Sign o’ the times


Dear Ace: I’ve always set my watch by the SunTrust Bank sign on Rt. 29, but it’s been dark for almost a month now. What gives? —Oudda Thyme

Dear Oudda: Ah, SunTrust—official bank of NASCAR, guardian of Coca-Cola’s original formula… What don’t they do? As of right now—for local residents, at least—the answer would be “provide the time and temperature.”
    Normally, the SunTrust Bank at the intersection of Route 29 and Rio Road maintains an electronic billboard that provides time, temperature and community-minded announcements. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been working in recent weeks. The sign, to Ace’s knowledge, is the only one of its kind in the area, and therefore its loss is acutely felt (especially to Ace, whose wristwatch has been on the fritz ever since he got hit by lightning last year). And so, to get the scoop, he put in a call to the fine folks at SunTrust.
    “I do know that our maintenance guy is working on it,” says one SunTrust employee, who requested not to be named (presumably because of the top-secret nature of her work). “We’re not sure when it’ll be fixed.” A bit later, Ace received a message from SunTrust spokesman Mike McCoy, but it was equally unilluminating (just like the sign—get it?). “It’s something we are looking into at this point,” he informed Ace. “That’s really all about I can tell you right now.”
    Well, Ace can’t say he’s surprised by the lack of info. In his experience, large American corporations tend to be about as forthcoming as Vladimir Putin’s media-relations office. And so Ace decided to do a little digging on his own, and figure out just what it would cost to fix this particular electronic billboard.
    “It could cost them anywhere between $19,000 and $40,000 to replace the sign,” says Allison Millet, a marketing rep for Howard Industries, a company that manufactures LED (or “Light Emitting Diode”) signs. “It depends on what kind of board they have.”
    That’s no small amount of scratch. Of course, SunTrust Banks, Inc.—the parent company of the branch in question—earned a net income of $544 million in the second quarter of 2006 alone, so hopefully local residents will see the return of those cheerfully flashing lights sooner, rather than later.
    But once SunTrust’s sign is fixed, Ace would urge the management to think bigger, and start supplying a wider range of interesting data. Passing motorists could learn how many half-price Easter Peeps remain at the nearby Big Lots, or exactly how many local fender-benders have been caused by distracting, Vegas-like signage. Another option would be a billboard tracking the number of women who have turned down Ace’s advances that day.
Of course, that’s assuming they can make one big enough.