I realized only after leaving Rhode Island how lucky I’d been to grow up in a state that’s loaded with scenic landmarks and small enough for visitors to see all of them in a 10-minuite drive down the interstate. Our most famous landmark is the Big Blue Bug, a 58-foot long steel and fiberglass termite Wikipedia claims is the world’s biggest artificial bug. You’ve probably seen it even if you’ve never driven through Providence. It appeared in both Dumb and Dumber movies as well as Family Guy and other television shows. Another treasure within sight of the interstate is our state capitol. It looks so much like the U.S. Capitol that Sen. Dianne Feinstein recently showed up there for a Judiciary Committee meeting.
So I was understandably disappointed to discover that I-95 in the Southeastern states I periodically drive through is not blessed with scenery, unless you’re fond of trees covered in kudzu. By Southeastern states, I mean Georgia and the Carolinas. My Florida home is not a state at all but a misplaced suburb of New York.
What the South lacks in roadside scenery, I’m happy to report, it makes up for in entertaining billboard signs.
I was reminded of that recently when husband Bob and I drove north on a camping trip. I knew we were out of Florida soon as I spotted signs for Glory Foods.
I can’t understand why anyone would willingly eat peas or collard greens, much less peas and collard greens from a can. Then again, I’m a Yankee. Judging from the Glory signs, all it takes to get Bubba and Peggy Lou to eat canned vegetables is a lame pun or rhyme. “PEAS of mind,” one Glory billboard proclaims. Another announces “Hail to the kale!” For motorists who aren’t so easily swayed, Glory offers this simple recipe for its collard greens: “Open. Heat. Eat. Amen!”
The strangest food appearing on Southern billboards is canned, boiled peanuts. They’re peanuts boiled to the point of having all the flavor and crunch of white beans. I have a brother-in-law who claims to like boiled peanuts in spite of his New Jersey roots and a full set of teeth. Judging by the billboards, boiled-peanut canner Peanut Patch uses the same ad writers as Glory. “Think inside the can,” one sign reads. Another targets outdoorsy millennials with the headline: “Bold. Daring. Adventurous.”
In the Carolinas, the most noticeable signs are word-play promos for South of the Border, a 72-year-old, Mexican-theme amusement park in South Carolina, just south of the North Carolina line. One says, “You Never Sausage a Place.” Another gives the “weather report” of “Chili Today – Hot Tamale!” Clever as the signs may be, they don’t do the trick. We saw more signs for South of the Border than cars in its lot.
An unsettling trend through I-95’s southern swing is an abundance of billboards for personal-injury attorneys. Each one includes a law firm’s toll-free number for motorists to jot down, virtually ensuring they’ll need to use it.
Evidently, Jesus is a regular along the interstate. Why else would a believer post two billboards with the plea, “Forgive my sins Jesus. Save my soul.”? Another posted the advice that “Real Christians love their enemies.” I looked up enemy in the dictionary just in case I had it wrong all this time.
Some billboard ads, such as this one for Bud Hard Seltzer, appeal to Southerners in their native tongue: “Tastes Great? Yep.” The state of South Carolina is thoughtful to include the Northern translation in this billboard message: “Y’all don’t litter…Just don’t litter.” I’m less eager to obey this directive from the same state: “Drink. Drive. Die.” My favorite announces, “One in five kids have learning attention issues.” The writer evidently was one of them the day his class learned subject-verb agreement.
As we head back south, the puns, rhymes and prayers disappear. In their place are ho-hum plugs for hotels, theme parks and communities for “active adults,” meaning gray-haired folks who ride golf carts. That’s when I know I’m back in Florida.