Previous “Signs of Intelligent Life” posts

Additional CVS Signs

Friday, December 29th, 2017

Last month, I discovered a strange assortment of handmade signs in Boston-area CVS stores, all pitching flu shots. The initial post on this included signs from eight different stores, and I’ve since visited more than a dozen additional locations to find more signs.1 As I’ve said, there are really a ton of CVS locations in this area. Let’s dive in to what I found:

First up, loyal reader Waldo spotted this Downtown Crossing store’s sign. As you may realize, they went with a Game of Thrones theme. It’s one that works just fine even if you have no knowledge of that show or the “Winter is Coming” meme.

Winter is coming / Get your flu shot todayCVS Store #49

There may have been some internal dispute at this location, as they doubled up their signs. They started with a Halloween-themed sign which is inexplicably heart-shaped. Below that is more instructive ad for flu shots, conveying urgency through an assortment of clock pictures. It feels a bit Twilight Zone-y, but it’s a solid effort overall.

2 signs: Say Boo to the Flu / Time to get your shotCVS Store #1009

In addition to being rather leaky, the needle on this next sign looks incredibly blunt. I would not like to get a flu shot with this needle.

You call the shots / get your flu shot todayCVS Store #361

Identical silver glitter paper can be seen below, as well as a very similar needle. Fortunately, this one looks as though it could puncture the skin without too much difficulty. That “Stop” sign could really use some work though.

Stop the flu before it stops you! (G)et your flu shot todayCVS Store #10517

Speaking of road signs, we’ve got this Newbury Street store’s offering:

Flu season aheadCVS Store #1206

In America, yellow traffic signs are general warnings (such as “Slippery When Wet”), rather than explicit instructions (“Stop”). This sign doesn’t actually tell the reader what they should do about the upcoming flu season, so yellow seems an appropriate color. How many passersby simply mournfully shrugged and moved on after seeing this, certain in the knowledge that they’d catch the flu and feel like death soon?

On the other side of the quality spectrum is this needle!

Stick it to the flu!CVS Store #2256

Well-done, Government Center CVS. I also appreciate the pithy writing.

Meanwhile, these two stores had very similar rainbow colored signs, each utilizing a “sick”/“quick” rhyme. It’s possible one ripped off the other, as they’re only about 3/4 of a mile apart. Then again, each of these stores has a CVS location that’s closer to it, and it’s not the same location in the middle of them. In CVS distribution terms, they’re not actually that close.

Don't want to get sick? Get the flu shot quick!CVS Store #1258

Don't waste fall being sick! Get a flu shot. It's super quickCVS Store #5874

This sign is from Maine, and they do things differently up there. They’ve printed a fairly odd wordcloud of flu-related terms on glossy stock. This is then surrounded by handwritten messages, presumably from CVS staffers. It’s unique, I’ll give them that.

Save your sick days for playing hookyCVS Store #8245

Finally, while this sign was printed on a relatively small piece of paper, rather than large posterboard, I love the design here. The message is the most honest of all we’ve seen, and it seems like the needle is thinking it in a cartoonish thought bubble. Nicely done.

Save your sick days for playing hookyCVS Store #10174


At this point, I’ve run out of nearby CVS stores to check on. While flu season is ongoing, flu shot season is certainly winding down. Still, I’ll keep an eye out for more, and report back with this important news as it develops.


  1. In addition to the signs shown, I found two stores in Boston (Store #8988, 25 Winter St. and Store #226, 81 Milk St.) which had no signs. As these two stores did not appear to offer flu shot services, their lack of signs makes sense. ↩︎

CVS’s Handmade Flu Shot Signs

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

A flu shot is a good way to avoid learning if pumpkin spice cough drops are as nauseating as they sound. On a recent visit to the CVS in Harvard Square1, I came upon the following sign advertising that very service:

Don't gamble on the flu / Let us vaccinate youCVS Store #240

I was struck by the non-corporate nature of this sign, and particularly amused by its arts and crafts style. My hunch was that someone had made it with supplies from the store itself. I could easily picture them grabbing a deck of cards2, a few markers, and a piece of poster board, then putting this all together. A close inspection shows the sign even has a border of Christmas lights on it, though they were not illuminated at the time. While the whole thing was probably assembled in a back office, I’d like to imagine its creator sprawled out in the middle of a less-visited aisle, looking exactly like a middle schooler working on a science fair project.

As I do so many times when something amuses me, I snapped a picture before moving on with both my shopping and my afternoon. The following day, however, I needed something from the CVS near my house (Store #1900). As I entered, I came face to face with another handmade sign:

Don't let the flu knock you out / See your pharmacist todayCVS Store #1900

Where’d the second letter “k” in “knock” go? Its absence gave the effort a delightfully homemade feel. Meanwhile, the boxing theme was likely inspired by a nearby statue of Boston welterweight Tony DeMarco, which sits just across the street from the CVS store in question. Here it is on Google Maps:

CVS and Tony DeMarco StatueLeft Circle: CVS Store #1900; Right Circle: Tony DeMarco Statue
[Photo credit: Google Maps Street View]

Finding two different handmade signs in two CVS stores multiple miles apart seemed like quite a coincidence. I began to suspect something was up, and immediately headed over to the other CVS near my house (Store #4666) to see if they had a similar sign. However, a quick look around that store turned up nothing. I left thinking that perhaps it was mere chance that the first two stores were advertising flu shots in similar fashion.

It took a few days, but that line of reasoning was eventually shot down at the Porter Square CVS (Store #717). While contemplating the rather alarming frequency with which I was finding myself inside CVS stores, I stumbled on a third handmade sign:

Don't get sidelined by the flu / Tackle it with a flu shot todayCVS Store #717

This sign was bizarrely hung at about hip level, and the legibility was not great, but it did contain an impressive amount of detail. Given the end zone markings, we can surmise that “The Flu” is squaring off in some sort of football bowl game against “CVS Pharmacy”. Zooming in on the center of that image enables us to see some rather crooked play.

Caped pharmacist with needle taking down a flu player
In the words of The Tick, that’s dirty pool!

That pharmacist appears to have used a massive needle to take down his opponent. That’s surely a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct, if not grounds for outright ejection. The pharmacist also appears to be wearing a cape, which is an extremely inadvisable choice of uniform for football.

Once I saw this third sign, I was certain I’d find more at other stores. That very day, I visited several additional locations to document more of these signs. I don’t have a lot going on in my life.

Don't get sick as a dog! Get a flu shot todayCVS Store #1022

This sign loses a few points for being hung way at the back of the store, but gets them back because it was in the pharmacy waiting area, where people are sure to have time to notice it. It also earns bonus points for the use of a cute dog.

Don't get caught! Get the shot!CVS Store #25

Speaking of cute, this little flu guy is adorable, and helpfully labeled to boot. I’m not entirely convinced I shouldn’t let him catch me.

Spread the word, not the fluCVS Store #1012

This sign’s lack of any real art made it a little bland beyond its bright colors. However, the inclusion of the coupon in the bottom right is intriguing. Are there people out there who wouldn’t normally bother to get a flu shot, but will change their minds if offered a $5 off coupon for their CVS purchase of $25 or more? Probably!

Get your flu shot at your favorite spot with your local CVS crewCVS Store #260

CVS Store #260 was easily the smallest I visited, and they had a correspondingly tiny sign. Rather than a large sheet of poster board, this is a single 8.5″x11″ sheet of paper. Despite its cramped quarters, the store does offer a photo printing center which these smiling pharmacists no doubt used. This is a decent quick and dirty effort, but there’s a lot of text, and those hashtags are absolute trash.

As I headed home after a long day of visiting pharmacies, I passed by that second CVS near my house, Store #4666. Coming in through a different entrance, I saw this:

Spread the word, not the fluCVS Store #4666

I don’t know how I missed it the first time through. It’s possible they’d spent extra hours (or even days) working on the details of that needle, and hadn’t yet posted it when I came by on my earlier visit. Either way, it was now obvious that every nearby store had a sign touting flu shots, and that no two of them were alike.


After tracking down these eight signs, I’ve come to two conclusions. First, it seems certain that CVS issued a directive that their stores advertise the availability of flu shots, but chose not to provide any official signage to display. Did this memo suggest making the signs with materials on hand? Was there a budget which would be reimbursed? Or even a time challenge? If we’re lucky, some reader out there will clue us all in to the exact details.

My second conclusion is a bit more prosaic, but still worth noting: There are an absolute assload of CVS stores around Boston. The store numbering system hints at how common CVS locations must be, but many of them blended into the background until I sought them out. Now, it’s clear to me that you can barely go a block without passing a CVS. Each and every one of them is full of people eager to stab you in the arm with a needle. Most of them are even health care professionals who are paid to be there.

Update (December 29th, 2018): If you made it this far, you probably want to see the follow-up post, featuring even more handmade posters.


  1. For many years, Harvard Square had two CVS stores within about a hundred yards of one another. There was the good two-story location at 1426 Massachusetts Avenue, and the drastically inferior single-story location at 29 JFK Street. The JFK store had a cramped interior with dingy carpeting, and was best avoided if possible. Of course, it was entirely possible to avoid it, because there was another CVS just up the street. I just said that!

    Yet two years ago, CVS announced plans for another location, at 6 JFK Street. For a brief few weeks in 2015, there were three CVS stores open within spitting distance of one another. The dumpy 29 JFK store closed soon after the 6 JFK location opened, and more recently, the 1426 Mass Ave store closed as well. Harvard Square is now down to a much more reasonable number of CVS stores.

    For more on the comings and goings of retail stores in the greater Boston area, see this post on Store 24. ↩︎

  2. I have a vivid memory of going to a CVS years ago to purchase playing cards and poker chips. I didn’t know quite where I’d find them, but I was certain that I’d seen them in every CVS I’d ever been in, on the end cap of a random aisle. Sure enough, that’s where I found them. ↩︎

Signs of Intelligent Life: Poland

Friday, September 16th, 2011

It’s been a while since the last search for Signs of Intelligent Life, but a recent trip to Poland has led to a new SOIL. They do things a bit differently in Poland:

George Washington Street

For instance, they honored America’s first president by naming a street after him. However, they don’t know how to spell his name. At all.

Girl with a giant lollipop

You might think this was a warning to watch for children near the street. It turns out it’s actually an alert for diabetics, tipping them off to the presence of small girls with ludicrously oversized lollipops.


I managed to repeatedly read this incorrectly as “Pies!”. Apparently, this is a pedestrian warning sign, with Piesi being Polish for “Pedestrians”. That’s far less exciting than the thought of delicious rhubarb pie, and really, not at all deserving of an exclamation point.

Man moving triangles

Caution: Man moving triangles! Possibly with a pizza peel!

Ultimately, though amusing, these signs aren’t actually unintelligent. The real lack of intelligence rests with the non-native who couldn’t speak the language. Sometimes, the most rewarding searches are those which cause us to look inward and discover something about ourselves. That, or those which lead to the discovery of buried treasure or something. Those are pretty rewarding too.

SOIL: Valet Parking

Friday, April 9th, 2010

The never-ending quest for Signs Of Intelligent Life (SOIL) continues. During a trip to SXSW, the valet stand outside the hotel had this sign:

Valet Parking Sign

Austin really is weird: they tax only overnight parking, not daily parking.

The real issue is there seems to be all kinds of unnecessary capitalization here: “Vehicles, unattended Vehicles or Vandals”. I suppose it’s possible Austin is infested with the Germanic people who ravaged Gaul, Spain, and North Africa in the 4th–5th centuries and sacked Rome in 455 AD. If that is in fact the case, Marriott would definitely want to insulate themselves from liability.

Assuming the capitalization is incorrect, however, it seems the hotel is not responsible for items left in vehicles, items left in unattended vehicles, or items left in vandals.

You’re a valet service. You’ve got nothing but unattended vehicles!

Update: Reader Stephen G. shared the following:

“My wife is a tax attorney so I now know way too much about this stuff. The tax for overnight parking is because they’re assuming that if you’re parking overnight, then you have a room at the hotel. In that case the parking fee is part of your room rate, which in texas is taxable. Basically, because Texas refuses to have a state income tax we have lots of extra/weird taxes worked into our everyday lives.”

The more you know.

Signs of Intelligent Life?

Monday, September 7th, 2009

There are many signs in the world. At their best, signs are easy to comprehend, helpful, and informative. Often times, however, they are not. These hilariously flawed signs are the ones I seem to find most often, in my never-ending quest for signs of intelligent life.

Be sure to click to see the full-size images.

The Prairie
[Photo credit: Katie Smillie]


Cult Ad
[Photo credit: Katie Smillie]

In hindsight, I’m sure it seems obvious that this would be far more popular than the original dead pony ride concept. But business is all about experimenting to find what works.

Bi Door

I’ll be the first to admit, this is not always the most mature quest. But if you didn’t giggle at that a bit, you’ve got no soul.

Have you spotted a great sign yourself? Send a photo my way.