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Clean Fill and Website for Sale

A few weeks ago, having dropped my nephew off at the Waltham Ice Rink for his hockey game, I was winding along a road that plays host to rows of multifamily homes and an occasional 1970s era dry cleaner or a run-down food mart with sun-bleached cereal boxes and greeting cards in the window. It’s the sort of nondescript street that is so easily forgotten, partly because everything about it tells you that it is, in itself, nowhere. Everything about it tells you that it is always on the way somewhere. Even the residents, this road seems to suggest, strive to leave it, as it smacks of the sort of lower middle class neighborhood whose denizens are trying to move up and out, and beyond.

As I came around a curve on this everywhere-nowhere road I caught sight of a sign that very much surprised me. It was a hand-painted, homemade sign, nailed to a stake sunk in the loam of a front lawn, the sort of sign that often reads “Boat for Sale” or “Apartment for Rent” or “Free Clean Fill.”

This one read: “Need a Website? Call 617…”

What a marvelous and disconcerting sign of the times. What a strange combination of old technology and new, of an analog promise of digital identity. What a small but emblematic gesture of connection from nowhere out to everywhere, from a nameless village to the all-powerful global village.

In the intervening weeks I’ve been thinking about that sign and what it means. On the face of it, it is very simple: a local Web designer thought that a roadside sign was a reasonable, if limited, way of generating work. But beneath that it’s stranger and more complex. It suggests the pervasive belief that the real avenue out is the digital one, that local interests are at once global or wider interests. The presence of that sign on that road seems to both underscore and contradict the other evidence, suggesting that the road is nowhere: it is another sign pointing out and away, but it is also a demonstration of the belief that those who live nearby are going somewhere and deserve a wider sphere for their lives and their ambitions.

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