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The marquis of marquees always hits mark

Every day, more than 21,000 cars drive by the sign. They drive by dozens of other signs on Tampa Road, which runs from one side of Pinellas County to the other and becomes Hillsborough Avenue when it crosses the county line.

But while other signs might advertise a special on auto tuneups or salute the troops overseas, this particular sign sings a different song.

It might say: "Sex is hereditary."

Or: "Money isn't everything, but the children keep in touch."

Or even: "The Creator is a comic whose audience is afraid to laugh."

The creator of the sayings on the sign is a veterinarian named Steven Odland, 40, a Baptist minister's son who grew up in Indian Rocks Beach and now runs the Woodlands Animal Hospital in Oldsmar.

His business is treating dogs and cats, but his hobby is broadcasting his thought for the day at the commuters who pass his office on their way to Tampa or Clearwater.

Odland's audience isn't afraid to laugh. Its members also aren't afraid to call him up to complain about what he has put on the sign that day.

"I feel like this is a finger on the pulse of real life," Odland said. "Sometimes we get some real fibrillations."

For instance, the week Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf made a triumphant return to Tampa Bay, Odland posted this maxim: "Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious."

That one offended a lot of people, including one man who offered to fight Odland _ proof, the veterinarian said, that the sign was right.

One of his saucier quips said, "He tested her for ticklishness with test tickles." So many people gasped at that one, Odland said, that "organized groups of old ladies tied up my phone lines for days."

On the other hand, when he posted one that said, "Men need sex. Women need shoes," a number of women called to say how much they liked that one, Odland said.

The sign started out as a way for Odland to boost the spirits of the commuters he saw battling rush-hour traffic every morning and afternoon.

"You see all these faces going by," Odland said. "They're sad, frustrated. I thought, "These people need a laugh in the morning."'

But during the past six years, the sign has become a way for a man who deals with fleas and ticks all day to express himself on some larger subjects.

"I can't say it's brought me great business, but it's brought me great pleasure," Odland said.

It brings pleasure to other people, as well.

Jim Campoli, president of the Greater Oldsmar Chamber of Commerce, calls Odland's sayings very amusing.

"I always get a laugh out of them," Oldsmar resident Elsie Coy agreed. "Some of them really hit home _ and every place else."

However, Betty Finch, who lives across Tampa Road from Odland's office, said the veterinarian's philosophical ramblings don't exactly grab her.

"I don't pay that much attention to them," she said. "Some days I don't even read that sign."

The one witticism that reaped the most favorable attention said: "The man who invented Lifesavers made a mint." Its popularity is a source of discouragement to Odland, who doesn't count it as his best work.

"I thought, "All this depth _ and they love the mint,"' Odland said with a sigh.

He keeps a diary of sorts, a book full of photographs of every epigram he ever posted, and he flips through it reliving past successes and failures.

A number of them are racy: "Whoever named it necking didn't know anatomy." Some are theological: "Man is a dog's idea of what God should be." Some are just plain cynical: "Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality."

"Some of them have a real edge," Odland said. He puts up the racy ones to keep people reading, but he has other motives, too.

"Sometimes I get bored," he said. That's usually when he puts up some of his more outrageous ones, just fishing for a response. If too many people are offended, though, he'll take the sign down.

A couple that he did several years ago about AIDS, he says now, were "clearly in bad taste." Another one he thought up, involving crippled children, "didn't last hours," he said.

"The ones I make up are the ones that always get me in trouble," Odland said. "Sometimes I'm in a bad mood, and I say something I don't mean."

Odland doesn't write all his proverbs himself. A Clearwater woman gave him a list of hundreds that he spent five months going through. Other people suggest material, too. But Odland is the final authority and often the sole author.

He said he has turned down requests from politicians, charities and businesses trying to let them use his well-read space for more pedestrian messages. That's not what his auto audience wants, he said. They want something to make them laugh or think.

After six years, Odland said he's not worried his well of sayings will run dry. And when he gives his reason, it sounds like something straight off the signboard.

"The alphabet is limited," he said, "but the combinations are endless."

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