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Posts Tagged ‘Signs

“My attitude is never to be satisfied, never enough, never”*…

 

Duke Ellington eating dinner with his wife, Bea Ellington, and a friend (source: Library of Congress)

 

While Duke Ellington is rightly revered as the extraordinary musician and composer that he was, he was known among his friends almost as prominently for his appetites.  As frequent sideman Tricky Sam Nanton said, “he’s a genius, all right, but Jesus, how he eats!”

Ellington was happy to share his gourmand enthusiasms.  In a 1944 interview (recounted in Lapham’s Quarterly) he reminisces…

There’s a place in Chicago, the Southway Hotel, that’s got the best cinnamon rolls and the best filet mignon in the world. Then there’s Ivy Anderson’s chicken shack in Los Angeles, where they have hot biscuits with honey and very fine chicken-liver omelets. In New Orleans there’s gumbo filé. I like it so well that I always take a pail of it out with me when I leave. In New York I send over to the Turf Restaurant at Forty-ninth and Broadway a couple of times a week to get their broiled lamb chops. I guess I’m a little freakish with lamb chops. I prefer to eat them in the dressing room, where I have plenty of room and can really let myself go. In Washington, at Harrison’s, they have deviled crab and Virginia ham. They’re terrific things. On the Île-de-France, when we went to Europe, they had the best crêpes Suzette in the world, and it took a dozen at a time to satisfy me. The Café Royal, in the Hague, has the best hors d’oeuvres in the world—eighty-five different kinds, and it takes a long time to eat some of each. There’s a place in Paris that has the best octopus soup. And oh, my, the smorgasbord in Sweden! At Old Orchard Beach, Maine, I got the reputation of eating more hot dogs than any man in America. A Mrs. Wagner there makes a toasted bun that’s the best of its kind in America. She has a toasted bun, then a slice of onion, then a hamburger, then a tomato, then melted cheese, then another hamburger, then a slice of onion, more cheese, more tomato, and then the other side of the bun. Her hot dogs have two dogs to a bun. I ate thirty-two one night…

More gustatory goodness in “Duke Ellington’s Diet“; and for a bonus treat, read this 1944 New Yorker profile of Ellington.

* Duke Ellington

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As we Take the A Train, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937 that the first animated-cartoon electric sign display in the U.S. was lit by its designer, Douglas Leigh, on the front of a building on Broadway in Times Square.  It used 2,000 bulbs, and its four-minute show included a cavorting horse a ball tossing cats.  Leigh, who went on to design such famous billboards as the Eight O’Clock Coffee sign (with a coffee pot that was, literally, steaming) and the Camel Cigarette sign (that blew smoke rings), became know as “The Man Who Lit Up New York.”  While his signs are now gone, his lighting of the Empire State Building (Leigh was also a pioneer in the illumination of city skylines and buildings) survives; and his large illuminated snowflake is still hung at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street every holiday season.

Douglas Leigh and his Times Square

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Written by LW

April 28, 2015 at 1:01 am

“I’ve always thought that parallel parking was my main talent.”*…

 

Culver City, California

 

When Nikki Sylianteng got a $95 parking ticket last winter, she realized that she was dealing with much more than a fine: she was dealing with a design problem.

“It was my fault,” she admits. She says she had been “so happy to find a parking spot,” she didn’t read the sign carefully enough. But, Sylianteng also felt like she shouldn’t have had to read the sign so carefully.

She suspected there were many parking offenders like her out there, who wanted to obey the law but had trouble discerning what that law was. Cities could make it easier for them, and improve parking compliance, just by making the parking signs clearer. As far as she could see, she was surrounded by a pretty confusing system of signage.

So, she decided to fix it.

She didn’t do this by fighting the ticket, nor by running for city council. Instead, Sylianteng committed act of guerilla civic design, which shocked the gears of municipal bureaucracy into motion. Someday, when better signage comes to a curb near you, you’ll have to thank Nikki…

More of the story– and more examples of Nikki’s work– at “A Designer’s War on Misleading Parking Signs,” and at her site, To Park or Not to Park. (Culver City image via Jalopnik.)

* Calvin Trillin

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As we take the bus, we might send honorable birthday greetings to William McKinley; he was born on this date in 1843.  The 25th President of the U.S., McKinley was the first president to ride in an automobile (a Stanley Steamer, a steam-engine-powered car built in the late 1890s by brothers Francis and Freelan Stanley). McKinley was also the last President to have served in the Civil War, and the third President (after Lincoln and Garfield) to be assassinated (though some believed Zachary Taylor, who died in office, to have been poisoned).

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Written by LW

January 29, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Every moment of light and dark is a miracle”*…

 

Long before the lights from Pittsburgh’s PNC Park began illuminating the North Shore every summer, a local corporation gave the city an art show every night on the same grounds.

The Westinghouse Electric Supply Company (a subsidiary of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation, or Wesco), based in Pittsburgh, moved into a warehouse facing the Allegheny River in 1948. On its roof, a giant orange and blue sign spelled out the the company’s tag line, “You can be sure … if it’s Westinghouse.”

As modernist design trickled down from the Bauhaus to Madison Avenue, most noticeably in the 1960s, corporate giants like Westinghouse began leaning towards minimalist visual identities. In 1960, Paul Rand gave the company a logo that looked like an electrical socket that also spelled out the letter W.

Six years later, Richard Huppertz, head of Westinghouse’s Corporate Design Center, wanted to emphasize the company’s sleek new identity with text-free signage on top of their North Shore warehouse. Huppertz ran the idea by Rand, who then came up with the country’s first computer-controlled sign…

Read the rest of this illuminating story at “Remembering Pittsburgh’s Most Mesmerizing Sign.”

* Walt Whitman

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As we celebrate bright ideas, we might turn to the noir side and send hard-boiled birthday greetings to Raymond Chandler, novelist (The Big SleepFarewell, My Lovely, et al.) and screenwriter (Double Indemnity, with Billy Wilder, e.g.), whose Philip Marlowe was (with Hammett’s Sam Spade) synonymous with “private detective,” whose style (with Hammett’s) defined a genre, and who was (unlike Hammett) born on this date in 1888.

Love interest nearly always weakens a mystery because it introduces a type of suspense that is antagonistic to the detective’s struggle to solve the problem. It stacks the cards, and in nine cases out of ten, it eliminates at least two useful suspects. The only effective love interest is that which creates a personal hazard for the detective – but which, at the same time, you instinctively feel to be a mere episode. A really good detective never gets married.

– Raymond Chandler, “Casual Notes on the Mystery Novel” (essay, 1949)

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Written by LW

July 23, 2014 at 1:01 am

The Annals of Semiotics, Vol. 27: Round and Round and Round We Go…

The image you see above is a “magic roundabout” in Colchester, England. It includes 5 mini-roundabouts embedded in a giant one. Imagine driving that on the left side of the road!

Roundabout. Traffic Circle. Rotary. According to the Harvard Dialect Study, we Americans are pretty divided about what to call a traffic circle, which is my own word of choice, like nearly 40% of the rest of you

Read on at Deborah Fallows’ “Magical Roundabouts and the Language of Signs,” one of a fascinating on-going series of dispatches from Deb and her husband James Fallows in the Atlantic series “American Futures“– tales of “reinvention and resilience across the nation.”

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As we name that turn, we might recall that it was on this date in 1993 that the last segment of the Natchez Trace Parkway’s Double Arch Bridge was set into place in the Franklin Crossing, over Route 96 near Franklin, Tennessee.  The National Park Service had been paving the Natchez Trace a little bit at a time since 1938, turning it into a scenic modern highway.  The last stretch was the Franklin Crossing, where engineers had to figure out how to elevate the bridge over Route 96 and the densely wooded valley below while preserving the natural beauty of the site.  Engineer Eugene Figg settled on an open, double-arched bridge that supports its deck without spandrel columns, preserving most of the view across the valley– the first precast segmental concrete arch bridge to be built in the United States.

The bridge was officially opened in the Spring of the following year, and the Parkway was complete.

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Written by LW

October 6, 2013 at 1:01 am

Back to the streets…

Following earlier assays of street signage from all over (e.g., here and here), the rubber finally meets the road itself.  Readers, the Toynbee Tile…

Franklin Square, Washington, DC (source)

Since the 1980s, several hundred tiles– all roughly the size of an American state license plate, and all bearing roughly the message above– have been found embedded in the pavement of roads in streets in two dozen major U.S. cities and four South American capitals.

There’s no consensus among scholars of the tiles as to their reference or meaning.  It’s pretty widely held that the “Toynbee” reference is to historian Arnold Toynbee, perhaps to a passage (in Experiences):

Human nature presents human minds with a puzzle which they have not yet solved and may never succeed in solving, for all that we can tell. The dichotomy of a human being into ‘soul’ and ‘body’ is not a datum of experience. No one has ever been, or ever met, a living human soul without a body… Someone who accepts – as I myself do, taking it on trust – the present-day scientific account of the Universe may find it impossible to believe that a living creature, once dead, can come to life again; but, if he did entertain this belief, he would be thinking more ‘scientifically’ if he thought in the Christian terms of a psychosomatic resurrection than if he thought in the shamanistic terms of a disembodied spirit.

Others suggest that the tiles allude to Ray Bradbury’s story “The Toynbee Convector,” to Arthur C. Clarke’s story “Jupiter V,” or– perhaps, given the direct 2001 reference, most likely– to Stanley Kubrick’s film (in which, readers will recall, hibernating astronauts who had secret training were to be revived upon arrival on Jupiter).

And while there’s no agreement on the identity of the tiler, a majority of enthusiasts believe that “he” is from Philadelphia– both because the City of Brotherly Love hosts the highest concentration of the plaques and because a collection of tiles found there deviate from the norm to ascribe a plot to John S. Knight (of Knight-Ridder, the erst-while newspaper publishers), the Mafia, and others.

See a (nearly) complete list of tiles and their locations here, a set of photos here, and learn how they are implanted here.  Visit this site for a peek at a Sundance award-winning documentary on the Tiles.

UPDATE:  Further to earlier posts on Lorem Ipsum and it’s bastard children, Bacon Ipsum and Hipster Ipsum, more grievous greeking:  Velo Ipsum (for bicycling enthusiasts), and for the reportorially-inclined, Journo Ipsum.

As we watch where we’re walking, we might recall that it was on this date in 1504 that Michelangelo’s 17-foot-tall marble David was unveiled in a public square outside the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of civic government in Florence.

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Signs of the Times, Part 666…

 

Earlier missives have covered the ironic antics of Bansky (e.g., here).  Now, in the spirit of his faux Paris Hilton CD covers, TrustoCorp and their “Tabloid Magazine Interventions“…

As Arrested Motion reports:

… they’ve gone into magazine stands, bookstores and pharmacies throughout Hollywood, Manhattan, Williamsburg, LAX and JFK to drop copies of these little artistic interventions for the unsuspecting public.

No details were spared as headlines blasted celebrities and public figures like Lindsey Lohan, Sarah Palin and Donald Trump in hypothetical features of entertaining variants for ever popular gossip magazines such as US, People and OK. What’s more is that each page of the tabloid have an embedded alphanumeric code that leads to a secret website for people that can figure it out. So keep your eyes peeled as you pass by your local newsstands as you may be lucky enough to find that TrustoCorp made a special delivery in your neighborhood.

See the rest of the covers at Arrested Motion.

And visit the TrustoCorp site for an interactive map revealing the locations of the signs that the collective has helpfully distributed around Manhattan, signs like…

Lexington and 24th

Greenwich and Morton

 

As we celebrate semiotic significance, we might recall that it was on this date in 1833 that the first successful “penny newspaper,” the New York Sun, was first published.  While it is probably best remembered for its 1897 editorial “Is There a Santa Claus?” (commonly referred to as “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus”), it also published “The Great Moon Hoax” (featured here recently), and Edgar Allan Poe’s “Balloon Hoax.”

We also have the Sun— more specifically, its managing editor from 1863-1890, John Bogart– to thank for that oft-quoted definition of the journalistic enterprise: “When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.”

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From the Department of Superfluous Redundancy…

 

From Damn Cool Pictures, “50 Completely Useless Signs“…

More at Damn Cool Pictures.

As we await further instructions, we might recall that it was on this date in 1940 that the Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies animated short “A Wild Hare”– the first “official” Bugs Bunny cartoon– premiered (though readers will recall that Bugs [or at least, his prototype] made his inaugural screen appearance two years earlier).  Directed by Tex Avery, “A Wild Hare” was nominated for an Academy Award.

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