The ride down North 45th Street usually slides by in a blur of signs advertising “dry cleaning excellence,” neon lights flashing “Sapporo,” and canvas posters displaying lunch specials. Among the clamor of promotions, however, one sign still manages to catch the eye.
The words on this sign are not devoted to parting the consumer from their cash or notifying passersby of an event. In fact, its message appears to have no commercial intent. It reads: “You shouldn’t mess with Alaska, Don’t Juneau?”
Every week the snappy phrase may change, but the punny sincerity of the Wallingford Chevron’s message board continues to stand out in simple black and white lettering.
“To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research”
“I must say most of my best ones come from my mom,” said Cassandra Spangler, station manager. “She lives in Arizona and she sends me the funniest emails. Sometimes I have to PG-rate them or condense them down to make them fit or take bits and pieces of it.”
Spangler, who is preternaturally friendly and greets her regulars by name, took over curating the sign six years ago when she began working as a cashier at the Wallingford Chevron at the intersection of North 45th and Woodlawn Avenue North.
She said she also receives suggestions from her friends or finds them online, but often pursues inspiration more actively.
“I will follow cars and see what the bumper stickers say; things like that,” Spangler said.
After a remodel in 2005, the Chevron found themselves inundated with promotions and advertisements, said station owner Jim Bernard. So when the manager at the time asked him what to put on the message board, Bernard told him that instead of the previous promos for oil changes or convenience store items, they should put up something funny.
And thus, the sign was born.
“When fish are in schools they sometimes take debate”
Time and careful thought are essential in creating a community staple, Bernard said. He emphasized that a hastily put together sign can end up becoming offensive or inane.
“The quality of [the sign] has gone up exponentially since [Spangler] took over,” Bernard said. “She’s created a specific tone and voice that people love.”
Commenters on Yelp write about the gas station with adoration Seattleites usually reserve for Macklemore or the snow.
One user, Jenny R. from Ravenna, wrote, “I’ve never actually been inside this Chevron, but I ride past it on the bus everyday. The weekly jokes on their announcement/ad board always start my day off with a smile. I applaud businesses that have fun with their jobs. Makes the world less tense.”
Spangler said she often receives similar comments from customers expounding on the sign’s day-brightening qualities.
“Really thinking about how busy people can be, I think that one little glance at the sign will bring a smile to their face,” Spangler said.
On one occasion, she posted “bad cop, no donuts.” From inside the station, Spangler watched two policemen stop their cars to photograph themselves with the lettering, she said.
Spangler also takes suggestions from community members.
“I’ve had the gals from the University House, it’s an elderly folks home next to Walgreens, those folks have written down some sayings and stuff and brought them in,” she said. “It’s amazing how all ages are appreciative of the sign.”
“Always use tasteful words. You might have to eat them.”
With the goal of brightening people’s days in mind, Spangler does her best to avoid upsetting anyone. She emphasized that even one complaint is enough for her to take down the offending phrase.
“I take this very seriously, occasionally I kind of come right up to the line of what could possibly be viewed as inappropriate,” she said. “I’ll put something out that is always just for the fun of it, never to be directed to do harm to anybody.”
However, after putting up a new saying every week for six years — adding up to about 312 witticisms — someone is bound to feel affronted. Spangler has been asked to take down signs on two occasions. One read, “Why do they sterilize needles for lethal injection?” and the other, “The problem with the gene pool is that there is no life guard.”
“Nobody notices what I do until I don’t do it”
Spangler said a fan club of sorts has formed around the weekly sayings. When she temporarily repurposes the sign to advertise an open position or a product, people complain. Customers often ask her to hurry up and hire someone, she said.
A route 44 bus driver, who has a bus stop next to the sign, said it brings a little extra joy to his routine; whether it be humorous or something more thought-provoking.
“I’ve never found it offensive,” he said. “It always gives me something to laugh at or think about.”
Mike Buchman, communications director at the neighboring community service and advocacy organization Solid Ground, said he rides the bus home from the stop near the station and often reads the sign.
“I always like looking at it,” he said, adding that it often makes him chuckle. “I think it’s a great addition to this community.”
Bernard’s only complaint is that people seem to know the station solely for the sign. He has to explicitly mention it for people to recognize the location he is talking about.
“It’s like they don’t know the gas station is attached.”
If they stopped dispensing gas, perhaps people would begin to take notice.
Reach reporter Samantha Leeds at email@example.com.