A Professor Update No. 1

Oct 13, 2020

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

A while back I told you about a local professor whose grand imagination represents the pinnacle of professor-dom. I'm afraid I can't tell you his name. A major university would certainly snatch him away from our small local college.

But I can share his latest idea, as brilliant as his earlier ones and already the subject of a grant proposal to the National Endowment for the Arts.

How, the professor mused to himself one day, can we cure the literacy problem in the United States. How can we bring back a love of the classics? So few people read Ovid these days. He happened to be driving along a country road at the time, when he was, as he says, given a sign.

He began to imagine Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" done in the manner of the popular old Burma Shave signs. "Whose woods these are . . . I think I know . . . His house is in the village though..."

Of course, he thought. Why not put great works of literature on roadside signs where they would be read by millions? He drove home and put the finishing touches on his plan. The piece of literature would suit the length of road available: short stories on state highways between towns, novels along interstate highways, where titles would replace dull numbers. Interstate 80 might become the Moby Dick Highway, from chapter one in Pennsylvania to the last chapter in San Francisco.

Individual states might choose specialties. Iowa might be the sonnet state, Delaware the limerick state. Or they might feature their own local writers.

The professor has estimated that tourism in the United States would double. Imagine a family driving from Chicago to Denver, and the children insisting that they go on to Portland to find out how The Scarlet Letter ends.

Paying for all this? No problem, says the professor. Much of the cost would be borne by fast food chains who would be assessed a fee for having a poem end right at their restaurants. Is the National Endowment for the Arts capable of a vision this big? Watch your local roadside.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.