In one of my favorite movies, Elf, Will Ferrell, stumbles upon a restaurant with a prominent sign, advertising the World’s Greatest Cup of Coffee. In an equally film-worthy accomplishment, I have discovered this sign: The Best Value Inn.
This sign cries out to be loved as it boldly stretches the expressive limits of the English language. It is not so much an advertisement as an exercise in obscurity. Does it refer to the best of all possible value inns, a destination long sought by broke and weary philosophers? Does it claim to offer the absolute maximum utility of all roadside accommodations? Or is it perhaps some sort of motel outlet, offering overstock rooms and irregular sleep?
After my painstaking research, in the form of re-reading this sign several times, I have come to the inescapable conclusion that whatever this statement means, it is absolutely true. After all, how can you argue with The Checkmark of Quality? Who could possibly lie about something as fundamental as The Check?
In stark contrast to the bold and boastful claims of their advertisement, the management of this fine establishment is actually quite modest. In fact, while I was photographing this billboard, a woman who I can only assume to be an employee of the motel, came out and emphatically encouraged me to stop. Talk about shy.
She told me adamantly, in no uncertain terms, (an impressive accomplishment considering her broken English) that I could not take pictures of the sign.
As I walked away, I wondered how that could be true. Was there a new city ordinance protecting motel signs? Could it be a previously undisclosed stipulation of the Patriot Act? Perhaps there was a newly discovered law of physics in operation near the motel that denied photons entrance to my camera?
Or maybe she was waxing philosophical. Could she mean that once I photographed her sign, then it no longer belonged exclusively to her, but transferred a sense of ownership to everyone who would see the picture? Or maybe my reputation as satirist and mocker of billboards had preceded me. Perhaps there was a branch of Motel Owners Against Billboard Paparazzi nearby that had circulated my picture with strict orders to accost me on sight.
Or could it be a hypnotic suggestion? What if somehow unknown to me, her statement had paralyzed my shutter finger? Or given me a photography induced phobia?
Having mused myself into a frenzy, I turned and snapped a few picture from the safety of a near by bus station, only to discover a new possibility:
Maybe she was just plain wrong.