See Bellows Falls...
When I was growing up, billboards were pretty much everywhere, advertising everything from Christy's Dry Gas to Foster Furculo for Governor ("Massachusetts Needs Foster Forculo") to Salem cigarettes ("Take a puff, it's springtime." Hack, hack, cough, cough.)
Now, you don't see that many of them.
In fact, I can't remember the last time I noticed one. But there must be some around, because Massachusetts is not one of the four states that ban them. That honor goes to Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont.
And it's the Vermont law that's being challenged - at least by a teensy-weensy little bit.
It seems that some boosters of the town of Bellows Falls, Vermont - an ailing, boost-needing, not especially scenic New England town if ever there was one - painted a sign on the side of a barn outside of town, trying to woo tourists "to their up-and-coming downtown, where a smattering of cafes and galleries have established a tentative toehold in once-vacant buildings." (This was reported in a May 3 article by Jenna Russell in The Boston Globe.)
Well, I don't know if I'd exactly describe downtown Bellows Falls as 'up-and-coming', but, then again, I haven't been there in a few years. And there were a couple of funky-ish shops, a bookstore, an art gallery (that featured faux 1930's travel posters for Bellows Falls and, I believe, nearby Keene, NH. I really wish I'd gotten one of the BF posters.)
In any case, some vigilant anti-billboard person ratted the town boosters out to the state's Travel Information Council, a group charged with making sure that nothing gets between a tourist and anything scenic.
Sure, the bluffs outside of town are kind of neat. And the town itself is on the quite scenic Connecticut River.
But I really don't think that the sign was interfering with any leaf peeper, pristine white steeple-viewer, or mountain-top ogler.
In fact, the picture accompanying the photo pretty much says it all, with the biker driving by. Many years ago, on a rare visit to my husband's home town, Jim and I decided to go out for a drink. The first spot we came upon was a biker bar called the Meatland Cafe. I informed him that I wasn't so desperate for a drink that I was going to step one foot into a bar named Meatland. So we bought some gin and made G&T's.
No, Bellows Falls is a pretty sorry sight, a town that The Depression doesn't seem to have quite left just yet, but which is gamely trying to remake itself as an art colony of sorts. (They also have something of a folk music scene.)
Bellows Falls was never a picture postcard town. It was a working town. No town green with big white Congo Church and "George Washington slept here" houses. No Ye Olde Quaint anything. No taciturn Yankees going, "Ay-uh."
Instead, there were a lot of tilo-covered houses. Ethnic working stiffs - Irish, Italian, French-Canadian, Polish - who worked at God knows what. Some sorts of mills, I suppose. My husband is clueless on this front. His father worked as a switchman for the railroad (the town was something of a mini-rail center and used to be the home to a tourist site, a railroad "museum" called Steamtown USA. But Steamtown found Bellows Falls so bleak that they up and moved their engines and railroad cars to someplace they deemed far more feasible and touristic. Namely, Scranton PA. That's how dreary Bellows Falls is.
But, like a lot of poor old New England towns, Bellows Falls has a gritty integrity and authenticity. No airs. No snobbery. No pretensions.
Even with its attempts to remake itself as an art colony - and, why not? It's affordable and it is smack-dab in the middle of a really beautiful area.
And, drive-by biker aside, the sign also speaks to the sense of humor that Bellows Falls, and places like it, seem to have about it. The retro car. The salute to postcards of the fifties.
These folks aren't taken themselves all that seriously.
There's something about that you've got to like and admire.
Then along come to no-fun bullies at the Travel Information Council who claim the sign violates the state's no billboard ordinance, ordering the sign's removal, much to the annoyance of the Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance , which "commissioned the painting for $3,000 and spent another $1,000 fixing up the barn." Which is probably a goodly amount of money for the BFDDA.
Bellows Falls is looking for an exception to the no billboard rule, and I hope they get one.
Purists fear that providing BF with an exemption will be the thin edge of the wedge when it comes to roadside advertising.
But I don't think they have much to worry about.
The sign isn't an eyesore. I was going to write that the town is, but that's unfair.
Bellows Falls - "Bellows Falls, ever glorious" in the words of the high school song - is a determined, 'why not' town that's sick of being depressed and out of the way. They want to be a wayside attraction.
Tourists racing up 91 to look at foliage or get to Killington for a skiing weekend could do worse than get off the highway and take a look at what the real New England looks like. (While they're at it, they can grab a bite at the Miss Bellows Falls Diner, a watercolor print of which hangs in my bathroom, right next to one of the Miss Worcester. Now, Worcester - there's another get-off-the-highway place that people might want to wander through if they want to see what a bigger version of the real New England looks like.)