Gary Gardner (grgardner) wrote,
Gary Gardner

Life's Signposts

I've often spoke about the imagery and connection that I have with highway signs. I love the fact that I can be on a road 3,000 miles away from where I want to be and know that if I follow the numbers, I'll get there. I love how they are both literal and metaphorical guide posts to a destination. I think I first realized this when I was attending Graduate School at Arizona State in Tempe, AZ. The main street through Tempe is Mill Avenue, which becomes Apache Trail as it curves around campus. At the time it was also US Highway 89. Back home in Salt Lake City, the main drag through town is State Street -- also US-89. I think I first made the connection in an essay I wrote in Graduate School describing a lonely night walk I took to sort out a problem -- the kind of thing I do now from the seat of a motorcycle: "He found himself walking down the main street of the town -- the same highway that was the main street back in his own hometown. He always felt a sense of sureness and home whenever he saw the highway number sign -- U.S 89 -- for he knew that this very same road wound through the mountains to the familiar town he had grown up in, and he knew that if he only walked long enough along that road, he could find himself in his past. Then he recalled -- you can really never go home again."
This picture is probably one of the best illustrations of that.  Tony took it as he and I were riding home from Key West last year -- we are somewhere in Central Montana heading West on US-12 back to Washington, when we come across a junction with US-89.  I can choose to go "home" to Washington by continuing forward, or I can go "home" to Utah by making a right turn -- and the junction illustrates that in a wonderful physical and metaphorical way given my love of riding the open road. 

As part of the US-89 trip I took this spring, I got to thinking how much I'd like to have a US-89 sign for the garage.  Friends who have been to my home know my love of signs and that the house is decorated with some antique advertising and neon signs, as is the garage.  One day while perusing E-Bay for some reason or another I came across a section of highway signs up for auction.  I started looking for a US-89 and didn't find one, but I did find a bunch of others, and before I knew it (and you E-Bay a-holics will attest to this) I was addicted to bidding on some old advertising and highway signs.  Pretty soon large packages from UPS were showing up on the doorstep, and I had a pile of metal in the garage.  

Yesterday I took a break from some stressful work for a client and decided to place the signs in the garage.  I realized as well that all of the signs I bought have a connection -- that I've been on the road and it has a personal sense of place and meaning for me. 
I treat my garage as a room in my house.  It's clean, neat, has a finished floor, painted and "decorated".  I have the large wall map with my rides marked on it, I have tool boxes, work benches, a refrigerator,  and storage.  I have baseboards and finished outlets, a phone and cable TV.  It's more than a place to toss junk and park the vehicles.  It's a place to live -- to work on the bikes, listen to a ball game and putter around, and I'm obsessive about keeping it as neat and clean as the house.

Some of the smaller advertising and recreated signs I had, but the bulk of what you see in the pictures above are new and "real" highway signs. As I was hanging the them, I realized each of them was someplace I'd been, and I could look at the sign and remember the trip or the place, just like sitting and following the lines on  the map let me relive my road trips.

US-12 East -- across Washington, Idaho, Montana and as far east as Minnesota.  South Dakota 34 which starts west of Pierre and becomes Lazell Street in Sturgis and continues out to Belle Fourche.  Washington 530 which runs out of the Cascades down through Arlington and becomes Pioneer Highway, one of my favorite back roads in Skagit County.  BC-11 which connects the Trans Canada with Mission and Abbotsford.  The Trans Canada which I think is my next big journey.  Utah 238 which splits off of US-89, my hometown main street near Logan Utah in the Cache Valley, my mother's childhood home.  Wyoming 138 which  runs from Arapahao outside of Riverton out to Lander -- a route we took on the way to Sturgis this year.  Arizona 99 which runs from Winslow out onto the great Navaho rez.  Florida 40 which Tony and I took through the Ocala National Forest and I forgot I was in Florida.  Idaho 3 which runs down the spine of the Bitteroot Mountains from Couer d'Allen South and East.  North Dakota 1 -- with it's Indian Head logo and runs border to border.  California 1, which runs quite literally along the coast.  US-101 the great Pacific Coast Highway all the way from Olympia Washington, around the Olympic Mountains and south to San Diego.  And US-66 -- the Mother Road herself.

These are the signposts of my life now.  The road map of my emotions.  They mark where I've been.

You'll be glad to know I've stopped bidding on E-bay (my Visa is glad too) -- I'm holding out for one last spot though.  I want a US-89.  My Mother Road, my Main Street USA.  I'm holding a perfect spot in the garage for that.  

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