Story by Carmela Guaglianone
Photos by Corey Pilson and Carmela Gualianone
To break through the deluge of headlines and non-stop news alerts about COVID-19, many people have reverted to an old form of information sharing: a Sharpie and a sheet of paper.
In this strange time of distance and sheltering-in-place, signs seem to greet us more often than people. They are placeholders of the reality we once knew, the restaurants and coffee shops we visited, the schools we attended, and the parks we lounged in on Sunday afternoons. They are now silenced, explained by a few scrawled words of instructions, explanations or well wishes. Like buildings with speech bubbles, the conversational nature of these notices gives life to dark news.
“OPEN FOR LUNCH” shouts the sign outside Skewers on Main Street. It usually boasts Open Mic Nights or Karaoke, but it’s now trying to convey the simple message that Skewers is still in business. That tactic is being used by many restaurants and businesses, to simply reassure customers that a store is still alive. Some have an artistic flair, like Michoacan Mexican Restaurant’s “Open/ Take Out & Delivery” sign, spruced up with an emphatic blue marker. Shooters II opted for a sweet farewell, “Be Safe/ See Y’all Soon.” At the Italian Pizzeria on Hillsborough Road, the sign says, “Everything will be okay… Love and Teamwork always wins.”
Businesses are also using their signs to share changes in procedures for our strange COVID-19 world. “Please keep an 8 ft distance between yourself and other pick-up folks!!” reads a printed sign attached to a traffic cone outside Cocoa Cinnamon on Geer Street.
Most signs are concise, but not at K Nails, a nail salon on Hillsborough Road. It has two signs, both full paragraphs describing their plans regarding the changes. One details changes in the usual cleaning routine to be more conducive to virus protection, asking customers to “wash their hands prior to being seated.” The other, apparently posted later, informs of a short closure, citing it as the toughest choice they have ever had to make.
With advice and understanding surrounding the virus that is constantly changing, this transparency of businesses offers comfort. Customers are getting a personal look at the way restaurants, stores, and salons are adapting. “We’re Still Here (we’re just hiding),” promises a bright pink flyer outside Durham Short Run Shirts. It says they’re now selling online, and it signs off, “Stay Safe + Stay Healthy.”
Electronic boards outside schools and colleges blare LED messages that seem to be a mix of outdated information and not-so-subtle attempts to exercise waning authority. Hillside High School’s sign has clearly not been updated since the statewide mandate that schools close until May 17th, and its hopeful blue “Classes Resume April 6th” carries an unrealistic cheerfulness.
Duke’s East Campus Trail, teeming with people on their daily walks, has many lawn signs that say “Duke/ We’re In This Together / Keep Your Distance,” which seems like an oxymoron. Other signs use levity, like NCCU’s cheeky light-up billboard, using its eagle mascot to exemplify an adequate social distance.
Signs on the Al Buehler Trail take a more serious tone. “DO NOT USE FITNESS STATIONS” says a laminated sign on the fitness loop, accented with a decorative stop sign to convey a tone of urgency. “Observe social distancing” it states later — not a suggestion but a demand. Another one, next to the public fountains, says, “WATER FOUNTAINS ARE TEMPORARILY SHUT OFF TO REDUCE PUBLIC INTERACTION.”
Other signs are poignant, offering messages of hope or simple solidarity. “You are not alone,” says one drawn with a rainbow of colored pencils that is posted on a residence hall door on Duke’s West Campus.
Top photo by Corey Pilson | The 9th Street Journal