Monday, November 30, 2009

Staying the corset: New Haven, Connecticut's former Smoothie Foundation Garment factory

I love how the women in these ads look so nonchalant about wearing girdles around the house.


Today, a smoothie is a delicious frothy combination of fruit, ice and yogurt, but back in the era when women had to wear elastic torture devices to look good, a Smoothie was a top of the line girdle manufactured by the Strouse Adler Company of New Haven, Connecticut. Their factory first began cranking out unmentionables way back in 1860, and continued up until 1999 in the same brick building until they were forced to do some, er, belt-tightening and move the operation off-shore. Savvy real estate developers wasted no time converting the building into luxury apartments with a funky SoHo feel. And instead of being embarrassed by selling urban hipsters flats in a former girdle factory, they embraced it. A fabulous, huge "Smoothie" sign has been repainted on the side of the building and can be seen from miles away, just as it could in its hey-day. And wonderful original metal Smoothie script logos still adorn the other sides of the building. It's a cinch to see what a waist it would have been if the developers didn't have the guts to keep the girdle theme going, and that's not stretching the truth.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy birthday, Leith

My brother always saw to it that I was well-fed.

Someone driving by asked if we were lost when I got out to take this picture in Leith, North Dakota.

Leith, North Dakota welcomes you... does the Leith Run in Ohio.

Today is my brother Leith's birthday and I wish everyone was lucky enough to have a brother as good as he is. He was my mentor when I was growing up and it seems appropriate that his birthday falls on or near Thanksgiving because I've always been thankful for having him. There's a connection here roadtrip-wise, too. Leith was a bit of a map-savant as a child and always told my parents what route to take and which exit they needed on our many long road excursions. He was only nine, but without his navigation skills, we probably would have wound up in the Georgia swamp or something on the way from Connecticut to Grandma's house in Florida (I, on the other hand, was always content to snooze in the way-back of the station wagon). More recently, Leith's unusual name has popped up on some of our roadtrips. We visited the tiny deserted town of Leith, North Dakota, and passed by the Leith Run near the Ohio River. If anyone out in blogland knows of any other places named Leith, I'd love to add them to our collection. So happy birthday, Leith, and remember: the time to laugh is when the profit is made.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Central Standard Time: Odell, Illinois' antique gas station

A spectacular example of well-preserved Route 66 petrolium-abilia resides in the pleasant little town of Odell, Illinois. A 1932 Standard gas station greets you like a cheery "Howdy" while you're tooling down the mother road. As was typical with other towns along 66, Odell was a bustling community with 10 gas stations up until the interstate was put in, robbing Odell of its traffic and causing most local businesses to disappear. This particular station kept selling gas, though, up until 1967. The station was a body shop up until 1999 and then the village of Odell purchased it for historic preservation. And what a beautiful preservation it is. Crisp blue and white paint, antique pumps, and cool old lettering on the roof shingles. It now serves as a tourism station and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside, friendly folks will give you pens and pads with the nicest town slogan I've ever heard: "A small town with a big heart, where everybody is somebody." We could use more places where everybody is somebody, couldn't we?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rover in a Rover in Thomson, Georgia

Little dogs rule.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Semi-conscious: Trucks seen along the way

Is she supposed to be drinking home heating oil?
Probably the weirdest truck advertisement I've ever seen.

Objet DART

Mmmm...Kozy Shack...

Don't even think of using a radar detector, Mr. Kozy Shack Driver Man

You see a lot of trucks when you're on a roadtrip and to borrow a line from the great Ray Stevens, they're all beautiful in their own way. They make for good pictures out the car window when you're a little bored or stuck in traffic. 10-4, good buddy.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Get a load of this: North Platte, Nebraska's Norge Ball

They've got an awesome water tower in North Platte, too...

...and the grains don't come more amberer or wavier than in Nebraska.

We made an overnight stop in North Platte, Nebraska a few years ago. I had never been to the Cornhusker state before and I really liked it. Nice folks, nice wide open spaces. As is the case with long trips, every few days a laundromat stop is required. We found one in North Platte with a most beguiling sign. An odd globe bedazzled with Wonder Bread style polka-dots beckoned us to the North Platte Wash & Dry. I was three sheets to the wind with awe at its hypnotizing effect. It was dilapidated yet enchanting. I figured it was just a one-off roadside oddity, but upon further research came to find out that a whole chain of 3,400 Norge Village laundromats had these same globes dating back to the early 60s. Debra Jane Seltzer, the awesomest roadside architecture authority of them all, has a whole page of Norge balls on her amazing website. She says only 50 or so exist today, so I'm awash in gratitude to have been in the presence of such a cool one.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Marxism in Moundsville: West Virginia's Marx Toy Museum

If you grew up in the fifties and sixties, you probably played with or watched TV commercials advertising Marx toys. They specialized in plastic figures, including Johnny West and a cadre of Wild West action characters, Big Loo, a space age robot, and the Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots ("hey... you knocked my block off!"). The little northern West Virginia panhandle town of Moundsville (there really is a mound there) is the home of the Marx Toy Museum. In it you will find toys and artifacts from the 1920-70s. It's all the collection of one man and his son, Francis and Jason Turner. None of the toys have been restored; rather, they all look like they've been stashed in an attic or basement for the last half-century, waiting to be put on display in their slightly worn condition. It makes sense to have the museum here, as the nearby town of Glen Dale once hosted Marx's biggest factory. By the 1950s, Louis Marx was the world's most productive toy maker and he even made the cover of Time magazine in 1955. Unfortunately for the local people, he sold the company in 1972 and by 1980 it went out of business. I think my favorite relic on display was the "Ben Hur" action set. Any objet d'Charlton Heston is tops in my book. In fact we give high Marx (p.u., that pun is awful) to the whole place.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Souvenir classic of the week: This car climbed Mt. Washington

The Auto Road is 8 miles long with harrowing hairpins, extereme bends and no guardrails.

The view from the top is a sight to see.

This Mt. Washington stickered car was spotted in Taiwan..

...and this one was seen at Joshua Tree National Park in California.

An early 1930s version of the great Mt. Washington sticker.

New Hampshire's Mt. Washington is the tallest mountain in the northeast and the third tallest in the east. It also proudly bills itself as home of the world's worst weather. If you head up the mountain on a fall, winter or spring day, you could encounter life-threatening changes in weather in a matter of hours. They have an auto road that's a little harrowing but worth it. Oh sure, the views are spectacular, but if you drive up they'll give you a "This car climbed Mt. Washington" bumper sticker. Anyone who lives in the northeast has seen this sticker thousands of times. Made of the finest vinyl, it shows you've got the right stuff when it comes to roadside attractions that require a little get up and go. The Auto Road website has a feature where readers can submit their sticker-bedecked autos from the far reaches of the planet, the furthest being Taiwan. But my favorite is a co-worker of mine's who put one on the back of his office chair, which makes me smile every time I see it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Notable neon of the week: Provincetown, Massachusetts' Lobster Pot

Provincetown, Massachusetts is a beautiful and funky art community that rests on the tip of scenic Cape Cod. My family vacationed there often when I was growing up, and while we never dined at the Lobster Pot restaurant on Commercial Street, its friendly neon lobster was always a landmark to me. After not visiting for many years, I went back to P-town recently and was delighted to see the sign is still there, exactly as it was when I was a kid. And we still didn't dine there.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Roo-ination: Zippy, the University of Akron's kangaroo mascot

Akron, Ohio is a nothern industrial city known for, among other things, being the hometown of Goodyear Rubber. It's also on the way to lots of places if you're driving from the east to the west. We have a good friend who teaches at the University of Akron who we always stop in and see on our road trips. I didn't realize the university had an unusual mascot, though, until our last trip. Wildcat? No. Cougar? Nada. Kangaroo? Ding, ding, ding! Zippy the Kangaroo, to be precise, who has been their beloved mascot since 1953. Why Akron picked an Australian marsupial is a bit of a mystery, but the incongruity makes it tops in my book. I suppose kangaroos are fast, agile and determined, all good traits in a college sports mascot, but it's still a bit kooky. Zippy is also a female, one of only a few female college sports mascots in the country and certainly the only one with a pouch. Capital One (the credit card company) sponsors a college mascot popularity contest (and you thought those high credit card interest rates were only used to line greedy corporate CEOs' pockets...well, they are, but they also put UAkron on the map). Zippy has been chosen number one on more than one occasion, giving Rootown something to cheer about. Take that, Kent State!