Lori Kurtzman, ahem, Larry Sherman attempts to make the government laugh.
If you drive Ohio's highways, you've probably noticed that, along with crash statistics and rush-hour travel times, the Ohio Department of Transportation occasionally slaps a piece of wit on the electronic message boards that hang over roads. The department started getting punny in 2016, says spokesman Matt Bruning, riding a wave of dad jokes appearing on dynamic message signs across the country (a popular example from other states: GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR APPS).
Since then, ODOT has amassed a truckload of go-to freeway funnies. THAT SEATBELT LOOKS GOOD ON YOU always goes over well, as did this year's Easter message: DRIVEEGG-CELLENT/SOME BUNNY NEEDS YOU!
There's a committee of ODOT employees who dream up and debate these questionable turns of phrase, and they let me sit in on one of their sessions. It wasn't what I expected. No old dudes in pleated pants trying to one-up each other with some real knee-slappers. This crowd is tough. Like, they have standards. And women.
I listened in as they eviscerated the entries that came through the public portal ODOT set up this year seeking submissions.
“Some of them were too much of a groaner even to post,” said one of the group's dozen members, who meet semiannually.
“There's only a few we decided to look into further.”
“If you see a driver sloppy, call a coppy?” a committee member said incredulously, reading one aloud.
So I sat in this ODOT meeting and started to wonder if I'm a genius. I have no reason to believe that I am, but does a savant recognize herself in the mirror? “OMG STOP TEXTING,” I wrote in the margins of my notepad. It was just a start, and not a particularly good one, but my brain got that delicious little buzz I experience with a brilliant idea or a second martini.
I decided to become the poet laureate of Ohio's highways.
And suddenly, my life had purpose. Some people get famous in 140 characters, but I made it my mission to do it in 51. Three lines max, 17 characters per line. Surely I could do better than the guy who rhymed trooper with pooper.
In the coming weeks, the work-zone-awareness poetry poured out of me. I submitted them through the portal under a pseudonym—to protect the sanctity of the process, of course—while channeling my inner middle-aged lame dude. Larry Sherman was born. He's the kind of guy who wears threadbare cardigans and kills it at Wheel of Fortune. He cackled maniacally with each zinger:
SLOW DOWN/YOU CONE DO IT.
UH UH/BRAKE IT DOWN/FOR ME FELLAS.
Larry also had a somber side: OUR WORKERS HAVE/FAMILIES THEY'D/LIKE TO SEE AGAIN.
I think I submitted 10 messages. It was a very sweaty, nervous time. I just knew that ODOT would be in touch soon. I would be famous throughout the highways of Ohio! I, Larry Sherman!
In early April, they picked a girl named Maygan. Her message:
SLOW AND STEADY/KEEP THEM SAFE/RESPECT WORKZONES.
It was fine. I didn't cry. Larry might have. I decided I didn't want to be a road poet anymore. I'd settle for publication in a fine Columbus magazine instead. But don't let my failure deter you. Seek your freeway fame at zerodeaths.ohio.gov.
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