Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Chicken Poop #4

The Poet of the Open Road

In school, teachers held little hope for Billy Madden. He showed no interest in learning. His marks were always poor, he never completed a reading assignment or participated in class discussions, and he rarely did his homework. At an early age he was branded a "nonlearner." Yet, incredible as it might seem, this onetime problem student, who was given up for lost by every one of his teachers, grew up to become one of America's most-read writers!

Leaving high school without a degree, Madden was hired by the State Department of Highways. One day, Madden just happened to be in the office when an emergency occurred. The supervisor charged with writing road signs was out sick, and a sign was desperately needed to warn people not to go too fast. While other people suggested Don't Go Too Fast, and If You Can't Read This Sign You're Going Too Fast, Billy Madden carefully printed the word Slow and a career was born.

Madden had found his niche. He loved writing road signs. Initially, his spelling problems made the job difficult for him. The department unfortunately produced several hundred red, octagonal Stob signs before his misspelling was caught. But Madden spent many sleepless nights overcoming this deficiency and eventually conquered this problem. The result has been tens of thousands of signs that have become familiar to drivers throughout America.

It was Madden, for example, who dauntlessly campaigned to replace the confusing warning Watch Out Deer with the poetic Deer Crossing. For his famed Slippery When Wet, illustrated by wavy tire tracks, he received the first of three coveted Highwayman of the Year awards. Although some of his favorite pieces of writing, such as Big Trains Coming, have yet to make it onto America's highways and byways, the Guinness Book of World Records credits Madden as the writer whose words are read most frequently by Americans.

For a young boy once given up on by his teachers as hopeless, America's roads have become his legacy!

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