Old Roads, New Stories: Two Cures for Billboards, by Rob Carney

Two Cures for Billboards

By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series   

In the Blue Mountains up in Oregon, they don’t mess around. It’s different than eastern Washington, where I thought I’d seen a sign for Ultimatum Ridge. Only I didn’t. It was one of those eye-skip things. Southbound on I-82, winding into Yakima County, what you really see is a sign for Umtanum Ridge. Which is fine, of course, and not nearly as lightweight as my own state of Utah—Sandy, Park City, Pleasant Grove, and a town, no kidding, called Bountiful.

Not so in the Blues. True, there’s LaGrande (rhymes with “the hand”), but before you twist down through the mountains to get there, you’ll pass signs along the freeway for Deadman Pass, Poverty Flat Road, Old Emigrant Hill Road… even something called Steer’s Bones. A gulch? canyon? avalanche dance club? I don’t know, but it sure isn’t Bountiful.

Even better, there are signs that say, “Max Fine for Littering $6,520.” Holy cow. Holy steer’s bones!

And now I want to do that in Utah, too, and also redefine “litter,” since to me the biggest form of it is billboards. I don’t care if they’re the old-school kind or those glowing grids of pixels; they need to go. Take all of that garbage down. Restore our sight lines to the Wasatch Mountains. Thousands of square feet of sky reappearing overnight, and no more rectangular shadows. Take them all down, make a stack, and call it Poverty Flats; as in, these things cheapen what it means to be gifted with eyes.

There’s no way the hawks will miss them. And somehow we’ll still find hamburgers. And if $6,520 per day seems high for a fine, “Too bad,” I’ll tell our legislature. “Would you rather have miles of nudity? Because my other plan is all billboards have to go nude.” I don’t mean photos of naked people; I just mean the word: “Sleep Inn Nudity,” “Flying J Nudity,” “Timpanogos Regional Hospital—Not Bigger. Just Better Nudity,” “Cabela’s Outdoor Nudity Gear,” “Wells Fargo Nudity Checking,” and on, and on, “Make America Nude Again.”

That ought to bring out the crowds to pull them down if nothing else will. First an inhale of shock, then some avalanche destruction. You could hear it from Salt Lake City to Ultimatum Ridge.



Rob CarneyRob Carney’s fourth book, 88 Maps, was published by Lost Horse Press (distribution by University of Washington Press). Previous books and chapbooks include Story Problems and Weather Report, both from Somondoco Press.
Read poetry by Rob Carney appearing in Terrain.org: 6th Annual Contest Finalist, 4th Annual Contest Winner, and Issue 30. And listen to a new radio interview with Rob Carney, and here’s an older radio interview.

Header photo courtesy Pexels.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.