Signs are Meant to be Read

by Dr. Steven J. Callis

You may have seen a couple of humorous signs, like the one that read, “CAUTION: THIS SIGN HAS SHARP EDGES.”  Those were its only words.  Another one conveyed only this message: “DO NOT WRITE ON THIS SIGN.”  I have a small photo collection of such signs in a folder on my computer.

            It was an older boat, obvious by its style.  The 16-foot V-hull was not so unusual, but the sides of the boat were higher than most fishing boats, looking a bit like a small replica of Noah’s Ark.  One would think that the fiberglass material from which it was made would be light weight, but this was a heavy, heavy boat. 

            The most humorous aspect of the whole picture is that it was outfitted with a motor bearing the “Sears” brand, proudly displaying on its side a whopping 7.5 horsepower (roughly twice the size of a lawnmower engine).  With the throttle fully open we could reach speeds of up to 4 miles per hour if the winds were calm.  As you might imagine, the memories I had hoped to make turned out to be mostly bad ones, though laughable today.

            School teachers were having an in-service day, so I was home with my daughter and son, ages 8 and 10.  We decided it would be a fun day to go fishing.  We lived in Florida at the time, and the boat ramp off the St. John’s River where I liked to put in was 15 minutes from the house.

            We got a late start, and hit the water around 9am.  I usually packed a sandwich, chips, and water for my trip, but this was a special day with the kids, so we bought honey buns and chocolate milk for our snack.  We had a fun morning together even though we caught no fish, had no nibbles on the lines, and saw no signs that there were any fish of any kind beneath the surface of the river.  So our favorite part of the day, I suppose, was the snack. 

            We decided around noon to head back home.  The temperature had risen significantly in those three hours; we were hot and tired.  I pulled the cord on the old motor several times, but it did not want to crank.  So I yanked the cord a few times.  It turns out that yanking has no better result than pulling.  The next step was to take the lid off the motor and look at it sternly, and then yank some more, but still no results.

            We had only one oar, and it was extra long because the sides of the boat were so high.  So I rowed from the right, then the left, then the right, then the left, and finally after about ten minutes we had progressed about three boat lengths.  Did I mention that it was blazing hot and we were tired?

            I decided to get into the water behind the boat and kick my legs to propel us.  After a couple of exhausting minutes of that, I realized that my feet could touch bottom.  So there I was literally pushing this big boat up the river, over a mile from the boat ramp.  We finally reached the area where I-10 crossed over the river.  I’ve always wondered how many people driving over the river looked down and saw a man pushing a boat with two kids in it.

            Did I mention that it was very hot and we were very tired … and that we had honey buns and chocolate milk churning our tummies? Finally another boater happened by and towed us the other half of the trip to our boat ramp.  That’s when I saw it.  I had never seen it before, but there it was, plain as day, a sign that read, “Swim at your own risk.  Alligators present.” Oh my!  So now I can say that I have “swam” the St. John’s River with the gators.  We discovered later that the high that day was 99 degrees!

            There were several lessons learned on this trip, one of which is that most signs are meant to be read.  So often we drive down the road somewhat oblivious to road signs, billboards, and such.  Next time you are a passenger in a vehicle, turn to the driver and ask, “Hey, what did that sign read?”  Do you think they will know the answer?  It really is a good idea to read the signs; who knows, alligators may be present.

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