Burned Out Signs

Posted April 25, 2002 at 5:57 pm | 2 Comments
Lately I’ve developed a strange obsession with photographing burned out signs. I think it started when I was taking the train to New York last weekend. I was watching the scenery go by out the window, and I saw that someone had knocked out a bunch of letters on a Home Depot sign so that it said “HOMO.” It struck me as an awful lot of work to do for such a stupid word, especially since it was separated by a huge space in the middle. I speculated that perhaps some of the letters were already missing. That got me thinking about better words to spell within “Home Depot,” but I couldn’t really think of any. For the rest of the weekend, though, whenever I saw a lighted sign, I tried to come up with interesting words that could be created by selectively blacking out the letters.
Actually, I sighted one of my favorite such signs a couple of years ago, on a trip to New Orleans. We got lost in a bad neighborhood, and we saw a Shell gas station with the S burned out. It seemed oddly appropriate.

Lately I’ve been going running along the river in the evenings, and tonight I brought my camera along. I decided to take a tour of the burned out signs of Boston by night.

The first burned out sign I encountered was in front of the Polaroid building. The only reason this one is funny is because they recently declared bankruptcy, which I suppose is why they no longer maintain their sign. Though I guess I could make some sort of joke about them being “po’.”
There’s a giant glowing Citgo sign in Boston alongside the river near Fenway Park. As if to challenge the Citgo sign, Shell put up a sign on the other side of the river. It reminds me of my late night runs along the Mississippi a few summers ago — there are also two competing signs facing off across the river there, only instead of signs for gas stations, they are signs for rival brands of flour — Gold Medal and Pillsbury.This sign has the H burned out instead of the S. I can’t think of what that could mean, except for perhaps a subtle message to stockholders.
The burned out letters on the Marriott sign in Kendall Square struck me as a good way to illustrate the advantage of redundancy in system design. Notice how the sign degrades gracefully; when an R or a T burns out, the sign will still read roughly the same way. They really should have gone all the way and named their hotel the Mmaarriioott.
This one doesn’t require much commentary. I think the lesson here is that you should never purchase a lighted sign if your business is named something like “Glass Wholesalers” or “Hardy’s Clocks.” If there is an offensive substring within your name, people will find it.

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