Pisani pumps the breaks to read the never ending parade of billboards
I never text-message while I’m driving, well almost never. And I avoid phone calls whenever possible, especially if they’re from my boss. You see, I don’t like to take my eyes and ears off the road.
However, some roadside distractions are too great to resist, and I often succumb to the temptation of staring at those digital billboards on I-95 that clutter the scenic skyline of our cities, especially that winding corridor of highway that weaves through Bridgeport like the Yellow Brick Road.
One billboard that’s guaranteed to cause fender-benders has an Oktoberfest theme and pictures nothing but the ample cleavage of a beer garden fraulein, holding a large stein of Lowenbrau. That’s the kind of advertisement that should be subject to the MPAA rating system. I’d give it an R — unsuitable for a general audience, adolescents and anyone driving faster than 30 mph.
Billboards are a highway hazard, but they help us in many ways. For example, you don’t have to take your kids to look at colleges like Felicity Huffman. Instead you can tour the higher education billboards on I-95 and wonder why all those advertising dollars aren’t being spent on student aid.
Every school from the University of Maine to the University of New Hampshire, Eastern Connecticut, Fairfield University and University of Bridgeport have outdoor ads that feature smiling, party-loving students...I hope their parents are smiling when they get the tuition bill. Because billboards offer valuable information, I keep my reporter’s notebook handy, ready to write down the phone number of an ambulance chaser, the address of a McDonald’s restaurant or directions to an urgent-care facility in case I need an emergency injection of Pepto Bismol after eating a hefty helping of McRibs.
If you want a lawyer because you sprained your back at work, look to the skies. Some of the attorneys on billboards look like they just got back from a Grateful Dead concert 10 years ago. They ride Harleys and live on the edge. They’re tough as nails, but they also have a soft side that seems to say, “I feel your pain ... Now let’s make that #%@& feel your pain! Call me any time of the day or night!”
If you need a loan to pay for your supplemental health care or want to spend your Social Security check at the blackjack table or require immediate medical attention, billboards are the place to go for information, not the Internet. Pull onto the shoulder and take down the addresses of hospitals, lending institutions and gambling casinos.
I’m addicted to digital billboards — to the dismay of my family members and friends and other motorists. I’ve been known to slow down to 45 mph on the Interstate so I can see the complete cycle of ads AND read the fine print.
Nevertheless, I’m still an environmentally-minded guy and hate to see billboards cluttering scenic highways and country roads.
One homemade billboard on I-91 that advertises a Massachusetts book dealer is in the middle of a Christmas tree farm, So many times I’ve wanted to take the exit, but I’m afraid my wife will grab the steering wheel and do whatever is necessary to stop me from buying another book. I’m prohibited from going into bookstores the way some guys are prohibited from going into sports bars.
In New England, you can always find amusing hand-painted billboards on the side of a barn or along a rural highway that say something catchy like “Coffee Pot — best breakfast in town four miles ahead!” (That ad copy didn’t come from a New York agency.)
Your kids whine that they’re starving, but you drive past the Coffee Pot, and suddenly see another billboard that looks like it was designed by the third-grade art class at White Mountain School, which says, “You missed the Coffee Pot! Turn around now! Go back four miles!” Who can resist a pitch like that? And it’s not even rated R.
Joe Pisani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.