I remember the signs. There were all kinds of signs–different sizes and colors and purposes. There were huge, exciting, vivid billboards, and smaller, multicolored placards. There were old rusting tin jobs, and tremendous collections of small postings for every fleabag hotel and bungalow colony laying town a distant thoroughfare. And now, three decades after the fact, it is evident that the signs were an integral part of the whole.
If we were headed up old 17 (which often we were, because my dad was a big believer in avoiding the thruway traffic, not to mention the tolls), then the first suggestion of the country came upon sighting the sign that beckoned travelers to “Motel on the Mountain.” To my little brother and me, Motel on the Mountain was a place of mystery and wonder. Precariously perched on an overhanging cliff, just north of Ramsey, south of Suffern, it was a familiar wink that assured we were on the right path, and our patience would soon be rewarded with further omens of blissful things to come.
In the backseat of the family sedan, shoehorned between pots and pans and cartons of clothing, cushioned by a soft pile of bedding and twisted like a pretzel, I’d crane my neck, eagerly anticipating my first glimpse of the huge white sign with the red lettering that announced the nearing of the famous “Red Apple Rest.”
Now, lots has already been written about the Red Apple, and it would be fool-hearty of me to assume I had anything unique to add to the prior tomes of memoirs and anecdotes. Suffice to say, then, that for our family, as thousands of others, the cafeteria, or the food stand, much like a boardwalk concession, spelled summer as surely as did splashes in the pool, sunshine and salamanders. Once refueled and reinvigorated after a brief visit to the granddaddy of all rest stops, we were ever more eager, almost rabid, about pressing on through the mountains and arriving at the bungalow.
I can’t recall life before the Quikway, though I’ve heard stories aplenty. I assume there were many corners much like the depiction in Edward Hoppers painting “Gasoline.” The Quikway stripped away some mystery and romance from the rural countryside. In it’s place, however, came the billboards, and they were and are of blessed memory.
Few billboards continue to adorn the shoulders of Route 17, a ghost of what had been. What kid has forgotten the marvelous caricature of Jerry Lewis, proclaiming that “Brown’s is my favorite resort!” Another billboard directly followed, touting the Concord Hotel and announcing that the July 4th headliner was who else? Jerry Lewis. There was the posting that assured drivers that “Happiness Was Owning a Racehorse.” Practically every hotel with a social staff owned a billboard, or two, or three–The Concord, Kutshers, Grossingers, The Pines, The Browns, The Raleigh, The Nemerson, The Nevele, The Roxy (later the New Roxy, then Green Acres), The New Windsor, Gibbers, Gilberts, The Echo, The Waldemere, The Flagler, The Homowack, The Olympic, The Eldorado, The Delano, The Grand Mountain, The Fallsview, The Granit, The Plaza, The Mayfair, The Evans, The Esther Manor, The Stevensville, Schenck’s Paramount, The Brickman, The Tamarack, The Aladdin, and I’m sure a hundred more that have washed from my memory.
In recent years we’ve been fortunate to discover comfort in signs that guarantee “Mosiach is Coming!” Of course, we have considered the random mid- westerner sojourning through the Hebrew Himalayas, spotting these Lubovitch postings, and returning to Iowa, to question just who the heck Moe Sayech was, anyway? And, invariably, beginning before Donald Trump minted his first five dollar chip, we’ve seen a parade of tag-ons reading “Casinos Mean Jobs”, and the ever memorable “Welcome Oneida Nation.”
As a kid, though, the best remembered signs were the ones that appeared at town crossroads, haphazardly piled one upon another, a motley aggregation, perhaps a hundred or more in a group, pointing out every single spot where a Jew had stopped to erect three or four shacks and a casino. The happiness, the tingle, the unfettered elation each June when we eyed the sign for our colony hanging in a mix of others in front of the Anderman oil tanks at the bottom of the mountain road leading to Mountaindale. All was as we’d left it last Labor Day, and another season stood waiting it’s inauguration, ripe with a myriad of wonderful and exciting possibilities.
There are other signs that dart and dance through my memory. “Lefty’s” immortal “What Foods These Morsels Be…” What foods, indeed! The immortal “Welcome to Monticello, Vacation Capitol of the Catskills”–erected directly in front of a rambling cemetery. The tremendous red and gold “Kaplans” sign, standing still, now dim, over the tomb of the long dead delicatessen two decades after the last corned beef has been served. Along the fron wall of our small colony store in Mountaindale were metal signs hawking Borden’s Ice Cream and Teem soda, RC Cola and Bon-Ton potato chips. Today those signs have likely turned to rust, but they are clean and gleaming and new in my memory.
Oh, yes! The exit signs along the Quikway itself, announcing the fabled towns of our cherished youth-Wurtsboro, Ellenville, Bloomingburg, Mountaindale, Woodridge, Rock Hill, Fallsburgh, Monticello, Liberty.
These signs are clearly in my mind’s eye. They stand forever, pointing me back to a time long ago, when summers were endless, and the days stretched long and warm, filled with friends and fun, and life appeared as a book with thousands of empty pages waiting to be written upon. How could we then have known that we were the story, and our lives were the pen?