Sunday, April 26, 2009

Caveat Emptor

Caveat Emptor: Let the Buyer Beware. I check in with e-bay every few days to see if there is anything new of interest to me. Seems like there is always something: old maps, old signs, even an occasional traffic signal.

Something that caught my interest this week was a replica of a US 666 sign with the following description:

...BEAUTIFUL REPRODUCTION OF A NEW MEXICO US ROUTE 666 HIGHWAY SIGN WITH 1'' CATSEYE REFLECTORS CIRCA 1930'S..THIS WAS AN ACTUAL ROAD CALLED ''THE DEVIL'S HIGHWAY'' BECAUSE OF THE NUMBER 666 ANS ALSO BECAUSE IT WAS SUCH A DANGEROUS DEADLY ROAD TO DRIVE ON. IT WAS ALSO NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE TO KEEP SIGNS ON AS THEY WERE STOLEN BY COLLECTORS AS SOON AS THEY WERE INSTALLED. THE ROAD WAS REDESIGNATED WITH ANOTHER # IN THE 70'S.
MADE BY A NOTED ARTIST WHO SPECIALIZES IN PROVIDING ACCURATE AGED SIGNAGE FOR PERIOD FEATURE FILMS, THESE SIGNS ARE MADE AS PER THE ORIGINALS OF 14 GA. STEEL WITH 1/2'' GLASS ''CATSEYE'' REFLECTORS. FULL SIZED AT 24''X24'' THESE 11 LB. SIGNS HAVE A NICELY AGED AND RUSTED PATINA AS PER THE PHOTOS. EVERYONE WHO BUYS THESE SIGNS IS ASTONISHED AT THEIR QUALITY AND REALISM AND THEY HAVE FOOLED THE EXPERTS AS TO THEIR TRUE AGE. I SELL THESE SETS TO RESTAURANT AND THEME DECORATORS FOR ANYWHERE UP TO 2500.00 - 3000.00 A SET
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Very interesting reading, except US 666 was replaced in 2003, NOT the 70's (it parent US 66 was decommissioned in 1985). Also, many of the signs were 16x16, not 24x24. Now here's the kicker: this is what one of the replica signs looks like:
Notice anything odd? To a casual observer, it may look like just an old highway sign. To a Road Scholar/Roadgeek, there are a number of discrepancies. For one, the New Mexico legend is in a serif font. Official US signage has never used a serif font. Secondly, the numbers 666 are too rounded. On a true sign, the numbers would be more square (at least in the 1930's when button-copy signs were still used). Thirdly, the overall shape of the sign is off. The shape looks bloated.

I'm sure someone will buy this sign thinking it's the real deal or an exact replica. Sadly, it's neither. It's a cheap imitation trying to pass as legit. For the sake of comparison, here is an illustration of a real sign courtesy of David Kendrick's Shields Up! :
Major difference, eh? If you really want one of those fake replicas, go ahead. As for me, I want the real thing or an exact replica.

The Fascination of old Motels




It's hard to explain this fascination I have for old motels. I suppose it's a number of things:

(1) Economics: I'm usually on a tight budget when I travel so I seek out the best "bargain".

(2) Supporting "small business": I am a small business owner so I believe in supporting other small businesses, (yes, I know: many "independent" motels are owned by people who own big corporate franchises).

(3) Uniqueness: many older motels have their own style (such as Wayside Motel near St. Louis) while the big chains pretty much look all alike.

(4) Having worked for a number of motel chains, I know a goodly percentage of what you pay goes toward Franchise fees ($20,000+) and Royalty fees (between 5 and 10 percent).


I confess though: finding a decent "independent" motel (or "mom & pop" if you prefer) is a crapshoot. I've stayed at some good ones and some bad ones. Some are relatively clean, quiet & comfortable and some (like the Maagnolia Motel in Laurel, MS) look like they should have been bulldozed years ago. Yet, I've also stayed at a few chains (or, more properly Franchised motels) that have not been all that great. I stayed at a Motel 6 recently that it took 3 tries to get a decent room, The first room wouldn't open. The second had no knobs on the shower. The third was "OK", but had a noisy a/c and was short sheeted (king size bed, but queen size sheets that barely tuck in under the bed).

Probably the best independent I've stayed at was the M* Motel in Searcy, AR. Extremely clean and comfortable. The bed had an extra thick mattress pad and 4 (count em FOUR) big fluffy pillows (not the flat ones you often find). It had the amenities of a big city motel in a small town room. It also had a big city price: $59 plus tax... about the price of a small town Super 8.

The worst I already mentioned: Magnolia Motel in Laurel, MS. The room was dirty, the a/c sounded like a small plane taking off, the furniture was filthy and the door didn't properly lock (so I put a chair against the door). They advertised a restaurant on the premesis that looked to have closed several years ago. In truth, I shouldn't have stayed, but I didn't realize at the time that all the other motels were on the other side of town. This was, quite literally, the only remaining motel in Laurel on US 11. Since then, I've learned to do more in depth research into what's available.

Yes, finding a decent independent is a crap shoot and I'm not always successful. But it does often give you a glimpse of a simpler time, before the advent of high speed expressways and cookie cutter motels.