The saying goes that Southern Californians never speak to each other, they communicate by bumper sticker.
Well, small-town Utahns have their own language, too. It's called "Marqueenglish." You see it on all those do-it-yourself marquees that crop up like corn in Utah's villages and towns.For years the domain of the marquee - or "change panel sign" - was the movie theater. No more. Now every barbershop, bakery and Buick dealer has its own letterboard and a box of black letters to go with it.
From 1100 South to 1100 North on Brigham City's Main Street there are more than two dozen marquees. Kaysville has nearly as many. And a drive through Layton, Smithfield and American Fork shows other towns speak "Marqueenglish" just as fluently.
"Change panel signs are enormously popular right now," says George Bradley, a vice president at Young Electric Sign Co. "And you often find some very classy little sayings on them. We sell them to all kinds of businesses."
Bradley feels such marquees will eventually be replaced by electronic, computerized message boards, but for the time being you can get a small marquee for about $2,000 and - presto! - you're in the publishing business.
Most marquees are used for advertising, of course, but more and more they feature little telegrams - headlines from the heat of the rat race.
And you can bet the message will fit in one of four groups:- THE FORTUNE COOKIE: Middle America has a soft spot for tidbits of common sense. You find snippets of wisdom on menus at diners, on baseball caps, on buildings and boulders. You find them used as filler in small-town newspapers.
And you find mini-insights on roadside marquees.
My favorite "fortune cookie" marquee message was the one that read: "Horses have horse sense. They never bet on people."
- THE POLITICAL HANDBILL: Politics can be passionate in America. And often that passion spills over as graffiti on public walls. The way to vent your ire and avoid vandalism is to buy your own letterboard. After Spiro Agnew resigned from the vice presidency in 1974, I remember reading "One down, one to go" on a marquee.
The note about Iraq on this page is a fine example of the genre.
- THE PERSONAL GREETING CARD: In small-town Utah, nobody's immune from embarrassment. Your name might show up in public on a marquee anywhere at any time. Most "greeting card" messages offer congratulations. At holiday time you can count hundreds of seasonal greetings. A couple of recent examples are "Elder Anderson, welcome home! Let's go fishing!" in Brigham City and "Happy B-Day Marcus & Matt Vega" at North Davis Junior High.
The note on this page packs a little more punch than most.
- THE ADVERTISEMENT: Sometimes, incredible as it sounds, people use business marquees to do business. The best business messages also show humor. I remember a marquee at a hamburger stand in Brigham City announcing "Eat here, diet home." Right now, a marquee near the old, ramshackle Davis Drive-in in Layton reads "Coming Soon! Katrubus Motor!"
But in the end, for pure inventiveness you still can't beat small-town movie theaters. Because space and letters are limited, some amazing messages show up. Need a letter "Z?" Turn an "N" on its side. An upside down "L" can double as a "7."
Some of the announcements get so pared down they read like Japanese haiku. When a theater features "The Jungle Book," "Young Guns II" and "Taking Care of Business," for instance, and has just one line - you'll see . . .
NOW PLAYING! Jungle, Guns & Business.
Get the message?