It occurs to me just how much my passions in life were informed by shapes and colors, specifically signs. Growing up in Brunswick, ME in the 1970s and 80s, I was treated daily to great living examples of American advertising.
On Rt. 1 there was a sign for MaClean’s Restaurant, a gigantic vertical sign with
in block neon letters. I loved how the apostrophe kicked the S over to the side a bit. The MaClean’s sign was near a similar Texaco sign, thus giving me twice the visual joy.
In town on Main St. was (and still is) J&J Cleaners, with its canopy and butterfly sign with “j&j” in classic script. I seem to remember the j&j having flashing bulbs, but I could be imagining that.
Out by the Naval Air Station is Fat Boy Drive-In. Recently they replaced the classic neon and bulb sign above with a hideously bland LED sign, and I still haven’t quite gotten over this spiritual gutting.
I entered my formative years at the end of a great era in gas station signage. The old neon splendor of an angled Sunoco sign, an oval Amoco sign with torch flame on top and a Texaco star still inspires me. Those classics are unmatched in today’s era of generic LED signage. Fortunately I had family in New York City, thus giving me the opportunity to see the greatest gas station sign ever: Gaseteria.
Gaseteria stations were all over the Apple back then, and I fell in love with that American hamburger on the sign immediately. It was like a cross between an Amoco sign and a Burger King sign, and it meant that I was home in my other favorite place in the world, New York City. This was the beauty of the era: mass chain homogenization didn’t yet exist on the scale it does today, so I couldn’t see a Gaseteria sign anywhere but New York. Seeing that crazy sign made our trips much more special for me.
Most of these great signs of my youth are now gone, and I give in to nostalgia and lament at the change. Of course people my age no doubt called the old J&J sign vulgar and an eye-sore when it was first installed, and probably longed for the days of tin signs on storefronts. Fair enough.
But I was shaped into that landscape of vulgar neon dreams. I am of that great American cloth. Those old signs inspired in me a love of Americana, history and pop-culture, and I’m turning that into these snapshots and stories.