Peter Funt Peter Funt, 4/1/2015 [Archive]

Road Sage

By Peter Funt

Next to Interstate 15, about 45 miles south of Las Vegas, sit three mysterious structures that look like gigantic table lamps giving off blinding light.

A pet peeve on lengthy road trips is that installations like this should have signs explaining what they are. You could Google it, except that's dangerous while driving, plus cell service is sparse at the edge of the Mojave Desert.

It turns out the lights are part of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, owned in part by — get this — Google. The intense light comes from three 460-foot boiler towers that use concentrated sunlight to heat water and generate power. The light is so bright that it not only distracts motorists but also pilots, who have complained to the FAA.

Anyway, mystery solved. But this is about signage: a simple sign would have helped.

There should also be signs wherever a highway cuts through a large commercial farm. Unless the crop is easily identifiable, like corn or grapes, farmers ought to provide a clue about what's growing.

I'd like to give a shout out to Pat (sorry I don't know your full name) who has a farm on Highway 101 near Paso Robles, Calif. At the edge of one field is a tidy little sign reading, "Pat's Pimentos." This is especially helpful for those of us who are curious but couldn't identify a pimento plant if we drove past it a hundred times.

Also, I'm sure I speak for many kids in backseats when I suggest that every freight train longer than, say, two football fields, should be required to carry a sign along the lines of: "This train is 6,442 feet long!"

With portable electronic signs that authorities can place temporarily along highways, here's a thought. If a traffic jam forces you to drive under 8 miles an hour for longer than 30 minutes, and then it clears up mysteriously with absolutely no visible explanation for the delay, give us a friggin' sign! Post something like: "Moronic motorists slowed to watch two baby sheep."

Of course some signs serve no purpose. I've had enough of those announcing which obscure local business supposedly keeps a mile of highway clean. What's the message? This is a good time to throw that coffee cup out the window because the folks from Al's Moving and Storage will pick it up?

Town governments take note: You need to impose stiff fines for leaving political signs on front lawns longer than 48 hours after an election. Also, write a law prohibiting any sign from containing the words, "building a better tomorrow."

I've seen signs in northern New Hampshire that warn of "Low Flying Aircraft." Here's the thing: if you've got to worry about a plane going 150 miles an hour at an altitude lower than the height of the average passenger car, no sign is going to save you.

In addition to 460-foot table lamps, some Nevada roads have a problem with wild burros, which seems to call for signs saying, "Watch for Wild Burros." Instead, they've got text-free yellow signs with a cartoon of an animal that is only identifiable if you, (a) study burros for a living or, (b) helped paint the signs.

The next big breakthrough in highway signage will be when carmakers install digital signs on rear bumpers so we can send a, ahem, "message" to the guy behind us. "It's not me, dude, it's the truck in front." "Chill. I just dropped a cardboard tray with large fries and a Coke."

And: "Hey! You want my wife to ride with you for a while?"


Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His book, "Cautiously Optimistic," is available at and©2015 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author

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