Commuter Corner: Signs of the times

A photo of commuters waiting for a train in Town Hall station, Sydney. (Dushan Hanuska/ Flickr)

A photo of commuters waiting for a train in Town Hall station, Sydney. (Dushan Hanuska/ Flickr)

It was a few mornings ago, after spending an uninterrupted month in my hometown, that I learned something new about it. Or rather, it was then that I realized a few things that had previously gone unnoticed: little tidbits about my town that were considered unworthy of my time before that moment. They captured my attention now though, keeping me fully enthralled by their existence.

From my vantage point, there were two relatively new signs inhabiting my quaint town. They both had bright messages that switched every few seconds, begging me to keep my attention on them instead of the glorious river that carved its way through the center of town. The sky was a dismal gray in color. The trees had no leaves. Some small snow piles were still scattered on the side of the roads. What else was I to look at besides the colorful, ever-changing signs?

One was atop a hill that led to my home, the school, a car dealership. I knew from passing it so often that it told the time, as well as displayed messages relating to the all-boys high school it belonged to. That high school is known for its basketball program, and almost exclusively accepts immigrants from Turkey. As there are not many in my cozy town, I attended a valedictorian luncheon with their only graduate, amazed that people accused my school of being small. The lettering was red, but from where I sat the words could not be made out.

The other sign was lit up across the local radio station. In this town, the radio is the source of information for all community events. Not only do they advertise, but the radio’s figurehead also organizes many of the town’s parades, concerts and volunteering opportunities. They attend school sporting events, report local news both on the radio and in online posts and try to get to know the community as much as possible. For someone passing through, the flashing sign announcing all the new events is pretty normal, but to residents of surrounding towns it is a guide. A “First Friday” celebration is coming up? A riverfire will be held soon? Oh, they have a concert going on that day? Maybe we can go. There are also advertisements from local businesses that are put up there in between announcements. Bank Hometown encouraged me to “score $200” when I opened up an account there. In the car, these messages would keep me occupied while stopped at the light after Main Street, but close attention was not paid.  Ideas on what to do for the evening came up, but the workings of the flashy sign were never noted.

From my seat, I saw the local bank’s advertisement come up, viewed the time flash across the screen and then watched the sequence of community events play out. The time came up once again, then the bank ad, then the time, followed by those same community events. As I watched the minutes tick by, I learned more about that sign than I had ever desired to. The bank advertisement, for example, took 21 seconds exactly to play out. The town news took exactly 30 seconds. I kept an eye on this pattern for several minutes before being certain these times were indeed exact. I was enthralled by both this sign and the other one on the hill, both intruding on my small town within the past year or so, compelling the residents to focus on them instead of the people beside us.
The man next to me asked what time I arrived. Grateful for the break from my reverie, I told him that I only arrived a couple minutes before him, making it about an hour wait. The time flashed across that sign once more, signaling that it was 7:46 a.m. and eliciting a comment similar to “come on” from the man beside me. Apparently someone heard him, and the door was opened. Despite my new-found knowledge of my small town, I did not hesitate as I hurried to the counter. I was more than willing to escape those signs, get my car registered and get back home. Technology takes away from appreciating nature and even from appreciating those things right beside you: your fellow comrades in the formidable DMV lines. I went home and read a good book, then headed out to UConn, content with my newfound knowledge.


Hannah Desrosiers is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at hannah.desrosiers@uconn.edu.