I've driven down Route 1 in North Kingstown, Rhode Island hundreds of times, taking care of the humdrum errands of every day life in my adopted home state of 20 years. While Sherry was at the CVS drug store picking up some essentials, I wandered over to the Kingstown Motel to take a few snaps of their beautifully decaying neon sign. It doesn't light anymore, but the motel manager says when the motel owner made some noises about painting it, locals complained that the decaying state of the sign is such an icon it would be a pity to see it spruced up. Imagine that...regular people with a truly eccentric roadside frame of mind. Across the street is a Del's Lemonade stand, closed for the season. Del's, for all the non-Rhode Islanders out there, is a religion in this state in the warmer months, and has a terrific logo. A squad of deteriorating Del's trucks were parked there rotting away, waiting to be photographed. Why, oh why, hadn't I ever noticed this awesome sight before?
In the 1930's, the Lincoln Highway was the road you took to get places from coast to coast in America. There's a very rich stretch that runs through Pennsylvania (Route 30), and a fantastic effort has been made by the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor to restore and maintain its roadside treasures. One of the best eccentric roadside attractions you'll see along here is the Coffee Pot, a structure that dates back to 1927. Car travel was becoming more and more popular then and proprietors of gas stations, cafes and motels were experimenting with attention-getting ways to lure motorists off the road and into their establishments. Buildings in the shapes of objects were all the rage but precious few still exist today. In 1927, Bert Koontz erected the Coffee Pot to attract visitors to his adjacent gas station. The early restaurant served hamburgers, ice cream and Coca-Cola. Over the years it became a bar and a regular Greyhound bus stop, until falling into disrepair and neglect. The Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor rescued it from the bulldozer, moved it to a sunny new location, and lovingly restored it back to better than new condition in 2004, making it a real "perk" for eccentric roadside fans everywhere. Here's some more information: http://www.lhhc.org/content/subpag/pot.htm
Click this photo to enlarge it... this you gotta see
Plenty of free Batmobile parking
Born to be wild: Supermodel Cindy Rich and Ocean Gallery's Joseph KroArt Jr.
Ocean City, Maryland is a lovely seaside community with a wide, long boardwalk that runs past gift shops, ice cream stands, and nice motels. There's lots of sun and sand and one really great eccentric roadside attraction: Ocean Gallery. It's founder, Mr. Joseph Leonard KroArt Jr., brings new meaning to the word eccentric. According to his website, he built the gallery single-handedly and it took 17 years to build and 32 years to complete. He refers to himself as The P.T. Barnum of Fine Art!!! (the exclamation points are his, not mine) and he's created a mecca for fine art, cheap art, and all kinds of bric-a-brac in between. The building is a work of art unto itself and is considered by some (Mr. KroArt, at least) the most recognizable landmark in Ocean City. The facade of the building is comprised of pieces of buildings from all over the world and the inside is stuffed floor to ceiling with all kinds of artistic, well... stuff. Super models have been known to make appearances here, as well as politicians, and Mr. Kro-Art has a car collection including a Dodge hopped up to look like the Batmobile. If you like your art emporiums eccentric, this is the place to be. Here's their website: http://www.oceangallery.com/Default.htm
There's a pretty strip of land along the mid-Atlantic coast called the DelMarVa peninsula because three states, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, each own a chunk of it. When you get to the southern-most tip of it, you're at the outstanding engineering marvel that is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which is actually a bridge and a tunnel. On a pleasant drive in that area back in 2005, we stopped at a drug store that had an amusing logo. It's a guy's face, a friendly bespeckled guy, the kind of guy you'd want filling your prescription of Zocor or recommending a good over-the-counter foot powder. I didn't label the photo so I'm not sure if the pharmacy was in Del, Mar or Va, or what the name of the place is, but I believe it was a small chain. Anybody out there know? By the way, if you like kooky roadside signage, Debra Jane Seltzer has a mind-boggling collection of well-annotated photos at her flickr site. I'm a huge fan and you could and should easily spend hours there: http://www.flickr.com/photos/agilitynut/sets/ She's also in the middle of one of her road trips and you can follow along on her fun blog: http://roadsidenut.wordpress.com/ Go Debra go!
Yellowstone National Park is a wondrous place full of eye-popping scenery and nature's beauty and weirdness. It isn't Disneyworld, however, and they don't coddle their visitors here. You have to walk everywhere, past a lot of boiling, dangerous, smelly places in a high altitude, past buffalo, elk and the occasional hungry bear. It's amazing how idiotic people can be, putting their children within stomping distance of a bison in order to get a snapshot for Aunt Tilly back home. I love the graphics at Yellowstone, warning people not to do stupid things. Boom, there goes a guy flying through the air after being gored by a buffalo. Sizzle, goes a kid stepping in a steaming geyser. We picked up a great souvenir in a Yellowstone gift shop: a book entitled "Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in America's First National Park." It chronicles the 300 deaths in the park since 1870. Check out these chapter titles: "Hold Fast to Your Children: Death in Hot Water," "I Think I Shall Never See: Death from Yellowstone's Falling Trees," "These Animals Are Not Real: The Myth That Can Kill You," "Malice in Wonderland: Yellowstone Murders," and many, many more. Makes for a great read after a long day of sightseeing.
I gushed about North Dakota's Enchanted Highway (one of the best eccentric roadside attractions ever!) in a previous post (click here) and was delighted to see it featured in a TV commercial for True North nut snacks. Artist/genius Gary Greff talks about his artwork and saving his hometown of Regent. Check out the video here and buy lots of those True North snacks...they've got the Eccentric Roadside seal of approval.
The Bridegwater, Maine town hall and Uranus. If you're not impressed, you don't know your elbow from Uranus.
Northern Maine is a beautiful, calm, serene place, and not without its eccentric roadside attractions. On a forty-mile stretch of Route 1 between the University of Maine at Presque Isle and the town of Houlton's information center is a 1:93,000,000 scale, 3-dimensional replica of the solar system, built by the friendly science-minded people of Aroostook County. According to their website, the model serves as an educational resource and tourist attraction. It also draws attention to Northern Maine, The University at Presque Isle, and the Northern Maine Museum of Science located there. All planets except Pluto are visible from the road. Educational information on the planets are found in brochures, available at the information center in Houlton. The small models are mounted on ten-foot high posts viewable by passing cars. I had no idea this wonderful attraction existed when we were cruising along Route 1 in this area a few years ago. As we whizzed by a Saturn-shaped thingy by the roadside, a U-turn was in order and we discovered one of the best eccentric roadside attractions I've ever encountered. How cool would it be live across the street from a replica of Jupiter? And if you think that's something, consider the town hall of Bridegwater, Maine. They've got a lovely view of Uranus. Top that. Check out their website: http://www.umpi.maine.edu/info/nmms/solar/
Out in the west and in places like Cabela's stores, you come across a lot of stuffed animals. The lobby of our Super 8 motel in Jackson Hole, Wyoming had a stuffed badger leering out at us as we ate our complimentary continental breakfast (and it was for sale, too). On numerous occasions, I've noticed stuffed red foxes. This inevitably makes me think of the great comedian Redd Foxx. I can't help myself from shouting out "Lamont!" and humming the catchy Quincy Jones "Sanford and Son" theme song, as the poor mounted woodland creature stares out at me through his glass eyes.
I've never been to Taipei, Taiwan, but if I ever get there, there's a restaurant that'll be both my number 1 and number 2 choices to visit: Modern Toilet. The decor is bathroom-themed: seats are real toilets, tables are sinks, and some of the food looks like you-know-what. Yum. Apparently, there are 12 of these lavaterias throughout Taipei, so obviously they're flush with success. One would imagine if they're crowded, it takes longer for women to get a seating than men, too. Check it out:
I like a good poop joke as much as the next fellow, especially if the next fellow is 12 years old or Mel Brooks. So imagine my delight when the outstandingly beautiful Arches National Park in Utah had an exhibit in their visitors' center referring to packrat poop. Not exactly a joke, but hilarious to the immature-minded nonetheless. Not excrement, not dung, not droppings. Poop. It seems the little critters' "gifts" are crucial in the carbon dating process vital to the scientists and geologists who document how old the park is. And that's the poop on poop.
If you build a better kazoo, the world will beat a path to your door, or at least eccentric roadside attractions fans will. Eden, New York is a lovely little town about an hour's drive southwest from Niagara Falls. Sure, Niagara has some awesome sites to see, but Eden is no slouch either. They've got The Original American Kazoo Company, established in 1916 and currently the only metal kazoo factory in North America. I love a factory built around a talent-optional musical instrument, and this place fits the bill perfectly. They're still making 'em the good old-fashioned way, with machines dating back to 1907. Over 20 machines are run with one 10-horsepower motor connected with overhead jack shafts and leather belts. They give tours, too. Did you know the kazoo was invented by an African American named Alabama Vest? And made to his specifications by a German clock master named Thaddeus Von Clegg in Macon, Georgia back in the 1840's? Ya do now. The kazoo arrived in western New York in 1912 and has yet to overstay its welcome, making Eden a true Eden for non-talented would-be musicians everywhere. They've had visitors from as far away as China and India. Is this place worth the trip? You're darn tootin'! Here's their website: http://www.edenkazoo.com/index.php
We spent a lovely day in the pretty, well-preserved Colonial town of Annapolis, Maryland in 2007. It's a great place to walk around, get a delicious bite to eat and souvenir shop. Any place that refers to itself as "the crab capital of the world," as Maryland does, is tops in my book, and the souvenirs bear this out. Stevens True Value Hardware store on Dock Street is one of those great American institutions: the downtown independent local hardware store. It was opened as a general store in the late 1800s and the Stevens family has been running the place since 1961. They've weathered the ups and downs of good and bad times, including being flooded by Hurricane Isabel in 2003, and, in addition to the usual hardware mainstays, offer a glittering array of souvenirs for the tourist trade. My favorite was the brass crab door-knocker... a real beauty. Who doesn't know a crabby person who wouldn't love to receive this as a gift item? So quit your crabbin' and get down to Annapolis. You'll be glad you did.
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!