Chapter 7a
Billboards
The Tales of Texas

1a - The Mysterious Ski Rack
1b - Wheres the Other Half of That Moose
1c - The Waiter Who Didnt Yall
1d - Scorpions, Scorpio
2a - Diet Soda
2b - Riding into the Sunrise
3 - Modest Magazines
4 - Down to Houston
5a - What Does That Sign Say
5b - Just Follow Your Nose
5c - They Call It the Sunbelt
5d - The State Tree
6 - The New House
7a - Billboards
7b - Billboards Again
8 - Stereo Upgrade
9 - Wineries
10 - Unintentionally Left Blank
11 - CBW in TX
12 - Ice House Radio
13 - Goats and Cotton
14 - Dig We Must
15 - Dan Moody
16 - Dry Heat
17 - Dead Animals
18a - Bookstore Culture
18b - On the Open Road
19 - Weather
20 - Sightings in Bertram and Buchanan
21 - Too Many Birds
22 - Road Hazards
23 - Sightings to and from Houston
24 - The Great Wall of Train
25 - In the Heat of the Day
26 - Bite Me
27 - Bid on This Skeleton
28 - Willie
29 - Rural Countryside
30 - SUV SUX!
31 - Kinky on the Texas Monthly Hour
32 - Strange Yellow Sky
33 - Football is a Serious Enterprise in Texas
34 - Remember the Alamoo!
35 - What's That on the Radio
36 - Trip to Houston through the small towns
37 - Shoe Story, an Austin Anecdote
38 - Unintended Fireworks
39 - Flash Flood Warning
40 - Sin City
41 - Live music in Austin, but in theaters not in clubs
42 - Fear of Overpass
43 - The Big Sneezy
44 - New Texas
45 - Front Ended by the French Fry Mobile
46 - Dirt Farm
47a - Heard at the Texas Book Festival 2008
48a - Texas Book Festival 2009
49 - Central Time Sucks
50 - Temple Texas
51 - Christmas in Austin
52 - Pennants in the Wind
53 - The Road Less Traveled
54 - Texas-size Thunderstorm
55 - Cool Van
56 - Your New House Is That-A-Way
57 - C.S.I. Austin
58 - New MTV Game Show
59 - Equine Technology
60 - Look at That Prairie
61 - Get Your Water Here
62 - Corporate Anniversaries
63 - College Sprawl
64 - Hire These Guys
65 - Preparing for Winter
66 - Careful What You Overhear
67 - Bonnie Raitt
68 - Perfume
69 - Questionable Skills
70 - All-American Day
71 - Read Me
72 - Weird Fog
73 - Overpackaged Food
74 - What Town Was That
75 - Texas Book Festival 2010
76 - Bulletproof Roof
77 - The Oldest Photo
78 - Cheesesteaks Part 1
79 - Cheesesteaks Part 2

Un-beautiful Billboards

Rick Landau 2000/03/11

BILLBOARDS

Never really paid much attention to billboards before. I was slightly surprised to see so many of them here in Texas. After all, it was Lady Bird Johnson whose "Beautify America" campaign in the sixties removed many, maybe even most, of the billboards in the country. So here we are driving through the very heart of LBJ country, from Austin, past Johnson City, through San Marcos, to San Antonio and back. The road is lined with billboards, not constant by any means, but more than I expected. And we started to read them, and we noticed some things.

Most of them seem to fall into a very few large categories:

First, travel services. You know, the usual food-gas-lodging signs: hotels, restaurants, gas stations, that sort of thing. Lots of these. I would also include tourist traps in this group: amusement parks, caverns, geysers, world's largest ball of twine, and so forth. Lots of these, too.

Second, vices. Products that are expensive because of "sin taxes." Products that may have limited opportunities for advertising elsewhere. The products that can't access TV or radio anymore, that is, mainly alcohol and tobacco. Half the brands of cheap whiskey and wine that I've ever heard of I learned from billboards. Cigarettes, too; since I stopped smoking, who looks at brands? By the way, I would also include cars, trucks, pickups, SUVs, UAVs, and RVs in this category. Vehicles that are more bigger, brawnier, and more expensive than you need are vices of a sort.

Third, real estate. Buy a house, rent an apartment. Housing developments, condos, apartments. And trailer parks, RV parks, double-wides and single-wides, too. If you lived here, you'd be home by now. Most of them are builders trying to sell future houses, for sure, the high end of the market and more likely to be able to afford roadside advertising.

Fourth, local commercial enterprises other than travel services. Furniture stores, clothing stores, hardware stores. Antique malls, outlet malls. Car dealers, palm readers. Some of the local advertising isn't *very* local, like the "image" advertising that you see for banks and other large area businesses. But most of them are local in the sense that if you get off the exit they name, there you are.

By the way, I don't count signs that are "in place," that is, that are attached to the business venue. Every business has to have a sign out front just so its customers can find it. Doesn't count. These aren't billboards. Remote advertising along the roadside, free-standing signs that belong to someone else and are rented out, that's what I'm talking about.

Now for the ringers. There are a surprising number of signs for products and services that don't fit into any of the above categories. They're for products that don't have any location, exactly, so they aren't local in the normal sense of the word. They're sort of everywhere at once and nowhere at the same time.

I refer of course to cell phones, cell phone services, paging services, internet services, and internet-based services, things of that nature. This new electronic stuff out there in the ether. Now Austin may be a slightly over-technologized area, but I doubt that it's really very different from Boston or New York or Silicon Valley. Or Seattle or Portland. Or Duluth or Peoria, for that matter.

The question in my mind isn't why these services advertise -- all God's chillun need advertising -- but how they choose *where* to advertise. If you're an internet-based mortgage company, well, you choose billboard locations where people are buying a lot of new housing, I suppose. If you're a cell phone company or carrier, you put your billboards where people who need them (phones) will see them (ads). These ads are placed to maximize the eyeballs, I suppose. That's the term used for ad placements on web pages: eyeballs.