The Great Sign

Driving south on I-75 in Georgia and Florida in the 1970 s was really different than it is today. Every exit held a surprise, you didn't know what kind of restaurants or gas stations existed around the bend. I really miss that part of travel - you actually felt like you were in a different place - the people talked with strange accents, they dressed a bit different, they offered different things in their stores and restaurants ... it was great!

These days it seems that you can find the same standardized gas stations, restaurants and motels at almost every exit. It feels like you never left home except for the palm trees (which you can buy in Chicago now every spring) You'll find a BP gas station and Cracker barrel at every major exit along the way. Of course the motels are all franchised -but that's not a bad thing.

Holiday Inn started the whole thing back in the 50's with a clean room, a low price and no surprises. Gone were the days of hit or miss lodging; you knew exactly what you were getting when you pulled into a holiday inn. I can't describe the feeling of seeing that 40 foot tall "Great Sign" all lit up as you drove down the dark, empty interstate ready to stop for the night - I can still see it, and hear it! The neon and electronic switches all made noise- an electrical hum along with clicks and pops. That's the single biggest thing I miss about travel - Seeing that sign at night. You can still see it all lit up in the movie The Blues Brothers and the TV show Starsky and Hutch.

I got one of the masonite signs they used to have mounted on the wall in the lobby by the road map. It was cracked and no longer glued to the wall so my dad took it up to the front desk and asked the manager if I could have it. They said, "Sure." My brother and I would play with that sign day after day and year after year with our pedal cars. What other kid had a "real" Holiday Inn sign when they pretended to stay in or work at a motel?

I hope one day they bring that sign back. It was a great piece of Americana!

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