Neon Art

I’ve always liked neon signs.  There’s something kitschy about them, of course, but also something classically American — bold, consciously attempting to be memorable and attract passersby, naked in their capitalistic purpose, and often dosed with fantasy or humor.  Plus, neon really looks cool at night.

Downtown Boston has come up with a great way to celebrate — and preserve — some of these neon relics of a.past America.  On one of the small strips of land between the downtown area and the waterfront, called the Greenway, neon signs have been positioned around the perimeter.  The signs draw visitors like moths to light.  Two of my favorites were the Siesta Motel, with its cactus and sombrero theme, and the Flying Yankee Restaurant, with its rocket ship and flaming trail.  The Siesta Motel, which dates from 1950, was located in Saugus, Massachusetts — where its southwestern-themed sign must have stood out like a sore thumb — and the Flying Yankee Restaurant, which dates from 1953, long before rocket ships were commonplace, was located in Auburn, Massachusetts.

Don’t you wish you’d had a chance to see these signs on the great American road during the ’50s, and perhaps stop at the Flying Yankee for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie?

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Enjoying Americana, And Savoring The Voting Experience

Even though my candidate of choice didn’t prevail yesterday, voting always makes me feel good — about myself, but especially about my country.  There is something deeply moving and profound, quiet but enormous, reaffirming and empowering, about going to the polls on Election Day and casting your ballot in this huge and diverse nation where we manage to settle disagreements by elections, not roadside bombs or terrorist attacks.

When I woke up this morning, I still felt good about our election.  On my walk through our quiet neighborhood, I wanted to listen to music that expresses, to my mind at least, a little bit of that uplifting mixture of emotions that I feel when I vote.  I donned my iPod and thumbed to my Americana playlist, which is a compilation of songs of every different category and classification, linked together only because they all — through message, or genre, or context, or something else — seem quintessentially American to me.  I listened as the dogs and I strolled along this morning, savoring an eclectic mix of music that reflects the broad, sweeping nature of this land and its people, and counted myself lucky that I was born an American.

The first 20 songs on my Americana playlist are:

Ashokan Farewell   (The Civil War soundtrack)
Sweet Georgia Brown    (Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli)
Air Mail Special    (Benny Goodman And His Orchestra)
Over The Rainbow    (Judy Garland, The Wizard Of Oz Soundtrack)
Polly Wolly Doodle   (Leon Redbone)
Dipper Mouth Blues    (Arturo Sandoval)
My Girl    (The Temptations )
Someone To Watch Over Me    (Frank Sinatra)
No More    (The Blind Boys Of Alabama)
Dig My Grave Both Long And Narrow (Amasong)
Summertime    (Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong)
Blowin’ In The Wind    (Bob Dylan)
Goodnight Louise    (Boz Scaggs)
When The Saints Go Marching In    (Dr. John)
50,000 Names    (George Jones)
Anything Goes    (Helen Merrill)
Calling My Children Home    (Emmylou Harris)
Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) (Natalie Cole, Live)
They’re Red Hot    (Robert Johnson)
The Cascades    (Scott Joplin)

Anachronisms In A Digital Age

Last week, at a rest area along I-87, far north in upstate New York, I encountered this anachronistic scene.  It was like stumbling into some exhibit at the Museum of Modern American Culture.

I can’t even remember the last time I saw the mini, open bottom public phone booth — and here it was, not only available for use but also side-by-side with the even older, full-fledged, classic telephone booth, in all its Clark Kent changing into Superman on a concrete pad glory.  And, to complete the sense of absolute historical accuracy, the phone booth lacked any sign of a phone book.

I’m not sure there is a full-length phone booth left anywhere in the Columbus area, much less one that is right next to the abbreviated version.  I wonder how often these public phone booths are used in our cell phone age?

Seeing these signs of days gone by was jarring, and made me think about how what was once commonplace can vanish seemingly overnight, without anyone really even noticing.