Living on the Top Side

In his autobiography, centenarian George Dawson relates a story about his childhood that goes something like this:

George and a little friend, who hadn’t yet been to school, were a bit intimidated by the other boy’s brother who had been all the way through the second or third grade. Seems the eldest and most educated of the three was a little happy for any opportunity to show off his knowledge.

The older brother got his chance when the three found themselves marveling at clouds rolling across the sky from the vantage point of the loft opening of a tall barn. The height and the motion made one of the boys comment that it looked like the earth was spinning.

“Why, that’s exactly what’s happening. You see, the earth is really just a big round, turning ball,” announced the school boy. But the others couldn’t believe it.

“That can’t be right, the earth is flat, even I kin tell that!” George argued.

“Nope, the earth is round as a pumpkin,” contested the first boy. “I learned that at school.”

“Well if the earth is round, what keeps people who live on the bottom from falling off?”

“I don’t know about that, but it certainly is round.”

“They’d have to hold on to something all the time, and that’s crazy!”

“You let the Chinese worry about that, just be grateful that we’re a livin’ on the top side!”

Well, that’s one way of looking at things, and counting one’s blessings. Perhaps all Americans should be grateful for living “on the top side”, but I believe the little astronomy instructor was quite a ways from really understanding what he had been taught in school. Sometimes having an incomplete understanding of a subject can be harmless, but there are other times when people who have a very limited understanding of a certain subject, and act upon it, sure can cause a lot of trouble.

This is one of those times for the sign business in our fair city of Longview, Texas. Perhaps your city has experienced something similar in the past, or will in the future, but, as I’ve mentioned before, our city is now in the process of writing a new sign ordinance that will govern the sign business and what all types of businesses can do in the way of signs, for a long time to come.

How are we handling this daunting task? Well, the city council, with political astuteness, appointed a committee to study the subject and write a new ordinance, and to be on the committee they selected about ten of our local citizens.

There is an educator or two, a Realtor, a used car dealer, a social worker, an architect, and several others. This was supposed to provide a wide range of perspectives to deal with a subject that affects the whole city. Of course, the one occupation they chose to leave out of the mixture was that of sign maker, or sign business person. Wonder why they did that? How did this omission affect the constructiveness of the meetings which have been held? Here’s a few comments heard during these sessions for an insight:

“All right-of-ways are 10 feet, right?”
“What’s a right-of-way?”
“Monument signs cannot be taller than four feet.”
“What’s a monument sign?”
“All signs should be monument signs.”
“We don’t really need to know much about the sign business to be constructive members of this committee.”

You probably get the picture by now. Sounds constructive, doesn’t it? Actually, when the committee volunteers have to learn everything about the sign business and the impact of signs on the local business community basically starting from scratch, the process of writing a new ordinance becomes a long and protracted effort, full of frustration and fraught with peril.

Peril? Certainly, since any one of numerous serious proposals that have been put forth would have meant the practical end of many businesses being able to have an effective sign at all. And for some types of business, taking away their right to an effective sign is the same as taking away their right to exist, which is serious business, indeed.

Not one person on the sign ordinance committee has bad intentions. All of them are plenty intelligent, and committed to doing a good job. This is obvious because their effort is now months in the process, and they aren’t finished yet. In the end, after much encouragement, public input, and at times public outcry from all quarters, they may actually get an ordinance passed that might be as good as the one we’re getting rid of, but there is no guarantee of such an outcome.

We’ll see, I guess. But if you hear ahead of time, that your city is headed down this same path, get involved early, try to volunteer, encourage the powers that be to consider having a sign professional or two in the process somewhere, and be constructive in trying to educate those who need to be educated on the whole subject of signs. Because a little information in the hands of a few, can be a dangerous thing indeed.

Well, that’s it for now from here “in the trenches”. I hope things are going better where you are, and that you have a great and productive month,

—Rick