The Back page with Bruce Steinberg
My favorite Gary Larson “Far Side” panel has no caption, just a picture of a student pushing against the closed entry door. Except the sign on the door says “Pull” and the name of the school, posted by the staircase, reads: “Midvale School for the Gifted.”
In my family, when one of us does or says something way out of whack from the obvious, we call that a “Midvale School for the Gifted” moment.
So then, check out the picture that comes with this article.
When we were out with friends at the time, walking the Fox Trail bike path, we approached this spot, my wife taking the picture, and all of us thought about that sign: Somebody managing the trail had a Midvale School for the Gifted moment. Maybe when the river level recedes and there’s no water on the pavement, a government official has a sign for that, too.
That’s the mighty Fox River depicted, flowing hard and high through downtown St. Charles, Illinois, overflowing its banks in July. This is where, too, the Fox Valley Marathon (which also includes a half marathon and twenty-miler) is run in September. One can only imagine all the bad things that would happen if the race were run under these conditions, and there was no sign. Well, no. No imagination necessary. Nothing bad would happen because, well – there’s a whole lot of water on the pavement.
Show, don’t tell, goes the saying.
I remember a pre-Birkie in which a sign near the start, on Lake Hayward, posted on a pole mid-lake, surrounded by snow on shore-to-shore solid ice, read: “No Swimming.” Well at least that sign was there in the summer months, too.
One summer, several years ago, while roller skiing along the Fox River trail, I took a downward sweeping turn. And around the corner of trail-hiding thick forest growth, lay a long patch of ripped out pavement, replaced by pea gravel. No time to stop safely on my own, the pea gravel did the stopping for me, in about two inches and a memory of pea gravel rash.
I sure could have used a sign.
But there was no sign.
Someone evil must be managing the trail, or otherwise have a collection of “Far Side” cartoons.
On our way to a ski trip in British Columbia, I and my ski buds rode in our rental car north of Vancouver, a sheer cliff to the right, a sheer drop-off to the ocean to the left. The signs said: “Watch Out For Falling Rocks/Boulders.” My buddy driving at the time said there should have been another sign that read: “Not That You Can Do Anything About It.”
Silent sports races have all sorts of signs telling us which way to go, except when they don’t. A missing sign during a 10K took me off course, and by a Baskin Robbins, which slowed me down enough to blow a PR. I mean, there’s just something wickedly powerful about Pralines ’n Cream. Mile markers from past races, spray-painted on pavement, help with interval training, except where there have been multiple races over multiple years, and it’s hard to know which mile markers match up. I suppose when my stopwatch timer showed I had done a mile in just under four minutes, I had an it’s-not-a-match hint.
When I explained to the park district officer that the sign only said “No Skating or Sledding” on the frozen pond, and that I, instead, was cross-country skiing, she said, “You can’t luge on it either,” and kicked me and my skis off the pond.
Of all the ridiculous signs I’ve ever seen, the ones expressing the most Midvale School for the Gifted attitude appear along tollways I-90 and I-88. They’re everywhere. Driving at 72 mph, getting tailgated, honked at, and passed relentlessly, I heard my son, deep in his Driver’s Ed experience, ask from the back seat, “What are those signs for?”
“The ones that say ‘Speed Limit 55.’”
“Oh those,” I answered. “I have absolutely no idea.”