signs

Probably the heat this week in the Northeast is to be the blame for the following post. In it, Mr. Sanders appears to be under the impression that he is a private detective of some sort. It was believed to have been written during the throes of a fever dream.

The heat was hot. It was a hot heat, warmer than most. Outside, it was hotter than inside, but not by much. That’s the kind of heat it was. I hopped into my late-model foreign job and went for a spin to cool my heels.

The name is Stone. Rocky Stone, just like it says on my gun license. I was on the lookout for a sign, one that I had been after for a good long time. One that avoided the sun like the plague. One that I hoped to catch unawares at magic hour. The Nor-Pole Drive-In in Orangeville, Pennsylvania a rusty ice-cream cone dream that sat in a valley like a bump on a frog.

The shots I had taken of it were either cloudy or far away. But I was determined to bring this one in:

Nor-Pole Drive-In Orangeville, PA

The town of Orangeville slept peacefully even though it was only seven o’clock at night. The sun was disappearing behind the surrounding hills and it wasn’t looking good until I made the final turn at the far side of town. The bloom of the sun was clear, and it was looking like this case was in the bag. And then, whammo, it hit me like the edge of a hot plate: the sign wasn’t there. Not only that, the building wasn’t there. Flattened. To the ground.

I hoisted my heap off the road and turned, blinked. The Nor-Pole was there, in that spot, six months ago. It served as the site of one of my more harrowing incidents while taking pictures of signs. They had a few people in for breakfast, a state police car in the parking lot. I took a few shots from a few angles, including the one you see above. When I had gotten back to my car, a sour-faced guy comes out of the back door and wanders past me, looks at my license plate, takes a mental note, and growls, “What are you doing here?”

I told him I was taking a picture of the sign.

He looked like he might spit. “You mean, the ice cream sign?”

I said, yes, and thought about adding “Why, do you have another one?” but felt it best to be nice. He grumbled off and I got in my car, as it turns out, never to return.

Back to the present: I stumbled back into Orangeville and headed east on old PA 93 in the hopes of finding something new. Hard luck. Nothing and sight, the sun was going down, and I craved some neon, but no dice. The trail took me to Berwick, and Berwick was mostly a dead-end. But US 11 crossed my path, and I knew that would take me to Bloomsburg. There was another old friend waiting for me there, name of the Tennytown Motel. A neon sign with a big plastic candle. That spelled OK in my book. And I had never gotten that one with its neon lit. I hit the open road.


The signs along 11 were shining bright in the waning sun and my hopes were up. And then, just as quick they were dashed. Seems the Tennytown had been bought out in the last few months since I had been by. RELAX INN says the new sign. Out goes the neon, in goes a nasty new plastic lightbox.

Easy, Stone, I told myself. How were they to know? They wouldn’t, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to punch a couple of guys right in the throat. They at least had the good graces to leave the candlestick. I didn’t even take the camera out of the bag. Not even worth it.

My shutter finger was getting itchy. The road led me to Bill Hess’s Tavern, a watering hole serving this burg since 1889. Seemed appropriate. I drowned my sorrows in a handful of shots and called it a night.


In the morning, I would continue the search. Rest in peace, boys. You sleep with the other angels in Vanishing America.

Editor’s Note: So while I was in Berwick, I did get this:


Gotta love the little black cat on the side of the wall…

And just for the record, here’s the Tennytown in color: