Department of Public Riddles A mysterious sign befuddles Georgetown.

A mysterious sign befuddles Georgetown.

Just as Wisconsin Avenue descends into Georgetown, a solid orange construction sign displays a giant lighted message. The sign lists slightly toward 33rd Street at the intersection of Reservoir Road; numerous metal feet hold it in place. A faded orange ribbon lies at its base, along with a blazing orange traffic cone.

The computer-generated message on the sign's TV-like face doesn't blink or change. It doesn't feed you multiple sets of instructions. Nor does it provide traffic advice. It simply says: "On or About 7/19/00."

"I don't know what 7/19/00 means," says Michael Medici, a resident of 33rd Street, who has had to navigate around the sign for the last month. On a recent Sunday, small groups of pedestrians walking down Wisconsin Avenue are similarly baffled. Several stop to circle the sign, searching for clues.

"It's said that for about a week," notes another Georgetown resident, who declined to give his name. He says he prefers the current placement of the sign, off the sidewalk where it previously stood.

Could the inscrutable message be some reference to recent political events? On July 19, 2000, Vice President Gore announced that he would campaign in Texas, but not much else happened on that day.

Or could the sign be a display of modern art? A local project by Jenny Holzer, the New York artist famous for expressing her ideas through publicly displayed text? An elaborate hi-tech birthday card?

Not according to John Flemming, the acting chief of street construction and maintenance at the Department of Public Works.

Flemming says the message has no meaning. None at all. The sign was placed at the intersection by contractors now installing fiber-optic cable under M Street. It's one of four signs posted on major thoroughfares leading into Georgetown to alert drivers of the construction. But the listed date bears no relationship to the construction, which began well after July.

"Something went wrong with the message—vandalism, mechanical malfunction," postulates Flemming. "Most likely someone got in there and tinkered with it."

The sign will be fixed immediately, said Flemming a week ago of the message, which was not fixed as of press time. And it will vanish once construction ends in a few weeks. CP

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