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Sarah’s Signs of the Times

SBS and her new favorite form of entertainment: witty signs

by SBS

It’s late January 2020 and I’m driving my then-14-year-old son, John, to high school. Unlike his twin sister, who walks to our neighborhood school, John attends a high school ~2.5 miles from our house as he’s part of the school’s pre-professional dance company. Thus, twice a day, John and I make the 10-or-so minute drive together; the streets are set up in a grid pattern, so we have almost countless routes to take. 

Fairly quickly, though, we establish a can’t-miss attraction: AAA Heating and Cooling

[record scratch] Wait, what?!?

For some keep-Portland-weird reason, this repair service posts the most clever, witty messages on its business sign, a different question or quip on each side.

I’d never really noticed the mini-billboard before transporting John 2x/day, yet now we eagerly await new messages, whether “DEAR KARMA I HAVE A LIST OF PEOPLE YOU MISSED” or “IT WAS US WE LET THE DOGS OUT” (I mean, what the what?) We chuckle the rest of the way to school, discussing how quirky the messages are and wondering who crafts them. We vow we’ll remember them, but quickly realize they need memorializing so I buy a pocket notebook adorned with a kitty face that we keep in the van, and John hurriedly jots down the best musings. The sign becomes our shared “thing.”

A sampling of sign silliness

Yet, I confess, the unrelenting nature of the twice-daily to-and-from trips wears on me. I find myself daydreaming about John’s junior year, when he’ll be able to drive himself. 

Then, on Friday, March 13, all those drives—and laughs—come to an abrupt halt when Portland schools, like institutions worldwide, shut down. Suddenly I possess the clarity to see those drives for what they were: precious one-on-one time with my beloved son, who opened up and shared on those rides like he rarely does at home. I’m so verklempt about school being closed and dance rehearsals being canceled, I can’t bring myself to venture by our beloved sign. 

On an early May morning, though, I find myself within a block of our pals at AAA Heating and Cooling. I’m in a (rare) upbeat mood thanks to a peppy playlist so I brave the billboard—and the memories. There, in the already-bright sunshine, it says, “HEY, CORONAVIRUS, I HATE YOUR HAIRCUT!,” which makes me snicker. But it’s the silly declaration on the back, “WELP, IT LOOKS LIKE JAY-Z HAS 100 PROBLEMS NOW” that makes me LOL.

The clever quips that made Sarah LOL

I laugh like I haven’t in weeks. So hard tears spring to my eyes. And as the tears roll down my cheeks, mixing with my sweat, I realize my laughter is morphing into crying. A short-but-much-needed catharsis, as my thoughts flash back on drives past the sign, with John telling me about the tap number he’d demo’d that day or the French guest choreographer, creating a new ballet piece for the company. 

After a few minutes, I wipe the sweat, tears, and snot off my flushed face, press the Resume button my GPS, and head for home. In the intervening 9+ months, I’ve started to run by AAA Heating and Cooling more often. 

By the time school re-opens next September (please, oh, please!), then-16-year-old John might have his driver’s license, but there is no way I’m letting him drive solo to school. Sure, there’s the safety standpoint, but this mother runner’s reasoning is purely emotional: I crave that repetitive drive like I never could have imagined in The Before Times. 

9 responses to “Sarah’s Signs of the Times

  1. Such a great article. I too was a mom driving her kids to and from piano lessons weekly 45 min from my home. I did it for 10 years. But those talks!! A captive kid and a hearty after school snack made for some great opportunities. They are all adults now but I do miss those talks.

  2. This is great. My 8th grader just got into a school that I will need to drive him to and from next year, and I keep wondering how I will make that work with everything going on, but your article totally put it into perspective. Thank you!

  3. Car rides are everything! People always bemoan their children leaving for college but I tell young parents they really start the leaving process once they start driving. I didn’t realize what a gift all the ferrying around truly was. Love the added bonus you and your son enjoy.

  4. My talks with my daughter were always to and from the barn (we only lived 2 blocks from her high school which I worked at by the way). This brings back so many memories that I had to share some tears with you Sarah. She has now graduated college with her masters (4 1/2 years living abroad) and is living back with us due to CoVID. She has an amazing job and as much as I hate so many things relating to the pandemic, this time since March 2020 has been a balm on this mother runners sole.

  5. Tears here, as well. My boys are in college now, but I remember many rides with great conversations. We used to enjoy the most marvelous sunrises on the way to school from the top of a hill. We were robbed of that in March 2020 with school cancelled for the rest of my son’s senior year. I’m glad you found it cathartic and found the silver lining in driving him to school. Praying he can go back again this fall. Hugs!

  6. Oh my gosh, I have tears streaming down my face. First laughter and then crying. Also a mother of two teenage sons growing up too quickly, I can relate to those car trips, once a nuisance, now gone. Corona has robbed us, but you brought out the gratitude side we can find if we look for it.

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