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Her World

Signing on for Entertainment and Information

July 10, 1988|JUDITH MORGAN | Morgan, of La Jolla, is a magazine and newspaper writer

Confessions of a sign junkie. . . .

The least sexist sign I've ever seen was the warning posted at an escalator in the Marriott Hotel in Washington, D.C.:

"Individuals wearing long dresses should take elevators."

The most spacey was on a kitchen bulletin board of the Prairie Star restaurant in the blue-sky country north of Albuquerque.

It began: "Read this, waitnoids."

The handsome young men and women who served green chili-and-chicken soup and other Southwest specialties paused and grinned.

Signs are welcome blurts of communication, whether on billboards, bumpers or buttons. They help pass the time in airports. They keep us focused on the road. They answer questions, or ask them. They can make us smile.

What better for a convention cocktail crush than the button I saw in Fort Worth: "They think I'm one of them."

Timeless Humor

What better for the marquee of the old-time Master Dry Cleaners on Albuquerque's Central Avenue, the legendary Route 66, than "Forty Years on the Same Spot."

Central Avenue is thick with signs of the times--the '20s and '30s and '40s and '50s. Signs before neon. Signs before pizazz. Signs for pawnshops and root beer drive-ins. Straightforward signs of another era of motor travel such as "Tourist Court" or "Hill Top Lodge, Air Conditioned."

I remember my parents searching for those last magic words as we crossed New Mexico and Arizona in the middle of August. Even "Air-Cooled" or "Water Fans" were welcome.

The short takes on T-shirts and garment labels can make diverting reading. I tried on a straw hat in a Washington, D.C., boutique called Vivace in the glitzy mall of The Shops on Pennsylvania Avenue. The label promised: "Genuine Yangtze River Panama Hat. Made in the USA."

Elevator Buttons

A block closer to the White House is the elegantly restored Willard Hotel, where the elevator buttons list "PA" for the first floor.

I puzzled through the Spanish "PB" (planta baja for ground floor) before I realized that PA was Pennsylvania Avenue. It has guided generations of guests and Presidents to that historic entrance. (There is also an "F" stop for F Street, but that's on the other side.)

Other signs drew me to Oklahoma's Gilcrease Museum on a windswept knoll in Tulsa, where I wandered through the recently expanded galleries of American paintings, Western Americana and Native American artifacts.

The bold spirit of this collection is reflected in more than 10,000 paintings and sculptures, including John James Audubon's first bird subject (the life-size "Wild Turkey") and 825 works by Thomas Moran, whose luminous landscapes of Yellowstone were a factor in the establishment of the National Park Service. Gilcrease is home to 57 paintings by Charles Russell and 19 of the 22 bronze sculptures of Frederic Remington.

What He Knew

My favorite Remington bronze is "Coming Through the Rye," a 1902 sculpture of four horsemen on steeds at full gallop, a work of such power and motion, of flying manes and hoofs and hats, that you hear the shouts and the wind and the thunder.

A museum sign notes the artist's reply, when asked how he would like to be remembered; Remington hoped they would say simply: "He knew the horse."

Down wide marble stairs I found shelves of baskets and beadwork and pottery that had spent years in storage. These archives of Indian treasures are shown in a haunting light. War bonnets seem to float in tall cases, trailed by eagle feathers. Thousand-year-old arrowheads rest near baby moccasins.

The last sign I read at Gilcrease was the menu of the small cafe that overlooks the green hills of the Osage: "Buffalo chili, $2.25. Sweet potato pie, $1."

I ordered the pie.

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