This is the first part of a three-part essay.
On a cross country trip some twenty years ago, I pulled into a truck stop that caught my eye moments after it came into view. High above the rows of gas pumps two displays were mounted: a huge, inflated model of a polka dotted Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Christian billboard inspired by the Book of Revelation. It was a sign from above two ways in one, with the last quarter hour of a white clock face printed against a black background, the words "Jesus is coming - Be Prepared," and the hands permanently set to five minutes to twelve, Judgment time.
There they were, big as life: a whimsical echo of Sinclair Oil's Dino the Dinosauri and a message from Scripture on the hour of reckoning. It was American to the hilt: a super-sized comic representation of the one prehistoric animal that everyone can recognize standing next to a literal image of Revelation 1:3, "for the time is at hand," and both of them serving as commercial roadside attractions.