Six months after I first posted on Instagram, I left my husband and children behind and set out, alone, to drive 348 miles to satisfy a bunch of strangers in Las Vegas. That was January 2013. In the ten years since, many on this group of “strangers” have change into my dearest pals, touring companions, fellow adventurers, and, dare I say, chosen household. We wouldn’t know one another if not for Instagram.
When the platform launched in 2010, and I heard that, as an alternative of private information, gossip, and political beliefs, it was nearly sharing photos, I jumped on and posted my first picture. It was of the neon signal above the 1958 diner Rae’s in West Los Angeles, the place I had grown up. Certain that I was the one particular person to ever have taken a photograph of an previous signal, I did a search: #vintageneonsigns. To my astonishment, up popped a bunch of images similar to those I’d been taking for many years. Other signal photographers had been equally stunned. Los Angeles–based mostly graphic designer Kathy Kikkert says, “I had no idea there were other people out there doing this same weird thing,” and caretaker April Bryan, of Kalamazoo, Michigan, notes, “I wasn’t alone after all!”
Our fascination with previous indicators grew to become an obsession with capturing them in images. While our family and friends didn’t perceive our fixation with what most individuals didn’t even discover or, in the event that they did, thought of an eyesore, we carried on, every pondering that we should be the one one with this quirky area of interest curiosity. Mark Stein, a software program developer in Denver, admits that “a few friends and family members knew about my weird obsession … but for the most part I kept it to myself.”
I adopted fellow signal shooters on Instagram, and the accounts they adopted, they usually adopted me again. The subsequent factor I knew, with some trepidation, I was driving to Las Vegas to satisfy a bunch of about 20 of them, roughly aged 25 to 60, from all around the US and Canada. Los Angeles–based mostly author, Steve Spiegel, whom I met on that first journey and who’s change into a pricey buddy I join with day by day, shares my apprehension: “I still remember sitting at the Burbank airport thinking, ‘I’m about to spend a weekend in Vegas with a bunch of people I met on an app! This is crazy!’”
Neither of us knew this journey could be the beginning of an inspiring, supportive group of kindred spirits who’d wind up ceaselessly pals. Since that journey, many people stayed in common, even day by day, contact. We met up for numerous native “sign hunts,” traveled throughout the United States (and as soon as to Cuba), and had just a few group displays. The ragtag group of 20 strangers in Las Vegas grew to become a global group of over 220. In 2017, 4 members—Spiegel, Will Hansen, and Mike and Marla Zack—christened the group Signs United. The group was inclusive and open to any classic neon lovers.
As adults slowed down with jobs and households, it’s not straightforward to satisfy new individuals and kind significant friendships. Many in our tribe described feeling remoted, disconnected, lonely, and lacking a way of function. Our meetups, group reveals, academic occasions, and preservation efforts gave us a welcome break from actual life, in addition to a rewarding inventive outlet, significant connections, and a way of belonging and function.