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Along the road, signs of human fallibility

By John Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 22, 2011; 6:27 PM

There's nothing better than a good misspelled sign. Seeing one gives many of us a fleeting sense of superiority. Ha! We wouldn't have gotten that wrong. (Never mind that I had to look up how to spell "misspell.")

A few weeks ago, George Hamlin of Clarksville noticed signs popping up on upper Georgia Avenue in Montgomery County for a new Subway sandwich shop. "The, um, imaginative spelling so impressed me that I was moved to stop and photograph one of them," he wrote.

"Leasure World"? Maybe they're afraid they'll get sued by that lady who owns the rights to "Leisure World." Or perhaps the sub shop is next to a lingerie shop called "Pleasure World" and the signmaker left off the P.

Should we be more tolerant of advertising signs that are misspelled, as opposed to official signs? Colesville's Fred Hillmann told me I should high-tail it over to Randolph Road in Wheaton to see the signs directing motorists to "Old Randolf Road." Fred wrote: "Or maybe that should be Gandolf?"

Old Gandalf himself probably had to correct misspellings of his name. I called up Montgomery County spokeswoman Esther Bowring, who, in the spirit of things, said, "We have to get that fixed - before people go to Middle Earth."

The county has its own sign shop, but Esther said the two misspelled Old Randolph Road signs were among about 2,700 made by a contractor with about $200,000 in federal stimulus funds. She said county officials knew about the two signs, which were in front of Kennedy High School. And in fact, the misspelled signs are already gone, no doubt melted down in the great cauldrons of Mordur. Or is that Mordor?

Speaking of signs, in December I wrote about Kim Houghton and the cavorting-canine mural painted on the back of Wag More Dogs, her Shirlington doggie day-care facility. Arlington County deemed the mural a sign, governed by its sign laws. Not so, said Kim, who insisted that it was a work of art designed to enhance the experience of people using a nearby dog park. When the county said she had to cover the mural Kim decided to fight back, enlisting the help of the Institute for Justice in a lawsuit.

This month, U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema sided with the county (rightly in my opinion). The Institute for Justice says the judge ignored the Constitution. Kim vows to appeal.

Cheesed off

That whirlwind European trip I wrote about Tuesday? It almost ended in tragedy.

We had landed at Dulles and taxied to our gate. The instant the fasten-seat belt sign went off, my fellow passengers started leaping up. That was when a woman in the row in front of mine ignored the first rule of airline travel: Take care when opening overhead compartments because their contents might have shifted during flight.

She opened the hatch above my seat, and suddenly I felt as if I'd been clocked in the head with a shovel. Some contents had shifted right onto my skull. I knew immediately what it was. I had put it there. It was three pounds of duty-free Gouda, purchased at the Amsterdam airport.

There is nothing funny about being concussed by a falling wedge of cheese.

Oh, who am I kidding? There is. I don't think the CDC took me seriously when I called to see whether they had data on flying-cheese deaths. (They don't.) According to OSHA, slaughterhouses are more dangerous places to work than cheese factories.

Still, it really hurt. Perhaps if it had been Limburger or brie. But it had to be Gouda, a hard cheese.

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