July 2, 2014
Provocative Interpretive Signs?
A popular comedian states, “Here’s your sign.” when indicating that the obvious is staring one in the face. Often we are uncomfortable in stating we see the sign and other times we are so engrossed in so many other thoughts and distractions we are oblivious to the apparent sign staring us in the face.
In this troubled time of budgetary constraints and depletions I find myself working at an antique store owned by good friends. This is patently a distressful situation for an historian and professional interpreter to find himself; handling, talking about , educating, interpreting, and selling of the materials of bygones years. (I shall not state of bygone cultures as so many items within the store are items I am familiar through personal use or association).
My interaction with the potential buyers begins at the door, a greeting is given, eye contact is made, inquiries are made if there are special needs or desires, (as with so many sites I have worked, better than 50% immediately ask for the restrooms), and the offering of further assistance is insured. The door locale is also the last aspect of the visitors experience, whether through sales, information of other like sites and places to eat, camp, sleep, or to visit.
And though this sounds like any other service industry, that locale by the door, allows me my first opportunity to observe and better interact with each person who enters Rocky Mountain Antiques.
It is here I become aware of many visitors’ backgrounds, interests, and personal lives.
Various T shirts with numerous logos provoke conversations; “You ride motorcycles?” , “ When did you visit Mount Rushmore?”, “Is this you first time to Estes Park?”, &c. All common openings we have been taught to utilize in better knowing who we are meeting and to make the visitor feel at ease.
Occasionally we are posed with ‘signs’ that many are reluctant to use; not me.
Recently a gentleman enter with his wife. Each sported a T shirt with the following statement plastered on the back of the shirts, “Get your Butt Rubbed in Milliken”. Now that’s provocative. It grabbed my attention and drew us into a quick conversation. The simple explanation, they own and operate Rubbin Buttz BBQ in Millikin, Colorado. I expressed I thought it was a grand slogan and we started talking about how the town of Milliken supported their use of the slogan and how they sponsored a great many activities in the town. As the gentleman walked away I spotted another ‘sign’ that really caught my attention. The gentleman had lost his left leg, not an unusual thing for me to see these days, but it was his remaining leg that transfixed me. There, on his calf was a large arrow pointing to his artificial limb with some writing above the arrow. I had to ask, “What does the tattoo say?”
“I’m with stumpy.” was the reply.
A full hour ensued with inquiries about the loss of the leg (Stumpy), when it occurred, and how he came up with the very interesting ‘sign’ he posted on his right calf. That is how I met and learned that the gentleman lost his leg in service to our country, his recovery aspects at the field hospital, Germany, Walter Reed, and here at home, his humor in dealing with a difficult physical issue, and how he was tired of seeing folks staring and not taking the time to ask about his injury. So, the resultant tattoo, “I’m with Stumpy”.
Not only did I get a good chuckle I gained a new friend and an invitation to the restaurant. Not bad for asking about the use of three words, “I’m with Stumpy”
We get trained, train others and retrain on how to use ‘signs’ , physical and intangible, to initiate conversations, relationships, and deep interactions with visitors, but too often we are too shy, too PC, too hesitant to utilize all that is offered us.
When we take to the field we need to better train ourselves to take chances, to better ourselves in recognizing the gifts that our visitors offer and to better ourselves through recognizing our mistakes and improving ourselves with our foibles and strengths. Even when overwhelmed with numbers of visitors, it is our obligation to not think of them as a horde, but to note each as an individual so that we might better serve them, our sites, and our fields.
So, “Here’s your sign…”
John C.F. Luzader
Vice President of Programs