Thursday, November 23, 2017

Painting the town: Wynwood, Miami, Florida

Back in 2003, some forward-thinking folks created an arts district in a run down part of the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami that would eventually turn it into one of the largest open-air art installations in the world. Tony Goldman, a real estate developer and arts visionary, came up with the idea of capitalizing on the graffiti in the area due to its dilapidated state and spearheaded the painting of exterior murals by some of the world's premier street artists in an effort to increase pedestrian traffic. The area now houses art galleries, museums, restaurants, shops and art fairs and draws in locals and tourists from around the world. The art evolves, too, with new murals being created all the time. The neighborhood is still quite gritty, which adds to the credibility of the artworks' subject matter but the juxtaposition of a double-decker tourist bus with socks-and-sandals-wearing out-of-towners trundling through this ultra-urban art scene is amusing.

So if graffiti is welcomed by a community, does that diminish its credibility and rebellious nature? Will whitewashing a building become the new form of renegade art? Do pretentious
questions about what is and isn't art give you a headache? I think we've hit the wall here.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Key and appeal: A visit (pre-Irma) to Key West

We were lucky to take a brief trip to Key West, Eccentric Roadside's first, one week before Hurricane Irma hit. The Keys got beat up but bounced back and opened up to tourists a few weeks later, and the famous Southern-Most Point marker, a classic Key West tourist attraction people line up to get their picture takeen in front of, has been restored to its pre-hurricane luster after getting pretty badly bruised.

Good on you Key West, for restoring the laid back Jimmy Buffett vibe, and please, Eccentric Roadside readers, please go visit there because the local economy depends on you. As Mae West said, "You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough."

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Now you've seen a mall: the retro-tastic Southgate Shopping Center of Lakeland, Florida

There's a shopping plaza in the central Florida town of Lakeland that's celebrating its 60th birthday this November, and it doesn't look a day over the Eisenhower administration. The Southgate Shopping Center on South Florida Avenue was the brainchild of George Jenkins, founder of the Publix grocery store chain. He figured a plaza with many stores would attract more customers than just a free-standing supermarket, a rather "no duh" idea by today's standards, but revolutionary at the time. The beauty of this location is the fact that that the stupendous parabolic arch with its mid-century modern lettering and style hasn't been updated to something more current and, in most cases of older places being "modernized," made bland. Say what you will about Southgate, bland it ain't. Director Tim Burton thought as much, and he chose the Southgate as a location for his 1990 movie "Edward Scissorhands." It's where Edward, played by Johnny Depp, has his hair salon.

Bravo to the Publix grocery store chain for keeping the retro vibe alive in Lakeland. It's Fat city,  the place to make the scene Daddy-O, and we dig it the most.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Two and a half men: The Dade City and Zephyrhills muffler men of central Florida

 This handsome, bearded, open-shirted, big-wrenched hunk greets you in Dade City, Florida

While just down the road apiece is his Big Mechanic Complete Automotive brother in Zephyrhills, along with his delightful sidekick:

There's a chain of auto repair shops in the greater Tampa Bay, Florida area that has the good taste to use repurposed muffler men as their roadside ambassadors. Big Mechanic Complete Automotive and Mufflers is a franchise of 20 shops in the area. A Mr. Steve Torregiante operates eight of these locations including the two Auto Air & Brake City, Inc. locations seen here (we've already blogged about another one of Steve's muffler man-laden shops in Tampa here). After acquiring his shops in the 2000s, Steve thought it's be a great idea to use unemployed muffler men to grab the attention of passing motorists. "When I first learned they were initially designed for muffler shops, I thought, Wow I have to have one," Steve said. "But I wouldn't really get out of a car and have my picture taken with them like some people do, but hey, it works for me." His first was acquired in nearby Ocala, just up the road. The next three came from more far-flung locations: East Texas, Missouri and Georgia. Steve is still on the lookout for a few more good men, but they don't pop up for sale very often. According to his website:

Since then (the fourth one), no others have been found for sale. About 20 of them are in California & Steve says if he has to go that far to get one, he will. Because of Florida's possibility for hurricanes, each of them have been heavily reinforced with steel structures lining the inside of the statues & can be easily taken down and/or moved in the event of a coming storm.

Another delight of Steve's Zephyrhills shop is the little character with the big grin made out of muffler and tailpipe parts looking over ever-so-casually at his bigger counterpart. Bravo to the modern-day mechanical Michelangelo who created this wonderful bit of whimsy.

It takes real commitment (some would say in an institution) to haul a muffler man across the country and make him hurricane-proof. Steve, you're our kind of guy. We'll never get "exhausted" of your muffler man mojo, so put that in your pipe and smoke it!