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Carmichael Times

Give Us a Sign!

Mar 26, 2024 11:45AM ● By Susan Maxwell Skinner, photos by Susan Maxwell Skinner
Sisters Savannah (left) and Maddie Lutes have taken over message posting for the landmark sign at Midas Auto Repair shop, Carmichael.

CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG) - Two teenagers are sharing wit and wisdom on a canvas central to main-street Carmichael.

Over 34 years, the Midas Auto Repairs billboard has amused millions of motorists. Jokes, puns, goofy musings appear each week. The new authors are Carmichael sisters Savannah and Maddie Lutes.

By tradition, anything goes. Messages might be of global -- or parish-pump -- commentary.  Politics is now off-limits. But celebrities and iconic figures like the Easter Bunny – even Santa Claus – are fair game. Crowned by the Midas logo, the lampoonery soothes traffic angst. So famed is the landmark, it even has its own Facebook page.

Store founder George Home launched the laughs in 1990. “Advertising oil changes got boring,” he explains.  “My partner and I had more fun making people laugh. After a while, customers came in with suggestions – most of which we couldn’t use.”

Businessman Ross Davidson suggested: I DREAMED I WAS A MUFFLER AND WOKE UP EXHAUSTED – a post recently recycled for a new generation of drivers. “Yeah – that one was so bad, it was good,” groans Home. “When we didn’t put up a message, people complained. The sign even featured in a book about our town. It’s a great Carmichael tradition and I’m happy it’s being continued.”

Marquee artist for many years was Midas employee Lisa Anderson, whose 2023 move to South Carolina left a creative vacancy. Says current store owner Kurt Swanson: “Lisa and the Lutes family were members of the same church, so Lisa recruited the girls. They also volunteer for my annual student backpack giveaway. They’re great, helpful kids. They’re doing a fantastic job and having lots of fun.”

Chauffeured by mom Shannon and brimming with ideas, the teenagers hit the auto shop each Saturday. At the last sign-change a motorist yelled “Your sign makes my day!”

“We’re always hearing comments,” says Rio Americana junior Savannah. “It feels good to put a smile on people’s faces. Last week, a cute fireman gave me a wave from his fire truck. That made my day!”

Inspiration is everywhere. Their punster dad Howard has been a reliable source for postable quips. School friends’ one-liners sometimes make the marquee. Seasons are always topical. SPRING FORWARD IS THE BEST DAY OF THE YEAR – SAID NO ONE, EVER was a March zinger. DON’T BE THE HOUSE THAT GIVES OUT RAISINS was Halloween advice. IF I DON’T NAP AT THANKSGIVING, AM I RESISTING A REST? had the boulevard groaning.

Anything auto related is billboard fodder. “Someone at our church suggested: MY WHEELS ARE TIRED, I NEED A BRAKE,” approves Savannah. Our dad liked that one, too.”

Maddie Savannah Lutes Midas sign

 Completing a message, Maddie (left) and Savannah Lutes step back from their handywork.

Their job makes the sisters popular figures. Horns honk; pedestrians stop to chat. Schoolmates call Savannah ‘the Midas sign girl.’ “We’re not celebrities,” she says. “We’re just happy contributing to the community. It gives us something to look forward to every Saturday.”

Kurt Swanson pays a small stipend for their effort, but the side-benefits are manifold. Message research teaches teens history and current affairs. They’ve learned that an exclamation mark transforms pedantic to funny. Their grammar and spelling have improved. “I’ve learned to be concise,” explains Winston Churchill A-student Maddie. “We have limited space and only so many letters.”

On behalf of her boss, Savannah recently accepted a Chamber of Commerce Spirit of Carmichael award for Midas. The 16-year-old’s acceptance speech had gala-goers chuckling. “Her confidence has improved,” observes Mom Shannon. “Being on a ladder in front of thousands of motorists is like being on stage. But my daughters are still just 13 and 16-year-olds. They’re still figuring things out.”

Notes Savannah: “Someone complained that our SMILE - WHILE YOU STILL HAVE TEETH message was about drug use.  “That never occurred to Maddie and me.

“We’ve learned to be careful. We run everything by our parents and sometimes our boss Kurt advises us. We don’t want to offend anybody. We just want to make people smile.”

The Midas sign is located at 6840 Fair Oaks Boulevard, at the Landis Avenue corner.