How Much Do Companies Pay to Get Their Logos on Those Blue Highway Exit Signs?

IMZADI1979, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

IMZADI1979, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When you’re driving down the highway searching desperately for a bathroom and a Big Mac, the appearance of one of those blue exit signs—the ones that advertise food, lodging, and other amenities along highway off-ramps—can seem like a miracle, alerting you to the unexpected appearance of a Taco Bell or the all-important availability of a gas station. But who or what determines which businesses get their logos on those signs?

As usual, it all comes down to money. But how much do businesses have to pay to get their names on those signs? Jalopnik tracked down the rules and regulations that govern those highway signs, and they’re more complicated than you might think.

While the regulations vary from state to state, not every business can slap its logo on what’s called Specific Services Signing. It has to be in a certain category of services, for one—food, pharmacy, gas, camping, etc. Then, there are restrictions on what those businesses have to offer to be eligible. In New Jersey, for instance, regulations require that gas and food establishments be within three miles of the highway, operate 12 to 16 hours a day, and provide public bathrooms and telephones. In Oregon, restaurants must have indoor seating for at least 20 people and serve at least two meals a day, among other qualifications [PDF].

If your business does qualify to erect an exit sign, how much it costs varies based on the location. Some states contract out their programs to private companies like Interstate Logos, which then create and maintain the signage, while other states maintain the signs themselves. In Oregon, permit fees are determined based on daily traffic estimates—heavily trafficked stretches of highway cost $605 per year, per mainline sign, while highways with less than 20,000 drivers passing per day only cost $360 per sign per year [PDF]. In Colorado, a mainline sign costs $750 per direction [PDF]. In Virginia, a single sign can cost as much as $1000 a year [PDF].

Then there’s the cost of manufacturing the logo sign itself to attach to the blue board, which can run several hundred dollars per sign. Washington State’s guidelines estimate that the smallest logo—a 2-by-1-foot sign—can cost between $84 and $530, and a 5-by-3-foot sign can cost between $330 and $530.

Typically, there can only be six logos per mainline sign (meaning the ones that come before the exit ramp), and often there are more businesses vying for signage than there are spaces for logos. In Colorado, logos are rotated in and out annually, while Washington maintains a waiting list; Arizona uses a bidding process, and Michigan [PDF] assigns priority based on the closest proximity to the highway.

But businesses wouldn’t deal with the application process if it wasn’t worth it. Waiting lists to get on the signs can be decades long, and there’s typically low turnover of businesses opting out of the programs (just 1 to 2 percent in Kentucky). Clearly, there are a lot of drivers out there just waiting to be swayed into stopping for fast food.

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Why Do We Eat Pumpkin Pie at Thanksgiving?

gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images
gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images

While it’s possible—even probable—that pumpkins were served at the 1621 harvest festival that’s now considered the predecessor to Thanksgiving, attendees definitely didn’t dine on pumpkin pie (there was no butter or wheat flour to make crust).

The earliest known recipes for pumpkin pie actually come from 17th-century Europe. Pumpkins, like potatoes and tomatoes, were first introduced to Europe in the Columbian Exchange, but Europeans were more comfortable cooking with pumpkins because they were similar to their native gourds.

By the 18th century, however, Europeans on the whole lost interest in pumpkin pie. According to HowStuffWorks, Europeans began to prefer apple, pear, and quince pies, which they perceived as more sophisticated. But at the same time pumpkin pie was losing favor in Europe, it was gaining true staple status in America.

In 1796, Amelia Simmons published American Cookery, the first cookbook written and published in the New World colonies. Simmons included two recipes for “pompkin pudding” cooked in pastry crust. Simmons’s recipes call for “stewed and strained” pumpkin, combined with a mixture of nutmeg, allspice, and ginger (yes, it seems our pumpkin spice obsession dates back to at least the 1500s).

But how did pumpkin pie become so irrevocably tied with the Thanksgiving holiday? That has everything to do with Sarah Josepha Hale, a New Hampshire-born writer and editor who is often called the “Godmother of Thanksgiving.” In her 1827 abolitionist novel Northwood, Hale described a Thanksgiving meal complete with “fried chicken floating in gravy,” broiled ham, wheat bread, cranberry sauce, and—of course—pumpkin pie. For more than 30 years, Hale advocated for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday, writing regular editorials and sending letters to five American presidents. Thanksgiving was a symbol for unity in an increasingly divided country, she argued [PDF].

Abraham Lincoln eventually declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 (to near-immediate outcry from Southerners, who viewed the holiday as an attempt to enforce Yankee values). Southern governors reluctantly complied with the presidential proclamation, but cooks in the South developed their own unique regional traditions. In the South, sweet potato pie quickly became more popular than New England’s pumpkin pie (mostly because sweet potatoes were easier to come by than pumpkins). Now, pumpkin pie reigns supreme as the most popular holiday pie across most of the United States, although the Northeast prefers apple and the South is split between apple and pecan, another Southern staple.

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What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?

iStock
iStock

For carbohydrate lovers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal quite like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say stuffing, though. They say dressing. In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. Dressing seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while stuffing is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it filling, which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If stuffing stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to HuffPost, it may have been because Southerners considered the word stuffing impolite, and therefore never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

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