Friday, May 28, 2010

Come and listen to a story about a shop named J.E.D.'s: J E D's Rock Treasures of Tucson, Arizona

On your way to (or from) Tucson, Arizona's cactus-tacular Sonora Desert Museum, you'll pass by an unassuming but delightful eccentric roadside attraction on North Sandario Road: J E D's Rock Treasures. I'm trying to get a fix on the correct spelling of their name -- the letters J, E and D are usually capitalized but not always and sometimes they're followed by periods, as if they're abbreviating a proper name or phrase. But not always.

J E D's is a mineral, sea shell, fossil, crystal, jewelry and gift emporium of the highest order, surrounded by a funky rock garden strewn with antique implements and a table and chairs shaded by what looks like an ingeniously inverted former TV satellite dish. Mixed in with the agates, polished rocks and geological wonders are a quirky assortment of earthy objet d'art, many with a Arizona desert theme, and all at reasonable prices.

I did an internet search on J E D's and found this sad note posted on 5/26/10 attached to an EBay classified ad: "These people lost their home to a lightning strike. They can use any sales they can get. I am posting this ad to help them. The rock shop escaped damage, but their home was gutted. Thank you for your help. They would never ask."

Places like this are a true treasure, indeed, and we hope the proprietors of J.E.D.'s get over their troubles and will continue to rock on.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Taking a toll: Stratford, Connecticut's decomissioned toll booth plaza in a park

A Merritt Parkway toll plaza in the 1950s

With its beautiful tree-canopied lanes and Art Deco, Gothic, French Renaissance and Art Moderne bridges (thanks,, southwestern Connecticut's Merritt Parkway really is a "park" way. Otherwise known as Route 15, it starts at the New York state line in Greenwich and continues 37.5 miles to Stratford (where it then continues another 29 miles on into Meriden as the Wilbur Cross Parkway). A pre-Interstate highway Depression-era project, the first section of the parkway was opened in 1938 and featured a scenic wooded layout, rustic signage, and beautifully designed period overpasses. With only two lanes going in either direction and no commercial vehicles or advertising allowed, this truly was and still is "the scenic route" with picnicking along the roadside not uncommon, even up until the '60s. Built for a different and slower era of road travel, it can be a little harrowing getting on and off the road today, with cars whizzing by at 70 miles per hour, but it's still a thrill to ride down this beautiful museum of a highway.

Stratford's Boothe Memorial Park and Museum sits on 32 bucolic acres near exit 53 off the Merritt and it contains an awesome eccentric roadside attraction: a decommissioned Merritt Parkway toll booth plaza (Connecticut did away with highway tolls in the late '80s). The fact that the park is actually named Boothe is an unintended eccentric bonus you couldn't make up. Among the blacksmith shop, clocktower museum, rose gardens and rolling green fields sits the former Milford toll plaza, like a fish out of water. I'm a little confused, though..since Milford is east of Stratford, isn't this a Wilbur Cross toll plaza? Anywho, I love seeing mundane everyday objects in an out-of-context location, and this one really fits the bill. Upon seeing it, I was reminded of my old high school and college friend Kurt, who had a summer job in this very booth many years ago. He was studying the french horn and would practice in his booth during his lonely 12-7am graveyard shift. Now, that's an eccentric roadside attraction.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bang, zoom! New York City's Ralph Kramden statue

Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden: Bus Driver, Raccoon Lodge Treasurer, Dreamer

How sweet it is that the folks at the TV Land network would erect an 8-foot statue of the great Jackie Gleason as lovable loser Ralph Kramden from "The Honeymooners" in front of New York City's Port Authority bus station, where 7000 buses arrive and depart every day. Kramden drove the Madison Avenue bus for the Gotham Bus Company and he was always coming up with get rich schemes that would ultimately fail, usually in concert with his dimwitted pal Norton (Art Carney) and much to the chagrin of his long-suffering practical wife Alice (Audrey Meadows). The "classic 39" half-hour black and white episodes are from 1955-56, but "The Honeymooners" existed in sketch form on Gleason's variety show before this and they continued on Gleason's other shows and specials on into the 1970s. At the statue, I was a little annoyed with one fellow who appeared to be in no mood to move off his perch in order to let an out of town eccentric roadside attraction fan snap a few unfettered portraits, but I didn't say anything, fearing all that would come out would be a Gleasonesque "homina, homina. homina." I would have liked to have debated which is the better "Honeymooners" episode -- "The Chef of the Future" or "The Man from Space" -- but he just didn't seem that approachable. Oh well. So, here's to you,, you're the greatest.

Friday, May 14, 2010

I'm gonna live forever: Some Halls of Fame seen along the way

Elkhart, Indiana

Past inductees Eldon Coons and Roger Reynolds.

Jamestown, North Dakota

Jamestown has the world's largest buffalo statue, the National Buffalo Museum and, of course, the Buffalo Hall of Fame.

Akron, Ohio

Past inductees Phillip P. Gates and Glenn E. Walker.

Blackfoot, Idaho
Ricahard Polatis and Daniel Polatis were inducted in 2009.

One of the pleasures of stopping at eccentric roadside attractions is unexpectedly coming across a Hall of Fame devoted to an unusual subject. Potatoes, RVs, Ohio bands and buffaloes may not seem to have much in common but each has a Hall of Fame in its honor with a wall of inductees' plaques proudly on display. What I'd like to see is a Hall of Fame Hall of Fame with all the best Halls of Fame honored with wall plaques. Kudos to all the honorees in these hallowed Halls. You've done your field proud and, even though it's an honor just to be nominated, to be in the rarefied air of the cream of your chosen crop is an even bigger accomplishment. Light up the sky like a, we'll remember your name.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Clarion my wayward son: Scenes from a Pennsylvania off-ramp

There's a melancholy je ne sais quois to Interstate highway off-ramps. Among the mundane motels, gas stations and McDonald's that populate these places is a sad beauty, a longing for something. Exit 62 off of I-80 in Clarion, Pennsylvania seems typical of the feeling you get driving cross country. It's new but familiar, exciting but boring, beautiful but ugly. You've never been here before, but, yet, you feel you have. And those really, really tall signs put up to be seen from the highway have a scary surreal quality up close. Are these the signs future hipsters will be nostalgically longing for fifty years from now or are they just mundane road markers waiting to be replaced? Only time will tell.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Bet you really can eat just one: The world's biggest Pringle of Blackfoot, Idaho

Thank God these food engineers use their power for good and not evil.

We have yet to be disappointed at seeing anything that bills itself as the "world's biggest," whatever it may be. This was especially true when we were at the Idaho Potato Expo of Blackfoot, Idaho, a place where they take their taters seriously (it's the beloved location of our Eccentric Roadside banner at the top of the blog). They have the world's biggest potato "crisp" on display there, but first, a quick review: a potato "crisp" is made from processed, dehydrated potatoes ala Pringles; a potato "chip" is a thin slice of fresh potato crisply fried ala Lays. And it isn't just us mooks at Eccentric Roadside determining this earth-shattering's in the holy grail of all things record-breaking: the Guinness. It was made by the clever food engineers at Proctor and Gamble, back in 1991 on what one would assume was a rather slow day at the Pringle factory, and measures 25 x 14 inches and weighs 5.4 ounces. And if you're on Jenny Craig, this probably isn't the crisp for you: it's 920 calories, equal to 80 regular can-sized Pringles. The Potato Expo is one of the all-time great eccentric roadside attractions we've been to, so keep your eyes peeled the next time you're in's a delight for grownups and tots alike.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Udder delight: Salem Sue, the world's largest Holstein cow of New Salem, North Dakota

This post is a rerun from last year, but I was in the mooood for a big cow today so here it is:

North Dakota offers a glittering array of eccentric roadside attractions for those willing to pull off the Interstate and gawk, not the least of which is Salem Sue, who bills herself as the world's biggest Holstein cow. Seems funny they have to add "Holstein" to the title... does another state have the world's biggest Jersey or Hereford? One can only hope. Salem Sue was built as a tribute to the local dairy farmers by the New Salem Lions Club and she stands 38 feet high and 50 feet long. She sits high on a hill and can be seen from Interstate 94. She's made of the finest fiberglass money can buy and is beautifully painted. The drive from the highway to Sue builds up anticipation, as you can see her profile off in the distance, as well as "New Salem" proudly spelled out in rockwork on the hill. Not a heck of a lot else to see here folks, just a really big cow, but how can you not stop? That would be udderly ridiculous.