D. Reilly, Jr.
The Sunday Gazette
"The eyes of Doctor
T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic —
their irises are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead,
pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose."
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great
The big eye on the billboard that one can't miss when driving southwest
from Troy Road
Crosstown reminds me of that quote from the greatest American novel.
billboard has only one eye, not two, and no spectacles, but its
be one of John Ashcroft's—brings back the sense of foreboding I
when I first read that passage many years ago. But that billboard would
me regardless of its message; it is a blight
This particular billboard is what logicians call self-referential—its
"Got an eyeful?" advertises nothing other than the sign company that
put it there. But what makes it a billboard is not its size, however
but rather that it hawks a product or service that is remote from its
placement. In the early 1970s, Niskayuna
banished such signs by proclaiming that they must be phased out over a
of five years. They started coming down as their land leases ran out,
last one that vexed me, one on Aqueduct Road,
pushed the time envelope. When
I started to press the Town Board to force its removal, a sheepish
(much beloved and now deceased) spoke up and said, "Ed, I hate to admit
this, but I am one of the group of businessmen that owns the sign.
us some slack until our lease runs out." So we were patient, and the
is long gone.
"down" I-890, northwest toward GE, there is a clump of gigantic
billboards that obscures the skyline of what would otherwise be
Two advertise beer, and four others tout a radio station, a TV channel,
distant casino, and a local hospital that offers to treat your asthma.
Bird Johnson would turn over in her grave except for one reason: at a
she doesn't have one.
In stark contrast, one can continue on 890, curve to the west around
follow the Mohawk river
until you approach the turn toward the new Glenville bridge. What lies
you is the most gorgeous stretch of scenery within ten miles of Schenectady—a
wide swath of blue water, an extensive frame of greenery, and, on a lucky day, puffy white clouds arrayed
against a deep
blue sky. But no billboards.
Crossing over to Glenville and heading back toward Scotia,
that town seemed pretty much free of the scourge until we entered the
this charming little village, slightly despoiled by a huge
high atop a bowling alley, with neither panel's message having anything
My mental image of Rotterdam
was that it had lots of billboards. But I had to search far and wide
that met my definition. I thought Altamont Avenue would be a prime
hunting ground, but the
only one I found was a double-panel one where Altamont
When, in the
early '90s, I asked Colonie Supervisor Fred Field why his town
billboards, he said that the firm that leased them had its headquarters
so they weren't about to drive them out of business. That HQ is still
Latham, but is now part of a national chain.
The downtown Schenectady
billboard that bothers me most is the one at a pay parking lot on Veeder Avenue
opposite the county office building. I don't understand why a facility
pressed for parking doesn't buy the lot, raze the sign, and use the
area for limited-time free parking for the unfortunate souls who have
to go to
the building on business.
I haven't always felt this way about such signs. I can remember proudly
arranging miniature billboards all around my Lionel train layout to
look just like the real world around me in Troy.
And I still have fond memories of the billboard-studded outfield fences
Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and Hawkins
in Menands, both, sadly, victims of a wrecker's ball over 40 years ago.
Field was noted for two signs in right field. One, a huge beer ad in
'h' of "Schaefer" lit up to signify a hit and the 'e' for an error.
But the more famous one was a long, low ground-level sign just
scoreboard. The sign advertised the haberdashery of Brooklyn
borough president Abe Stark, and said "Hit Sign, Win Suit." But the
ball had to hit the sign on the fly despite its being well-protected by
outfielders, so hitters were much more likely to win a suit in court
the field. The only recorded instance of anyone hitting the sign
occurred on June
7, 1937, a feat accomplished by Dodger Elwood George "Woody" English,
a shortstop who had only nine extra-base hits at Ebbets Field that
one is immortal, so I'm pushing for Woody's induction into the Hall of
Stark, on the other hand, was raving mad.
I'm also nostalgic for the small outdoor signs, now long gone, that
in sequence about 100 feet apart along country roads so as to tell a
set of five, from 1942, read
LET'S MAKE HITLER
LOOK AS SAD AS
current-day equivalent would be
THAT SLY SADDAM
HAS SHAVED HIS 'TACHE
I WONDER WHERE
HE'S STASHED HIS
Ed Reilly lives in Niskayuna
and is a regular contributor to the Sunday opinion section.