Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello.

Picture this scenario: You arrive at a small party, are introduced to someone who says a nice "hello." You begin conversing and two minutes into the conversation they toss out another "hello." Two minutes of more talk and yet another punctuation of "hello." Again two minutes later. And again.

Whether you call it wearisome, worrisome, or just plain stupid, I've been encountering just this sort of thing, albeit in a different form. I live in a very small town. It's quaint and relatively intact in terms of its older buildings. It's the sort of place that, when people drive through it they think, "This is quaint and relatively intact. Let's stop and see if there's a good restaurant, hotel, book store, and any antique shops." (The answers being yes, no, no, and one, respectively.) A state highway winds its way into the village, making a sharp left turn at the light in the center of town. All along this route, on about every fourth light post, there is a canvas banner proclaiming, "Welcome to Greenwich." That's where the overlay of the jabbering semi-lunatic comes in. An offering of "Welcome" is appropriate when entering the town, not on a continuous basis as you pass through.

The number of these banners was doubled a couple years ago when more light posts went up. However these use a smaller font and an image of a park bench by a tree. Given the height they're at and the simplification of the pictorial forms, these now welcome as you're leaving town, but with a noticeable dose of obfuscation. It's as if that lunatic has been handcuffed to you but has become barely audible, repeatedly whispering "hello," causing you to ask each time, "What? What?"

When did all these banners become necessary? I see similar ones in other towns, with just the names dropped in. The first welcome banners that showed up here (and are still hanging, now joined by their idiot cousin banners) have a backdrop image of a quaint village building. We have the real things right here! Why put up a clip art picture of a quaint townscape, when motorists can see the real things right out the windows of their car? Banner salesmen and the companies they represent must be having a field day. What one little town sees the next one wants, these being essentially efforts to scare some dollars into the coffers of the local businesses who struggle to survive in the face of questionably sound discounts at big box stores. A rather desperate ploy adopted by most every business on the main street was pitched to them by the local chamber of commerce that got them all to purchase (at a "discount") matching "open" flags. As if the reason people weren't stopping and buying was because they were confused as to whether or not the establishment was open, rather than the fact that there are too many country knickknack and consignment stores.

The proliferation of these banners suggests drunken town planning, with decisions having been made just before passing out. What makes them all the worse is that there have previously been some excellent decisions made. There are sturdy, professionally rendered historic-looking wooden signs at a few of the entryways into the village. These were erected after some banners were already up. But rather than take them down, more were added!

- David Greenberger

(originally published in MungBeing, November, 2006)