Neon entropy

If you’ve driven on the Pulaski Skyway, you know that it passes over some of the most hellishly blighted real estate on the eastern seaboard. The Skyway itself is all right: it’s a truss bridge, and truss bridges are simply not as graceful as suspension bridges, but seen as a whole it takes on its own curious blend of beauty and brutality.

Up close, however, the Skyway is as ugly as a monkey’s butt: all rivets, black steel and crumbling concrete decks. It is particularly awful during the evening drive home, when you have to join the flow of cars hurtling out of the Holland Tunnel and jockey for position as you reach the covered roadway that was blasted through the traprock of Bergen Hill. Emerging from the roadway, there’s about a quarter-mile of elevated road before you reach the Skyway proper. That’s where I noticed the sign.

Southbound commuters will know what I’m talking about. It’s actually a series of neon-lit words mounted in the windows of the old American Can factory building that looms over the road as you emerge from the Bergen Hill cut. I only noticed it a few months ago: red letters spelling out IT IS GREEN THINKS NATURE EVEN.

For a few months I thought the message was supposed to be “Even nature thinks it is green,” with the words rearranged to converge in the middle. A Zen fortune cookie message? A postmodern Burma Shave sign? An art project commenting on the complete absence of nature along this particular stretch of road?

As it turns out, the art project guess was the correct one. A conceptual artist, Mary Ellen Carroll, placed the message there at the behest of a conservation group called The Precipice Alliance. The line of letters wraps around the corner of the building: “It is green thinks nature even in the dark.”

The sign will be taken down after April, but even now a couple of the letters in “thinks” have gone dark. The result is that as I start the Meadowlands leg of my drive home, my thoughts are not so much on conservation as the second law of thermodynamics. But to be thinking at all during that stretch of a singularly mind-numbing commute is remarkable enough, so I’ll be sorry when the red letters get taken down.

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