Saturday, November 27, 2010

Happy birthday, Leith

Leith and me in the "way back" of our awesome 1961 Chevy station wagon, circa 1964.

Today is my brother Leith's birthday and a fellow could not ask for a better sibling. He's my "big" brother, and although I'm a little bigger than he is physically, I've always seen him as a much bigger man than me. Roadtrip-wise, we've had many fun and funny shared experiences, especially on the long trips my family would take driving from Connecticut to Florida to visit my grandparents when we were young. Those trips left an indelible image on me and I'm sure my love of long driving trips today comes from those journeys we took when I was a kid. Back then, he and I would ride around in the back of our giant Ford or Chevy station wagon, with the backseat folded down! In today's era of seat belts, airbags and child fortification, it's amazing to think of the free reign we had within a car going 65 miles per hour (with a dog and cat in tow, no less). We always went to Florida in the summer, too, so all the car windows were down all the time. This wind tunnel effect would drive me insane today but back then it didn't seem to bother us at all. It did cause the lid of our Spirograph set to disengage itself from its box and fly out the window, completely on its own mind you, somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic region, though. Leith and I both witnessed this aberration and still laugh about it today... just one of the many great memories of growing up with a great brother. Happy birthday, Leith...a tip-o-the hat and thanx!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving from Turkeytown

Today is Thanksgiving and I'm thankful to live in a country full of small communities with whimsical names, like Turkeytown, Alabama. I had the pleasure of driving unexpectedly through Turkeytown last fall and had to do a U-turn to snap a picture to document my delight at such a wonderful place. A Google search shows Alabama isn't the only state graced with a Turkeytown: there's a Turkeytown, Pennsylvania, a Turkeytown, Kentucky, and a Turkeytown, Tennessee. North Carolina has a town named Turkey, so that's a Turkey town too. And, of course, Istanbul is a Turkey town, but on a much grander scale. Pass the gravy.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Unfortunately named business of the week

Gross Furniture of Trenton, Georgia.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Well, Gaaaw-lee! Sylacauga, Alabama -- Hometown of Jim Nabors

The great Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle, USMC

Jim has also had a successful career as a singer with an incongruously beautiful baritone voice.

They're proud of Jim in Talladega County, where they've named Highway 280 after him.

Comer and Gomer: Sylacauga's Isabel Comer Museum and Arts Center houses a collection of Jim Nabors memorabilia...

...and the sign said they were open (lovely magnolias, too)...

...but alas it was not meant to be. Here's what I saw through the window.

Downtown Sylacauga...

...where, appropriately enough, there is a U.S. Marine Corps recruiting station... well as a variety of prosperous businesses and houses of worship.

Jim went to to high school in Sylacauga...

...home of the fighting Aggies.

It's always nice when someone from a small town hits the big time. Grand Island, Nebraska has their Henry Fonda; Wallace, Idaho has their Lana Turner; and the central Alabama town of Sylacauga has TV's Gomer Pyle himself, the great Jim Nabors, as their home town hero. I took a ride through Sylacauga last September to take in its small town Southern ambiance. Unfortunately, I picked a day when the Isabel Comer Museum and Arts Center, which houses a Jim Nabors gallery full of memorabilia, was of the hazards of traveling to out of the way places with good things to see. Oh well, it's still a nice place to take a stroll and smell the magnolias. Jim was born and grew up in Sylacauga and sang in the high school glee club. Later, he moved to California where he created a nightclub act that featured a slack-jawed Southern simpleton character and was seen by Andy Griffith. This was the inspiration for his signature character on the Andy Griffith Show, filling station attendant Gomer Pyle. Dimwitted but good-natured, Gomer was then spun off into his own show, Gomer Pyle, USMC, with the sublime Frank Sutton as blustering Sgt. Carter ("PY-Y-YLE!"). Gomer became such a part of the pop culture that he can be heard on Pink Floyd's The Wall album and he's referenced in Stanley Kubrick's dark military drama Full Metal Jacket. Jim also had a successful singing career and recorded many albums with his unlikely operatic baritone voice. He continues to perform concerts today and has sung "Back Home Again" at the start the Indianapolis 500 auto race 30 times. He's got his own website which reports he has been made an honorary Lance Corporal by Gen. James Jones, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Flush with excitement: Happy World Toilet Day

Firehouse 13, an art gallery in Providence, Rhode Island, prepares to exhibit childrens' artwork commemmorating the worthy cause of World Toilet Day. (Providence Journal photo by my pal Sandor Bodo)

Today is World Toilet Day, and before you start snickering, there's actually a serious cause behind it and commemmorating it should be both Number 1 and Number 2 on your "to do" list for today. Here's a link to read some more about it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hey, hey Ralphie Boy! The Westbrook, Connecticut Library's Art Carney Media Center

Art played Felix in the original "The Odd Couple" on Broadway, opposite Walter Matthau.

An Asian "Harry & Tonto" poster

Art's Purple Heart

This fine drawing of Art was done by his granddaughter Kirsten Reifheiss

All this and much more can be found at the Westbrook, Conn. Public Library

"How would you like to go through life with your name synonymous with sewage?" Art Carney once asked a newspaper columnist, but his portrayal of loyal, lovably dimwitted sewer worker Ed Norton on TV's "The Honeymooners" forever put him among TV's greatest characters and actors. The perfect foil to Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden, Carney's Norton was Laurel to Gleason's Hardy. I've watched episodes of "The Honeymooners" literally hundreds of times and I still marvel at Carney's delivery and rubber band-like body movements. When Norton has to play "Swanee River" to warm up every time he sits at the piano, you get the feeling that was something Carney did in his real life. And Norton having to throw his arms out and pick every bit of imaginary lint off the typewriter, document, or pool table he's in front of to the chagrin of an ever-agitated Kramden is sheer genius.

Art's career was more than just Ed Norton, though. In addition to playing other characters on Gleason's variety show, he was the first actor to play Felix Ungar in the original Broadway version of "The Odd Couple" opposite Walter Matthau. When he was in his early 50s, he played a man in his 70s and won an Oscar as Harry in 1974's "Harry and Tonto."

Art Carney adopted the small Connecticut shoreline town of Westbrook, about 100 miles east of New York City, as his home in 1952 and raised his family there. He and his wife Jean were active in the town and she and their son Paul still reside in Westbrook (Art died in 2003). As a tribute to their famous resident, the Westbrook Public Library has named an area of their building the Art Carney Media Center. There, you can find Carney photos and movie posters and a case filled with mementos from Art's illustrious career (in addition to his Oscar, he won six Emmy awards and was nominated for a Tony). The display was put together by Westbrook residents Shirley Lusk and Beverly Schirmeier, who went to great lengths to acquire old Broadway playbills and other items including Art's Purple Heart received for duty during World War II.

No fan of "The Honeymooners" or Art Carney should miss this loving tribute. It's a regular riot, pal.

(And we'd like to extend a warm Eccentric Roadside tip-o-the-hat to librarian Lew Daniels for talking with us and letting us shoot pictures. How sweet it is!)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday, November 5, 2010

The thrill of vic-tow-ry: Chattanooga, Tennessee's International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame & Museum

Of all the great tow truck-themed quilts out there...

...I like this one best.

A classy Caddy wrecker

Ernest Holmes, father of the tow truck, and his wife Hattie

No tow truck driver can refuse any request on his daughter's wedding day.

So that's who snatched my cradle.

Certified, for your protection.

Olaf Ekengard, Class of 1986

Russell Iodice, Class of 1995

Al Gregg, Class of 2005

...and the whole gang of 2003.

We'll go anywhere there's a museum devoted to an unusual subject. Barbed wire museum? Been there. Banana museum? You betcha. Tow truck museum? Funny you should ask, because there's an outstanding one in Chattanooga, Tennessee that I had the good fortune to visit last September. The International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame & Museum houses restored antique wreckers, towing-themed toys, sculpture, artwork, multimedia, ephemera, quilts, you name it. And there's a Hall of Fame, another one of our favorite eccentric roadside attractions, devoted to the movers and shakers of the recovery industry. Towing is to Chattanooga as cars are to Detroit and beer is to Milwaukee: the world's first wrecker was fabricated only three and a half miles from the museum's address by the Ernest Holmes Company back in 1916. The Hall of Fame has over 300 inductees from around the world who have distinguished themselves in their field. And there's a serious side to towing the layman may not consider: the Tow Truck Association of America estimates 60 operators are killed nationally each year, equal to the number of police and paramedics killed along the roadside. A tribute to these drivers is paid in the form of the Wall of the Fallen and sculpture garden in front of the museum.

I couldn't help but wonder if any of the museum's 10,000 annual visitors have ever broken down in the parking lot and had to call a tow truck. That would be quite a memen-tow.