Won’t you take me to (Quakertown)

News Agency, Quakertown, PANews Agency, Quakertown, PA 2009

In 2009, I had just started my journey. After years of film, I had moved on to digital, which provided me (at least in my own mind)  brand new opportunity to take pictures of any and all things that existed. I’ve said before that the above picture was the first I ever took of an old sign. I didn’t even get out of the car. I was coming back from the Quakertown Farmers’ Market when I saw this, pondered its significance and its age, and most importantly, the chances that it would still be standing in the future. I pulled over. This was the only picture I took that day. Despite the fact that I was pretty sure this sign would be gone in a few months, here it is five years later and it’s still there.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, too: this sign is on the back side of PA 313 and doesn’t often get direct sunlight, so as a result, even though I love this original shot, I have been trying in vain to get another shot of this with better lighting conditions. Last week, the late afternoon sun was shining, I was within striking distance of Quakertown, and I had some time to kill, so I figured, why not?

To get to the News Agency, you have to pass the building and hook around it in one of those lovely maneuvers that you only have to do in the Northeastern United States (see: New Jersey, turning right to make a left). As I made the u-turn I could see that my trip was not in vain; at last, the sun was shining bright on the side of the sign that faces northwest. I parked in the same spot I had parked in five years ago, fixed my new lens to the K-5, and stepped out.

News Agency, 35mm, Quakertown, PA

While I’m happily taking some new shots, I can see a face in the window of the actual News Agency. Now, bear in mind, I was not especially sure that it was still open after all these years, but it was. A man walked out, and he was one of those sorts of people that you instantly know that you’re going to like. He knew what I was taking pictures of and immediately introduced himself. His name is Phil, he has an impressive mustache, and from what I could gather, is constantly smiling. Much more, as we started talking about this sign, he told me that he was going to be restoring this very sign!

Moyer's Shoes

Above the door to the News Agency is a rapidly-reappearing clue to the building’s past. This was a shoe store in a previous life, and not only that, but Phil tells me that the business is still owned by a family named Moyer. This, of course, is no surprise, because every third person in this part of Pennsylvania seems to have the last name Moyer. (And yes, in case you were wondering, former major league pitcher Jamie Moyer is from nearby Souderton.)

Phil also tells me that the former Dimmig Electric across the street is slated to become a bakery. There were plans for a Brew Pub to move in to the building, but this fell through. The Dimmig Building used to be the Palace Theater, he tells me, and even though I had been by several times, I hadn’t noticed the entryway, which really pointed it to being an old theater. Another thing strikes me: at the word “Dimmig,” it occurs to me that I had spotted another sign here months ago, at the back of the building. I hadn’t taken a picture of it because the sun was against me (once again), so as I left I figured it was a good idea to see if it was still there.

Dimmig Electric, Quakertown, PADimmig Electric, with the News Agency visible to the side, 2014

The back door was open and there was a guy working on the reconstruction. The sign was, as you can see, still in place. I asked him if he didn’t mind me getting a few shots and he basically told me to get them while I could, because chances were these letters would come down soon.

Dimmig Electric, Quakertown, PA

I drove back home feeling good. It’s not often that you get to document a small piece of history, or have a good conversation out on the street. And now, I’ll have to go back to see how the News Agency sign looks when it’s finished!

On my way back, I had to stop in at The Inside Scoop, which is a few miles north of Quakertown on PA 309 in the town of Coopersburg. Although not an old sign, it has pretty much everything one could hope for in a new sign. Since I’ve been revisiting old favorites with my new lens, I figured I would squeeze off a few shots!

The INside Scoop, Coopersburg, PA

Neon Dreams and Neon Missions

Zandy's Allentown

Closing Up at Zandy’s in Allentown, PA, 2009.

A few days ago I had a dream. Don’t laugh, but it was about a sign. I was driving down a familiar road, or at least, a road that was familiar in my dream. I passed by a large and impressive sign, one that I must have passed by a thousand times and somehow never noticed. It was lit up in the middle of the day and had all sorts of neon and bulbs and all the bells and whistles. I pulled the car over and realized I was still far away, so I turned around and parked in the lot. By the time I got to the sign, the lights had gone out, and I could see that there was this odd LCD sign bisecting the great old neon one, stuck in the middle of it as if it had been thrown there with great force. The people who worked at that business, which was beauty salon, were leaving to go to lunch. Two women and a man. They walked up the street and I followed them, figuring when they would get back they would turn the lights back on.

The people stopped to eat at someplace that I knew was not a restaurant. It resembled a college dorm. They sat down at a table and blabbed to each other and paid no notice of me telling them they weren’t in a restaurant.

I woke up the next morning and told Laura about this dream. And all sorts of memories crept up.

I’ve learned from experience that no one wants to hear anyone’s problems, least of all read about them, so I’ll keep this part of the story brief: I was working in television, and was laid off in 2009 due to fiscal problems at the station. Following that, partially unemployed for a little over two years. A week before the layoff, I bought my first D-SLR, a Pentax k20d. It was a struggle not to think Oh, great, just made this major purchase, and now what? But I looked at my new camera a different way. I don’t believe in coincidence. I was supposed to use this.

News Agency, Quakertown, PANews Agency, Quakertown, PA. Taken in May of 2009.

I had always wanted to take pictures of signs, but my life in television had been harried and hurried and I never felt like I could take the time. After a tough day of job search, I’d try out the Pentax. I cut my teeth on a few locals, the News Agency sign in Quakertown, which I felt was not long for this world in 2009 and lo and behold it still stands. The neon of Zandy’s, which sits across Double Decker Records, one of my favorite haunts. And the majestic neon of the Allentown Rescue Mission, which had just recently been restored.God Is Love, Allentown Rescue Mission, Allentown, PA

Allentown Rescue Mission, Allentown, PA. Also from 2009.

Somehow drawn to these old friends after I had my dream, I went back out for another visit. I hit up the Allentown Rescue Mission first. I had never gotten a shot of the neon cross out front, though why I can’t say other than to bring up how drawn I was to the massive “God Is Love” on top. It was just after sundown, my favorite “neon magic hour.” I found a difference this time out: the “S” was out from “Is.” So know the sign reads “God I Love.”

Allentown Rescue Mission, Allentown, PAAllentown Rescue Mission, September 2013

That works, too.

And while I was at it, the neon cross:

Cross at the Allentown Rescue Mission, Allentown, PA

For days after, I really saw my dream as something negative, of being ignored, of finding what I was looking for but once I had it, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Maybe that was true, but lost in that is something truly positive: we all have our missions in life, and in the end it doesn’t matter that a few people—or many—aren’t listening. We should continue to live, to seek and strive, and if we don’t find what we’re looking for, we move on. Whatever pain we have endured, we use to help others who have struggled with the same thing. We do what we were put on Earth to do with the tools God has given us, whether it be a camera or a pen or even just an idea.

God I Love, Allentown Rescue Mission, Allentown, PA

This is our mission. This is our life. And in the end, no amount of disappointment and struggle matters in the light of that.