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

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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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Big Questions
Why Can't Dogs Eat Chocolate?
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Even if you don’t have a dog, you probably know that they can’t eat chocolate; it’s one of the most well-known toxic substances for canines (and felines, for that matter). But just what is it about chocolate that is so toxic to dogs? Why can't dogs eat chocolate when we eat it all the time without incident?

It comes down to theobromine, a chemical in chocolate that humans can metabolize easily, but dogs cannot. “They just can’t break it down as fast as humans and so therefore, when they consume it, it can cause illness,” Mike Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss.

The toxic effects of this slow metabolization can range from a mild upset stomach to seizures, heart failure, and even death. If your dog does eat chocolate, they may get thirsty, have diarrhea, and become hyperactive and shaky. If things get really bad, that hyperactivity could turn into seizures, and they could develop an arrhythmia and have a heart attack.

While cats are even more sensitive to theobromine, they’re less likely to eat chocolate in the first place. They’re much more picky eaters, and some research has found that they can’t taste sweetness. Dogs, on the other hand, are much more likely to sit at your feet with those big, mournful eyes begging for a taste of whatever you're eating, including chocolate. (They've also been known to just swipe it off the counter when you’re not looking.)

If your dog gets a hold of your favorite candy bar, it’s best to get them to the vet within two hours. The theobromine is metabolized slowly, “therefore, if we can get it out of the stomach there will be less there to metabolize,” Topper says. Your vet might be able to induce vomiting and give your dog activated charcoal to block the absorption of the theobromine. Intravenous fluids can also help flush it out of your dog’s system before it becomes lethal.

The toxicity varies based on what kind of chocolate it is (milk chocolate has a lower dose of theobromine than dark chocolate, and baking chocolate has an especially concentrated dose), the size of your dog, and whether or not the dog has preexisting health problems, like kidney or heart issues. While any dog is going to get sick, a small, old, or unhealthy dog won't be able to handle the toxic effects as well as a large, young, healthy dog could. “A Great Dane who eats two Hershey’s kisses may not have the same [reaction] that a miniature Chihuahua that eats four Hershey’s kisses has,” Topper explains. The former might only get diarrhea, while the latter probably needs veterinary attention.

Even if you have a big dog, you shouldn’t just play it by ear, though. PetMD has a handy calculator to see just what risk levels your dog faces if he or she eats chocolate, based on the dog’s size and the amount eaten. But if your dog has already ingested chocolate, petMD shouldn’t be your go-to source. Call your vet's office, where they are already familiar with your dog’s size, age, and condition. They can give you the best advice on how toxic the dose might be and how urgent the situation is.

So if your dog eats chocolate, you’re better off paying a few hundred dollars at the vet to make your dog puke than waiting until it’s too late.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
What is Duck Sauce?
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A plate of Chinese takeout with egg rolls and duck sauce
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We know that our favorite Chinese takeout is not really authentically Chinese, but more of an Americanized series of menu options very loosely derived from overseas inspiration. (Chinese citizens probably wouldn’t recognize chop suey or orange-glazed chicken, and fortune cookies are of Japanese origin.) It would also be unusual for "real" Chinese meals to be accompanied by a generous amount of sauce packets.

Here in the U.S., these condiments are a staple of Chinese takeout. But one in particular—“duck sauce”—doesn’t really offer a lot of information about itself. What exactly is it that we’re pouring over our egg rolls?

Smithsonian.com conducted a sauce-related investigation and made an interesting discovery, particularly if you’re not prone to sampling Chinese takeout when traveling cross-country. On the East Coast, duck sauce is similar to sweet-and-sour sauce, only fruitier; in New England, it’s brown, chunky, and served on tables; and on the West Coast, it’s almost unheard of.

While the name can describe different sauces, associating it with duck probably stems from the fact that the popular Chinese dish Peking duck is typically served with a soybean-based sauce. When dishes began to be imported to the States, the Americanization of the food involved creating a sweeter alternative using apricots that was dubbed duck sauce. (In New England, using applesauce and molasses was more common.)

But why isn’t it easily found on the West Coast? Many sauce companies are based in New York and were in operation after Chinese food had already gained a foothold in California. Attempts to expand didn’t go well, and so Chinese food aficionados will experience slightly different tastes depending on their geography. But regardless of where they are, or whether they're using the condiment as a dipping sauce for their egg rolls or a dressing for their duck, diners can rest assured that no ducks were harmed in the making of their duck sauce.

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