California Public Service Announcement Prank

While I was working this summer, preparing displays for the California State Fair, I spotted this wooden 8-foot California map in a dumpster. The plaster mountains on it were crumbling, making it unsuitable for a proper display.

Of course, being a California native, I felt sorry for the discarded 31st state and brought it home.

I scraped off all the dried plaster, painted it flat white, and attached it to a wall inside my apartment.


My initial thought was to print out a large map of California and paste it onto this outline. It would have been an impressive addition to my apartment, but as I got started, it became clear that this project would take of a lot of work and a lot of ink.

My next idea was to transform the state into a funny, useful signpost in downtown Sacramento.

Something like Memorial Auditorium: 5 blocks, Convention Center: 3 blocks, Starbucks Cafe: Every 25 feet.

I ran this idea past some friends and got a lukewarm reception, so I kept thinking.

I had a great place picked out on a busy one-way street, with plenty of traffic. There was a boarded-up storefront just begging for a little decoration.

A few years back I wanted to post "welcome to Sacramento County, please turn off your mobile phone" signs at the county line, but never made them.

I switched this idea around a bit to fit the location, deciding on "Drive Safe, Hang up". I also threw in a familiar orange X, to help obfuscate the source of this new safety announcement. 

I know it should be "drive safely", not "safe", but marketing departments jam grammar all the time, so I thought it would be okay. I can imagine English teachers on their way to work, reading and wincing.


I printed the four-inch words and used tape to work out the spacing.

At the fairgrounds, I had worked with amazing painters: Francine, Roger and Nathan.

Great painters are critically important at the fair. Often they are the difference between 1st and 3rd place. Roger does much of the lettering. Hand lettering requires many different skills, he is really amazing to watch.

I think he got started by painting prices on the windshields of used cars. He must have a thousand different fonts in his head.

I guess you could say I was anxious about lettering. I'm not much of a painter, but I can stay inside the lines, right?

I carefully sketched the outlines of letters with pencil and began filling them in with a small brush.

Many errors are apparent when you are this close, but I knew it was going to look great from a few feet away.


California was unwieldy, so I enlisted the help of my friend Hosh.

I loaded California into my car and we headed downtown.



We parked nearby and unloaded the sign.

We busted out the ladder, drill and cameras. California was up in no time! 

The scale is perfect for this location.

It absolutely appears to belong there. 

Here is a view from across the street. I returned later that day to watch people walk by without noticing it.



The wooden California has been taken down. I think it only lasted about 6 days, while I was in New Orleans.
Someone wrote and said that workers in a city truck took it down. Rats!
This ranks as the prank with the least amount of email feedback. I think I'll shy away from pseudo-political activism for a while.

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October 21st, 2002.
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