Rick Williams

Going South

Rick Williams owns Rick’s Sign Company, a commercial sign shop in Longview, Texas. He has been in the sign industry since 1973 and has been a contributing editor to Sign Business since 1986. Contact Rick via e-mail at ricksignco@aol.com.

The new Boeing 737 delivered us safely to our Central America destination in less time than it took me to drive from Longview, Texas, to Houston. But, while Honduras may be close, it was quite different from what I know of as “home.” But it would be my third-world home for a few days anyway.

Our group numbered 11, and we’d be working with a local elementary school, where a mission team our church helps sponsor provides school supplies, instructors to teach health classes. And the team is allowed to encourage values like honesty, generosity, integrity, and respect for others, all based on the belief that all people have intrinsic value bestowed on them by their creator.

But before our small group would be able to do anything, we were put on a bus for a four-hour ride that would take us 90 miles into the interior and make me regret not buying a bit more life insurance back at the airport. Hondurans are lovely people, but the way they drive on their dangerous narrow roads kept me on the edge of my seat all the way to Santa Rosa.

It seemed to me there must be one main question on the Honduran driver’s license test, “Do you have a weak heart?”  “No.” “You are now a licensed driver. Enjoy.”

And out on the road, the typical traffic markings and signage, or lack of it, was soon apparent to this old Texas sign maker. Here in America there is a big effort to provide striping, caution signs, traffic signs and so forth, but not in Honduras. 

Center stripe on a road?  What a waste of paint!  Speed limit and warning signs? A waste of paint… and metal!

Placards like “Dangerous Curve Ahead” and “Steep Grade,” why would you go to the trouble when you’ll find out soon enough? Passing on a blind curve? Of course you do! Where’s your machismo anyway?

And once we were settled in at the town where we’d be working, finding my way around on my afternoon walks was a bit of an adventure too, because there were virtually no street signs to mark my way. These streets and their names hadn’t changed in 200 years, so what’s the problem? Turn the wrong way onto a one-way street? Well, isn’t that what reverse is for?

It’s not that there weren’t signs -- there were and some good ones, too. But, they were for commercial reasons, and Pepsi Cola seemed to own the country if signs, posters and banners were any indication. But a lot of the public and publically financed signage was definitely scarcer than I would have imagined.

I didn’t solve this problem, but I did make a small dent in it as one of my assignments was to bring a set of cutout letters to mount on the little elementary school we were there to assist, and as a gift to the kids some helpers and I mounted the letters I brought from Texas to the exterior stucco wall of their school, and then we covered it up for the reveal to the student body the next day.

One hundred and thirty beautiful little boys and girls cheered and celebrated the new sign work that clearly identified their “Escuela Urbana Mixta Los Angeles” or Los Angeles Mixed Urban School publically for the first time. This wasn’t the most important thing we did, but it was for sure the most visible, a gift from a sign man from up way north, and it was the first time I’ve ever been anyone from “up north” before!

And when our time there was over, the same new Boeing 737 delivered us to Texas in less time than it would take me to drive from Houston back to my sign shop. And on the drive from the airport I realized two things: first; what conservative drivers Texans really are, and second; how well informed we are if we bother to read the many signs and markings that make our highways a safer place, which makes me a bit more appreciative of the value of the work we do each day.

I enjoyed making new friends down south, but it is great to be back in the good old U.S.A. Have a great month --Rick