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Bring Back the Billboards!

How to Save Vermont

by TIM MATSON

Vermont’s got problems. Skyrocketing property taxes, surging energy costs, overpriced health care, job flight because businesses can’t afford to pay decent salaries. Even the fall foilage has lost its sparkle. We’ve got one overstressed old nuke plant ready to blow and the hydro dams have been torn out to make room for non-existent salmon runs, but nobody wants sustainable wind generators because they spoil the ridgeline views. The Governor’s solution? Better window insulation.

I say it’s time to bring back the billboards. Signage, for youse latte sipping elites. Remember billboards? In case you’ve forgotten, they’re the ads as big as movie screens seen along roadsides in most other states.

Here in the Green Mountain State we’re coming up on the 40th anniversary of the law that banned commercial signs from limited access roads and highways. Many Vermonters have never seen a billboard. For shame! Let’s revive this derelict industry, and kick start a bonanza of new businesses and tax revenue.

I can hear the eco-elitists shrieking. Yes, billboards can be butt ugly and soul rending. I just got back from a trip south and some of the stuff they erect makes it hard to stay on the road.

Half naked babes twenty feet high purring "Call me, I’ll make your wettest dream come true." But just as you’re about to dial that cell phone, here comes Jesus big as Godzilla up on a bloody cross threatening all sinners with fire and brimstone. Then a strack jarhead in beret and camo shouldering an RPG beckons you to a snipe hunt in the desert. Did I forget the Twinkies swooping in like flying saucers?

Well, it doesn’t have to be that way in Vermont. We could do billboards the way we do cheddar cheese. Sharp. Pioneer a whole new approach to signage. Original graphics done to order by local artistes. With time limits on displays to keep the viewing traffic from getting bored, which would mean a continuous demand for new work for painters, designers, printers, display installers, etc. A significant percentage of artwork would have to come from our schools and colleges, thus stimulating a renewed interest in the arts, with a nice stipend going to each artist and school. Paid by the billboard sponsor, or course.

Imagine billboards designed by the School of Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, the art department at Thetford Academy, the kindergarten in Island Pond. Maybe a redemptive scene by a prison inmate, with proceeds paying for a week’s worth of nut loaf and Kool Aid. Illuminated billboards powered by solar cells. 2-D Ben and Jerry’s Holsteins to replace the disappearing dairy farms.

I can picture billboards advertizing windmills from more advanced nations with sustainable economies and zero greenhouse discharge, offering to sell us their homegrown green energy. With a booming billboard business, we might even be able to afford that window insulation.

The cops should get behind this revival too. In fact they could park behind the billboards and come out gangbusters to nail speeders. Voila, more money for troopers and pothole repairs. Billboards would be a neat place to hide roadkills, too.

I propose we use innovative materials. Perhaps a biodegradable sign advertizing natural laundry soap, a sign made out of hemp to sell smoking jackets, a three story target for, well, Target. With bullet proof backing of course.

For those concerned about offending tourists, don’t fret. They’re too busy on their cell phones to notice the scenery anyway. In fact, they might not even notice the signs. But the natives will, knowing that every billboard is paying for their next colonoscopy.

TIM MATSON is author of the Earth Ponds series, and even more fun, Round Trip to Deadsville a member of Vermont’s Second Republic. He can be reached at tmatson@valley.net