Sunday, January 13, 2008

When did this start?

What is happening to the roadsides of America? I mean, I don't mind a little white cross to mark the spot where a loved one zigged when they should have zagged, but it's not just little white crosses anymore. Now it seems like every other telephone pole and tree trunk on some of the more enjoyable back roads is festooned with enough plastic flowers, ribbons, and shiny bits to make it look like a Filipino jitney bus has crashed into a roadside shrine to Our Lady Of Guadalupe, Patron Saint of Chupacabra Victims. Driving down some stretches is like motoring through Graceland on the anniversary of Elvis' demise, except tackier.

Maybe my twinging is caused by the fact that my personal aesthetic is Nordic-severe strained through the uptight cheesecloth of Midwestern Lutheran. I mean, I don't even like pinstripes on cars, and I'm actually physically allergic to glitter. Maybe it shouldn't bother me that it looks like a gang of itinerant Santeria cultists have been making sacrifices to the god of telegraph poles all over the highways and byways of this fair land. But it does.


Roberta X said...

I guess the more florid (or should I say floral?) elemets of road-tragedy worship have yet to reach my more northerly climes; we are, after all, a bit more reserved hereabouts, possibly 'cos sniveling with a wool muffler wound 'round your face is singularly unaesthetic.

Just one more notch in the tally marked "decline of the West," Tam, and the only consolation is that it is always declining. Give 'em a generation and there will be a different sort of fad.

It's nicer if one thinks of it as an inadvertent homage to the roadside tombs of ancient Rome!

Carteach said...

Yup, tis here as well. I don't understand it... nor the 'RIP' messages painted on cars.

We had a friend who died... sent him off with a formal cowboy six gun salute in his wifes back yard. Not a dry eye within 100 yards, and John would have loved it....

Felt like he was there.

Anonymous said...

While I agree withyou in part,I can feel for parents that have lost a child.
The reson that there is an increase of tributes is because there is no one that is willing to take them down. They just continue to accumulate.
Since the mowing of our highways in now contracted to private firms, they do not want to disturb what other people have put down.
The property that most of these memorials are on belongs to the state as a right of way. There is no division of government that is responsible for timely clean up of them.
My feeling is that if no one complains about the situation, no one will do anything about it.
Try putting up a commercial sign up in the right of way and see how fast some one comes to take it down.
Brueacrats do not want people upset with them, hence no removal.

Anonymous said...

The twisty roads up here in the mountains of Colorado see quite a few fatale accidents. However, I believe we lack the number of shrines you folks seem to have because most of the people who buy a piece of rural realestate with domesticated animals up here tend to be from other states.

Anonymous said...

Grief does not have an address, measure, dimension, location or sense of logic. It only prevades and becomes visible in a number of ways; sometimes positive, sometimes negative.

All The Best,
Frank W. James

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

I've noticed that too. And panhandlers at major intersections and exit ramps with red lights have increased tenfold, as well. I think there is a direct correlation. We have 2 types of roadside beggars. The south-of-the-border immigrant bums that do a good job affecting a sever leg deformity and subsequent limp. And, not to be outdone, home grown beggars that usually choose a Corporal Flashback Vietnam vet persona, with subsequent hand printed corrugated cardboard sign (Hungry. Please Help. God Bless! but I see: 'Sober! Need Beer! GIVE MONEY!')

Their biggest offense? They block traffic, dammit! And people that slow to pay respects to the shrines? Yes, they slow me down. That is their crime.

What has this country come to? Where is the equivalent of the Railyard Bull of yesteryear, who could come around and give vagrants and shrine builders what-fer with a axe handle.

phlegmfatale said...

These roadside shrines are remnants of defective culture and have long horrified me. I heard a little blurb on the local news recently that some municipally sanctioned plaque or marker of some sort will be available to people who want to commemorate the death of a loved one on the roadsides in town. I'm guessing the point is they are betting the erectors of this tick-tackery won't be willing/able to pony up the $300 or so that plaque will cost. I strongly disapprove of a plaque or a shrine. We have adequate markers already-- they're called graveyards. Deal with it.

Anonymous said...

Alternatively, the little white cross often makes me slow down on a curve when I might otherwise ignore the yellow caution sign.

breda said...

Everything in this country is a spectacle anymore.

Talk show mentality.

Melody Byrne said...

I drive a rather dangerous 2 lane highway every other weekend in order to drop the kids off at my parents. We're talking 10% grades, blind corners, driving through the middle of rock; not much room for error.

I remember one time going through a blind corner at a reasonable speed in the correct lane, and almost getting in a wreck because some idiot coming the other way was passing in a no-passing zone.

There are quite a few of those crosses on this highway, though they are not near as tacky as the ones you describe. The most decoration I've ever seen is a wreath of flowers, usually placed on the cross at an anniversary or holiday.

A stretch of this highway is currently being increased to four lanes and being divided, which meant actually cutting into a mountain. There's a point at which there's a shrine that blocks the most intuitive route. The shrine would have been relatively easy to remove, but instead they designed the highway AROUND it. People are superstitious around here, especially considering the number of people who have died in the area due to battles, mines, and stupidity.

I don't mind the shrines. For one thing, they're not near as tacky here; the most you'll see to decorate the cross is a wreath of flowers on a holiday. Plus, if I had a loved one who lost their life when their car rolled down the mountain... I can't say I wouldn't do the same. I wouldn't know until faced with that situation.

I don't mind the memorials. If they give comfort to the families, it's not my place to criticize. Plus they do remind people to slow down and drive smart.

Reno Sepulveda said...

It's just a Hispanic thing. I live in California's Central Valley, our local economy doesn't function without Mexicans and the cultures have become permanently blended.

Rabbit said...

Not entirely Hispanic- there's been a fair amount of bleedover into caucasian culture of a certain socioeconomic status as well. I even saw one marker at Coit and Legacy in Plano the other day. They're sprouting like mushrooms on urban streets and thoroughfares around here.
It makes the place look like the Highway of Death out of Kuwait City.

Lady Bird Johnson banned billboards. I wonder what she'd have to say about this.


phlegmfatale said...

Too bad Lady Bird's not here to put in her two cents these days, rabbit. Yeah, I'm seeing them all over the place, and I think it's not ethnicity-exclusive, but I do think it's almost exclusively trashy. If you think about it-- if points on the roadway are particularly dangerous, what about the way the distraction of the shrine emperils other drivers, not to mention the person who parked and walked around at that dangerous point in the roadway? Taken to its logical conclusion, the entire planet would be clotted with the trappings of such memorials. If there's any poetic justice, then the next fatality accident that comes along will happen on the self-same spot and sweep away the detritus of the previous shrine to make way for the new one.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it started in Central America and Mexico and bled upward with hispanic immigration. Thanks to cultural osmosis, it's no longer exclusively hispanic, but it's a fairly effective marker for the degree of cultural influence.

I grew up in Arizona and live in New Mexico, so I've all but ceased to notice them except, as others have noted, as a proxy indicator for how dangerous a particular point in the road might be. There are even a few where I actually remember the accident attached to the shrine. "Oooh, yeah, three markers for the three lumps under the sheets, that was a nasty one..."

Anonymous said...

You're not the only one.

Incidentally, don't nail a black goat's head to the killer telephone pole. People get severe pissed....

Anonymous said...

Being so near to one of the trashiest towns in NM, and with some roads that look like they came from a James Bond movie, there are more than a few of these little shrines around here. Some of them practically with lights and music.

More to the point, all this mention of things like building highways around the things has piqued my curiosity: If someone did take them down, would they re-sprout like weeds, or would the family no longer care after N years? Obviously nobody stopped them putting the thing up, but would anybody stop me if I tried to take it down? I think you may have just fed me some interesting blog fodder, Tam. Though if anybody gives me any static I'm just gonna yell "Tam made me do it!" and run away. That'll show 'em!

Matt G said...


I've put exactly two thing out to remember the death of a loved one; a rose (real; gone in days) and a last note. (on 10 lb notebook paper, I'm sure it was gone with the first rain) I was emotionally hit, but I could never bring myself to cast crap and litter on the road. That's not honoring them; it's defiling them.

Holy crap, Stingray! They're talking about building highways around the the shrines/memorials?!? Good. Gawd. I fully expected my flower and onion skin note to be shredded with the next mowing. Life is ephemeral; a highway is FOREVER.

frostedlexicharm said...

At the end of our block we have one of these jobbies. Doesn't signify a dangerous intersection -- it shows where some teenagers ran a red light into the side of a truck, and the one not wearing his seatbelt crashed through the windshield. The other two seatbelted kids survived, the people in the truck were all fine.

I think the thing that annoyed me the most about the situation was the 30 or 40 candles and the 4 crosses that popped up in the minimart property (minimart is on one corner of where the crash happened), and when the owner tried to reduce the size of the shrine (40 lit candles under a tree with very droopy branches), each time he tried it was put back. He asked the city to get involved and they told him there was nothing they could do (!) because if they let the people build it on the sidewalk it'd impede pedestrians.

It's been about 2 years now, and while the shrine has shrunk somewhat, and some of the stuff is changed out as it gets mungy with age, it still pretty much covers that one corner.


Anonymous said...

A girl who hates glitter?

I'm in loooooove!

Personal chant to wife and two young daughters: I have the right to live in a glitter-free zone.

Anonymous said...

A person who loves pranks could create a fake one. They could make it as outrageous as possible until someone develops the nerve to take it down.

It could be a good way to throw away trash. Chair breaks, put a wreath on it in honor of someone's death, then leave it on the side of the road.

Anonymous said...

Embrace the shrine. It will help the Muggles realize that guns aren't the greatest threat to their lives.

Yeah, I think they are a bit tacky, too.

Anonymous said...

Traveling through Oregon and Nevada I see those signs a lot. Its gotten to the point where I barely notice them.

Its probably why some have become much more ostentatious; where as I barely notice the simple white crosses, the ones decked out with wreaths, flowers, etc usually warrant a little more than the normal blip on my radar.

I don't see them so much on the route I take through Idaho, however. Could be because the road is lined with small private properties or towns, and they likely take them down if they are put up, whereas in Nevada and Oregon most of the land on the side of the road is public, or part of large ranches where the owners are unlikely to notice the debris.

Anonymous said...

I think Reno Seulveda and LabRat are on track that this is a Latin thing that's being embraced by our mixing culture. When I worked in South America in the early eighties, you would see these shrines at every highway intersection and curve, but they weren't happen in the eastern US until the late nineties.

T said...

Blame MADD. They started this crap for the victims of drunk driving accidents, and it spread from there.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you. What sort of bent impulse makes someone want to, in effect, say "Lookie! Here's where my Sterno-&-Krylon-addled welfare meal ticket wadded up his car on a straight road in broad daylight & fine weather"?

Anonymous said...

I just think public displays of the personal are tacky. It's the same thing that impels people to go on Springer and Dr. Phil and Judge Judy. Or even worse, that makes pols shove every fucking learning experience and hard moment of their lives down our throats.

GunGeek said...

Back when I was living in CA, someone got killed when she was crossing the road to refresh the memorial she had created for her late husband. It was in the median and there was no room to park on the inside, so she parked on the outside and tried to run across to the center.

Someone put up one for her next to his. Makes me wonder how many there has to be in that spot before people get smart enough to leave it alone.

Anonymous said...

It's absolutely terrible in California. You can't spit without hitting some form of roadside shrine to some poor sap that powerslid into St. Peter's parking place.

Hell, a couple of years ago some kid got away from his mom at a car wash (she was vac'ing the car out, and the kid wandered off to the railroad tracks about 50 yards away, as he was really into trains... a 5 year old kid allowed to wander out of sight.)

Well, the obvious happened, since the train was moving (though slow, it doesn't take much to kill a kid) and the moms freaked. Immediately, the family erected a shrine of flowers, toys, pictures, etc. Well, the railroad let it be for a time and removed it (as it was pretty much ruined by the weather.) Apparently that wasn't allowable and the shrine has been replaced from time to time.

I never really understood such a way of thinking, after all, isn't this what grave markers are for? Why mark the spot where a loved one died? They're not buried there and their soul almost certainly isn't there either. It just clutters the place up and in some cases creates a damned road hazard.

perlhaqr said...

Stingray: Espanola?

Anonymous: Refrigerators that haven't been 'properly' discharged of their refrigerant, and have therefore become untouchable.