Sign of the times isn't a case of deja vu

March 05. 2006 8:00AM

State Sen. Bob Letourneau is eager to put "Live Free or Die" back on the welcome signs at the state's borders. His fellow senators won't stand in his way - apparently, virtually all of them share his nostalgia for signs of yesteryear. Gov. John Lynch - demonstrating that he can scramble to the front of a parade as nimbly as anyone - thinks the idea is just peachy. And any number of Granite Staters are firmly in favor of Letourneau's crusade as they call radio shows and talk about how "devastated"they were to find that the state's unofficial slogan was missing from the signs. For any of us who might be jurors someday, this sure says a lot about eyewitness testimony: Don't trust it. That's because it would be hard to restore General John Stark's memorable words to the welcome signs. They were never on the welcome signs. Well, except for one sign up in Lebanon, which, unaccountably, had "Live Free or Die" affixed to it. Of the rest, some simply said, in blue with gold letters, "Welcome to New Hampshire." Most of the others carried the added line, "The Granite State." And "Bienvenue." That's it. So say the folks at the state highway department, the ultimate authorities on highway signs. Apparently for years signs were just put up when needed. Not a lot of thought or money was involved.

"Welcome"- which almost every other state in the union uses as well - seemed friendly, like mats at the state's front doors. And the "bienvenue" was common courtesy, a nod to our French-Canadian history as well as to current visitors from Canada.

Our (old) welcome sign got a respectable two thumbs up ("good job!") on Roger Johnson's Welcome to America website, which celebrates the welcome signs of all 50 states. (The coveted four Johnson thumbs up went to just three states, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Colorado, while West Virginia and Hawaii each earned an ignoble thumb down, or "What were they thinking?") It is truly a blessing to live in a country that produces men like Roger Johnson ("the world's first self-proclaimed welcome sign photography expert") whose site, it should be noted, sports a "Roger Johnson for President 2008" bumper sticker. It's only a matter of time before Roger shows up at Bill Gardner's office with his filing fee and starts glad-handing innocent shoppers on Main Street. I hope and trust we will welcome him. But enough digressing. Sadly, no matter how highly Roger Johnson regarded our welcome signs, modern marketing is everywhere, and it's never satisfied with the status quo. Thus, after lots of study and brainstorming and heaven knows what else in the wee hours of the morning, a committee - it's gotta be a committee - came up with "You're Going To Love It Here." And it proposed sticking that line - illustrated with a generic New England village - on everything from the 40 or so signs at the state's borders to tourist handouts like maps and brochures. We would finally have a fully coordinated marketing theme. A bland one, yes. An unoriginal one, absolutely. The phrase "You're going to love it here" gets 13,100 Google hits. But it is tasteful and - important here! - utterly inoffensive. Plus, as Monitor reporter Eric Moskowitz and an unsung headline writer -"Lynch liked slogan before he didn't," a sly reference to a certain Massachusetts Democrat - let us know in last Sunday's paper, the governor was apparently delighted with the spiffy new slogan and began using it immediately in letters and on the state's website. But, y'know, that was then. Now Lynch can't kick "Love It Here" to the curb fast enough, telling the Union Leader that "I want to be there when they take out the first [sign]." I guess he, too, "misses" the non-existent "Live Free or Die" tag. Or, more likely, he knows how to swim, strongly, with the tide. So - while school funding goes unresolved, property taxes skyrocket and access to affordable medical care becomes impossible for more and more Granite Staters - our political "leaders" are falling all over themselves to plaster the exhortation of an 18th century general on our highways and byways. Sure, "Live Free or Die" is a whole lot snappier then "You're Going to Love It Here." But it's hardly the whole story. If they're hell-bent on redoing the brand new signs, let's let it all hang out: Live Free or Die! We're Number One in Property Taxes! Get Your Cheap Smokes and Booze Here!

No Wussy Seatbelts or Helmets for Us!

Truth in welcome signs. What a concept! I'll bet that even the discriminating Roger Johnson would be impressed.

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