Signs of the times

Signs, signs, everywhere the signs. There are signs of the times, signs of the seasons and “signs and wonders.” Signs are increasing in number to the point where I ask myself if we can do anything on our own anymore.

Most signs are good ones, of course: STOP, GO and YIELD come to mind. Speed limits are necessary, too, though in some spots it seems they’re only “suggestions.” Many signs are essential to safety. NO LITTERING is excellent, too (though it should be common sense).

I wonder how people would function if we had fewer signs addressing everything in life. In some situations it’s hard to figure out what a person can do, since there are so many posted messages prohibiting things.

In recent years, San Diego added new beach bans to the mix: No booze on the sand, no dogs, no playing of certain beach games, no smoking and more. Multiple signs hang from lampposts, along with other plaques detailing specific municipal regulations, citations and other inside-City-Hall codes that only politicians can interpret.

With all the signs out there, I still sense that the politically correct crowd has much more work to do. There’s always something that may offend someone, so it’s a growing market. Where does it all stop?

Do this. don’t do that… hey, can’t you read the signs?!?!”

Maybe not. That could be why more signs display pictures, not words. Possibly for simplicity of message, but I am guessing it has more to do with literacy… or lack of it.

There’s also the issue of messages in multiple languages. I love America’s melting-pot blend of culture, but how soon before sign makers will delight in making sure every dialect is represented where signs are posted, ala multilingual ballots that would make United Nations bureaucrats happy.

Every morning I notice a fascinating phenomenon. At my neighborhood on-ramp to the Interstate 8 freeway, there are two lanes that allow a right turn onto the ramp. The clearly posted sign in bold letters states: NO RIGHT TURN ON RED.

Under that sign is a slightly smaller sign noting “MON-FRI, 6 to 9AM.” In other words, a right turn on red light is fine most of the time, except those times.

Observing human behavior at that spot is a wonder to behold. Many people don’t stop at all, except a quick California stop (“in my mind”) before turning. Others sit waiting for the light to change while glaring piously at others who appear to be breaking the law (even though they’re not). Then there are those who must think the signs are as complicated as “War and Peace,” sitting through a couple of green lights in their battle to comprehend.

Caltrans complicates matters by adding more electronic freeway signs that were originally to be used for important information such as “Amber Alerts.” Lately, messages have flashed warnings about water use and drought conditions, fines for not doing this or that and travel updates. It’s especially funny when the lit-up signs admonish drivers for distracted driving while distracting them.

Some good news: Signs can be metaphors for life. Our own mental restrictions, along with rules imposed by others based on personal preference rather than truth or safety, can limit personal growth.

This point was brought home the other day when Mrs. Larson and I were leaving church, about to cross a major street at a busy crosswalk. There everyone does the same thing, trying to time things just right to avoid a long wait for the next green light.

She blurted out, “Hey, the light’s RED… let’s go!”

I couldn’t stop laughing. Great title for a new book, I said.

I know what she meant (the light for oncoming traffic was red, ours green) but it sounded as if we were going to break the rules and go for it.

That thought was invigorating. Respect the law, yes. But too often we may mentally condition ourselves to accepting multiple restrictions beyond what is necessary for life. We’re so used to others telling us what can and can’t be done that we act powerless.

That can lead to misconstruing what the rules are, and complicating things.

Metaphorically, it just might be that a RED light in life doesn’t have to mean STOP. It could be there to create a thinking moment, leading to a YIELD or CAUTION, then a DETOUR into right choices … leading to many new GREEN lights ahead.

The light’s RED… let’s go!

Mark Larson


— by Mark Larson

Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. His voice is heard on KPRZ 1210AM, and his weekday talkshow airs 6-9 a.m. on KCBQ 1170AM. Learn more at

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