A cool British dude who calls himself The Old Nail has a great blog with the wonderful title of "Beautiful Decay." (http://rackandruin.blogspot.com/). I love that phrase. There's somethingpoignant and melancholy about seeing something once new and gleaming falling into disrepair and neglect.We passed through the little town of McLean, Texas, 75 miles east of Amarillo, on I-40and Old Route 66, in 2004 and it had some awesome decay. According to their website, "in 1927, McLean profited from the oil boom, becoming a major shipping point for area livestock, gas, and oil. And, in the very same year, Route 66 insured the town’s growth for the next several decades. During the golden age of Route 66, McLean boasted 16 service stations, six motels and numerous cafes. Oklahoma based Phillips Petroleum Company built its first Texas service station in McLean in 1927. By 1940, McLean had six churches, a newspaper, fifty-nine businesses, and a population of more than 1,500." Unfortunately, today McLean isn't as prosperous as it was in those glory days, but it's still a very cool place to visit for fans of roadside Americana. They've done an awesome job restoring that 1927 Phillips gas station, and they have one of the best quirky museums I've ever been to: The Devil's Rope Museum, which bills itself as the world's largest barbed wire historical museum. I'll get to those places in a later post, but first here's some very cool abandoned gas stations. Here's McLean's website: http://www.mcleantexas.org/index.html
A nice compliment to New York City's Peanut Butter & Co. (see below) is Rice To Riches, a dessert emporium in Manhattan's SoHo district at 37 Spring Street between Mott and Mulberry Streets, that sells rice pudding and only rice pudding. And why not? Rice pudding, that venerable childhood treat, is a gift from God (or some really nice person if you're a non-believer). It's creamy, it's smooth, it's vanilla, it's rice. Four great things that go great together. But this being New York City, epicurean capital of the solar system, they couldn't possibly offer just vanilla pudding on the menu. On any given day, they've got twenty or more gourmet flavors, including Almond Shmalmond, The Milk Chocolate Only Rings Twice, Don Cappucino, and Coconut Coma. And since no self-respecting rice pudding connoisseur takes his Sex Drugs and Rocky Road naked, they also offer a bevy of gourmet toppings including oatmeal coconut crumble, buttery graham cracker blanket, and "tender loving" jelly. The place has an ultra-chic interior, in keeping with the SoHo it's-so-expensive-art-galleries-can't-afford-the-rents-here-anymore location. Leave it to The Big Apple to make a humble thing like rice pudding a can't-miss event. Here's their website: http://www.ricetoriches.com/frameset.php?content=/startpage.php
"The Lunchbox Special": peanut butter and jelly on white bread, chips, carrot sticks
The "After" shot of
"The Lunchbox Special": note the uneaten carrot sticks
The lovely Christine enjoys herself a nice Elvis sandwich
Eateries devoted to one eccentric item are nothing but fun in my book and New York City has a dilly: Peanut Butter & Co. at 240 Sullivan Street, between Bleecker and West 3rd Streets, about a block south of Washington Square Park and NYU. It's a dinky place devoted mainly to peanut butter sandwiches and nostalgia for the boomer crowd. They've got Fluffernutters (peanut butter and marshmallow), a peanut butter BLT, "The Heat Is On" (spicy peanut butter and chilled grilled chicken with pineapple jam), and their most popular sandwich, The Elvis (grilled peanut butter stuffed with bananas, honey and optional bacon that will have you saying "thank you, thank you verra much"). They also have peanut butter cookies, peanut butter pies, peanut butter milk shakes and peanut butter waffle sundaes. Goober-sensitive diners can enjoy a nice baloney and cheese sandwich or tuna melt like Mom (or June Cleaver) used to make. It's nice to see a place that revels in the miracle of white bread and nutrition-optional edibles. And they'd like you to know there's no peanut butter-related salmonella here. According to their website "Peanut Butter & Co. products ARE NOT affected by this recall. No retail jars of peanut butter are part of the current recall." So eat that white chocolate peanut butter and orange marmalade on white bread sandwich and enjoy it... it's good for you. Here's their website: http://www.ilovepeanutbutter.com/
Every now and then, The New York Times, that bastion of journalistic integrity, sinks to my level of stupidity. It was brought to my attention by not one but two of my more learned colleagues that today they ran a story about towns in England with unfortunate but hilarious names like Crapstone and North Piddle. The New York Times, mind you. As of 4:30pm this afternoon, it was the most popular story on their website. It will probably be their most popular story ever. Hilary Clinton's replacement as New York Senator? Nah. President Obama's policy on Iraq? Snore. Towns with childishly dirty names? Ding-ding-ding, we have a winner! Here's the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/23/world/europe/23crapstone.html?em
Martin Lombard Senescu, a gentle man, a dedicated curator of "Murder's Row" in Ferguson's Wax Museum. He ponders the reasons why ordinary men are driven to commit mass murder. But Mr. Senescu does not know that the ground work has been laid for his own special kind of madness and torment in... the Twilight Zone. -- Rod Serling
Some things are so deliciously awful, they're exquisite. This is usually the case with wax museums. Even really good ones usually seem just a little bit off. Like, how come so much painstaking attention is given to facial detail when the wax figure is only 4 and a half feet tall? I mean, I know Tom Cruise is short, but he's not that short. The Canadian side of Niagara Falls has a good bad wax museum called Movieland Wax Museum of the Stars. You want stars? They got 'em, all staring weirdly out at you with unlifelike hair and a yellow pallor. Wax museums also remind me of the scariest episode of the Twilight Zone I've ever seen. It's called "The New Exhibit" and it's the one with Martin Balsam where he's a wax museum curator and his museum is going to be demolished. He can't bear the thought of his wax "friends" being thrown out like so much summer squash, so he takes his chamber of horrors home with him to his nagging wife. They're broke but he keeps them in an air-conditioned basement and one by one they come to life and kill people. Now, I was about six years old when I saw this episode. My mom, the parent with good judgement, must have been out of the room and my dad, being a true dad, let me stay up way past my bedtime and watch the scariest show ever broadcast on television. I literally had nightmares about that one, and I'm sure Dad got an earful from Mom about it, too. Here's the Movieland wax museum's website: http://www.cliftonhill.com/niagara_falls_attractions/movieland_wax_museum/
LeRoy, New York is a cute little town about an hour east of Niagara Falls that resembles Bedford Falls from "It's a Wonderful Life." This is the town where Jell-O, that yummy, wiggly, punchline of a desert, was born, and LeRoy has created a major eccentric roadside attraction in its honor: The Jell-O Museum. In an elderly brick building behind the LeRoy Historical Society are numerous artifacts and exhibits that take you on a magical historical journey: its humble experimental beginnings as a set gelatin in 1845, on to its climb to popularity enhanced by advertisements illustrated by Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish, and up to its current status as the Bill Cosby-endorsed dessert legend of today. Jell-O was bought by the company that became General Foods and up until 1964, was a huge employer of the nice folks of LeRoy. Then they pulled out and never came back, leaving LeRoy feeling like a dumped loyal spouse. How could they do that to such a sweet town? Never bitter, the museum puts on a cheery face and will welcome you with a smile and a wiggle and tell you of their glory days. It's especially popular with visiting school groups (see the letter above). Here's their website: http://www.jellomuseum.com/index.html
Car wash, Indiana, near Interstate 80 and Interstate 90
(click to enlarge)
Today we inaugurate a new feature here at Eccentric Roadside: the Mundane Roadside Photo of the Day. So much of what you see travelling cross-country is during the hours of mundane driving between the good stuff. Personally, I find banal roadside sites fascinating. There's something a little bit Zen about these lonely, boring places. So we'll keep posting these pictures until we get, well, bored.
Also from the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum: one of their more sophisticated exhibits.
On display at the National Postal Museum: I love museums devoted to mundane things.
At the National Archives: Rose Mary Woods' tape recorder.
At the National Archives: a letter a seventh-grader named Andy Smith from South Carolina wrote to the government, asking for Federal Disaster Relief funds because his mother says his room is a disaster area.
At the National Archives: Bill Clinton's high school marching band uniform.
At the National Archives: a video documentary about President George Bush Senior.
On the same day we saw this exhibit at the Smithsonian...
...we saw this on TV later on in our hotel room! You can't make stuff like that up!
The Smithsonian Institution (or "that Smith Brothers Institute" as Barney Fife would say) is full of national treasures, not the least of which is the puffy shirt worn by Jerry Seinfeld in episode 66 of his TV series. In it, as you recall, Jerry winds up wearing an outlandish pirate shirt on the Today Show with Bryant Gumble because Kramer's girlfriend, the designer of the shirt, is a bit of a low-talker, and he was just being polite. It sits enshrined behind Plexiglas, next to Fred Rogers' red sweater. Upon its induction, Seinfeld commented that surely this was the most embarrassing moment in the museum's history. The same day we viewed the shirt in all its Smithsonian splendor, we retired to our hotel suite, The Virginian, for a little r&r and some color TV viewing. Seinfeld was on (not hard to miss, as it is on about 100 times a day) and spookily, the puffy shirt episode was being broadcast. Coincidence? I think not. We are not alone.
America is an eccentric place, full of eccentric people. Need proof? Check out this factoid from George Washington University's website: "Of all the requests made each year to the National Archives for reproductions of photographs and documents, one item has been requested more than any other. That item, more requested than the Bill of Rights or even the Constitution of the United States, is the photograph of Elvis Presley and Richard M. Nixon shaking hands on the occasion of Presley's visit to the White House." On December 21, 1970, Elvis visited Nixon at the White House. The two had never met before. On a flight, Elvis wrote Nixon a rambling six-page letter (on American Airlines stationery) requesting a visit with the President and suggesting that he be made a "Federal Agent-at-Large" in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (ironic, considering Elvis's later problems with pills). He presented this letter in person, unannounced, to Nixon's bewildered staff who arranged for a quick meeting with an even more bewildered Nixon. At the meeting, Elvis told Nixon what an admirer of his he was and mentioned that he had been studying communist brainwashing and the drug culture for 10 years. He also condemned the Beatles, and presented Nixon with a gift: a Colt 45 pistol that Presley brought with him to the Oval Office. Nixon presented Elvis with a phony-baloney badge of some sort that the White House staff had hurriedly put together which brought Elvis to tears. A White House photographer recorded the event and Elvis, being Elvis, left the building. And for once in his life, Richard Nixon was not the weirdest fellow in the room. To order a copy of the Elvis-Nixon photo of your very own from the National Archives, click here: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/nixon-met-elvis/assets/doc_citations_transcript.html.
Washington is a pretty staid place. Important buildings, important people, important, important, important. But there's plenty of cool stuff for an eccentric roadside traveler to gawk at. Take the National Archives, for instance. This is where America, a place that seemingly never throws anything out, keeps its stuff. We took a tour in 2007 and it was full of delights. Among the standouts were Abraham Zapruder's movie camera. He's the fellow that got the only moving pictures of President Kennedy being killed in Dallas, the most significant amateur recording of a news event in history. These home movies were so incendiary that the public was not allowed to view the footage in its entirety until the late 1970s when Congress held hearings about the assassination. And there's his camera, a perfectly normal looking Bell & Howell Model 414PD, the kind Mr. Wolf next door when I was a kid and countless other dads and camera buffs would have used in 1963. What I'd like to know is, what else was on that roll of film? Abe Junior's little league game? Little Janie Zapruder's ballet recital? Aunt Lottie's birthday party? And does a big road sign get in the way at the ultimate moment of all of those events, too, like with JFK? Poor Mr. Zapruder probably never made another home movie after that terrible day.Here's some more about him:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Zapruder
Clare McLean and her portrait of Amy Carter and her dog
A portrait of the Reagan's dog made with genuine dog hair. (Really!)
President Taft's cow's cowbell
There have been some good presidents, some bad presidents and some mediocre presidents but there are no bad presidential pets, and there's a place that pays tribute to them. The Presidential Pet Museum was in a storefront shop in a quaint part of Annapolis, Maryland when we visited there in 2007, but it has since moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, and is now part of President's Park (the last swell place I blogged about). This is a great idea because now you get two, two, two eccentric roadside attractions in one! The pet museum is the "pet" project (sorry) of Clare McLean, a nice lady whose life's mission since 1999 has been to share her quirky collection of artifacts and original artworks with curious history buffs and school kids on field trips. Clare does folk art paintings of the White House's most beloved residents and the pièce de résistance is a portrait of Lucky (President and Mrs. Reagan's Bouvier des Flandres) made from her own hair (Lucky's that is, not Clare's). Her most prized pocession is an original cowbell that hung from the neck of Pauline Wayne, the last cow to graze the White House lawn and was a favorite of President Taft who drank her milk every morning. Places like this make you proud to be an eccentric American. Here's their website: http://www.presidentialpetmuseum.com/index.htm
This blog is devoted to old fashioned American roadside attractions... the wonderfully big, bizarre, crazy, wacky, quirky, weird, funny, unique and mundane sites you see travelling cross-country by car in the USA, where getting there really is all the fun!