Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The envelope, please: The Concrete Potato Awards for 2010

As 2010 comes to a close, it's time for our annual Concrete Potato Awards, given for excellence in eccentric roadside attractions we've been to in the last year. Named after the Idaho Potato Expo, seen in the masthead of this blog, it been a tradition here at Eccentric Roadside for over a 50th of a century. It was tough to whittle the nominees down to 10, but whittle we did and now, without further ado and in no particular order we present this year's Concreteys (and remember, it's an honor just to be nominated...)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Eccentric Rhode-side Christmas Part 2: Santa-ized for your protection

Who says a portable toilet rental company and septic service can't get into the Christmas spirit? Certainly not the proprietors of Diffley & Daughters of East Greenwich, Rhode Island. They've got one of their violet-colored commodes festively decorated with twinkling (or is it tinkling?) lights and a jolly, inflatable Santa who has been ho-ho-holding it for as long as he can and is about to bring new meaning to the term "yule log". And where are they located? Why, on Route 2, of course. So I think I speak for all of us in the Ocean State when I say "Wee wish you a Merry Christmas."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Eccentric Rhode-side Christmas, Part 1: The Big Blue Bug

Fleas navidad!

The Big Blue Bug in the off-season

My adopted home state of Rhode Island is no slouch when it comes to nice Christmas light displays. You've got your elegant seaport decorations in Newport, your stately Blithewold Mansion of Bristol, and your greeting card-worthy Providence City Hall Christmas tree. For my money, though, it isn't really Chritsmas in the Ocean State until New England Pest Control lights up their giant blue termite off I-95 in Providence. Since 1980, the pest removal company has had a 58-foot long, 9-foot tall, 4000-pound termite on top of their headquarters. Nibbles Woodaway, as he is known, is a beloved icon to all Rhode Islanders, although most natives refer to him simply as the Big Blue Bug. Around the holidays, he is decked with thousands of blue lights and his head is fitted with electric antlers and a blinking red nose, making him Nibbles The Red-Nosed Mutant Termite Reindeer Thing. Here's a special Christmas Big Blue Bug director's cut cinema verite (in other words, I shot it with my point-and-shoot and it goes on a little too long):

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Fill 'er up with nostalgia: Shea's Gas Station Museum of Springfield, Illinois

Bill Shea Sr.

Bill Shea, Jr.

We drove down a nice chunk of Route 66 in Illinois in 2009 and stopped at a must-see along the Mother Road: Shea's Gas Station Museum in Springfield. Bill Shea, a gas man since the late '40s, turned his vintage former Texaco and Marathon filling station into a petroliana museum, stuffed with old gas pumps, oil cans, phone booths, signs, an Airstream trailer, Ward school bus and other mementos of the golden age of American roadside travel. Bill is in his 80s now and can still be found holding court at his station, but his son Bill Jr. does most of the meeting and greeting of tourists who have come from all 50 states and over 80 countries to get the full Route 66 experience. A second, even older 1920s filling station was moved to the property in 2000 and has been fully restored. It's a great place to poke around and smell the fumes of yesteryear for anyone old enough to remember when gas stations had hoses that rang bells and you got double Green Stamps with every fill-up. So pull on in to Shea's when you're in's a premium experience that will improve your smilage.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Unfortunately named business of the week

WDEF is a TV and radio station in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Some thoughts:

  • I hope they offer closed-captioning.
  • I believe their call-letters were formerly WHAT? and they have a sister station WDUM.
  • Maybe their name means "cool" in a 1990s urban vernacular "Def Comedy Jam" way. I'd be jiggy with that.

Signing off now.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Here's looking at me, kid: Bad self-portraits from my last trip

My good friend Denise takes great pictures and has mastered the art of the arm-extended point-and-shoot self-portrait like no other. I took a stab at this genre on my last solo roadtrip through the deep south and found it took me many, many tries to get the "perfect" shot. And then I found that the shots I liked even more than the perfect ones were the truly awful, amateurish shots made on the way to the perfect ones. And so, without further ado and in the spirit of Saturday Night Live's Leonard Pinth-Garnell, I bring you...


A cut-off face blocking a cut-off sign. Awful.

I didn't do too bad shooting the Alabama-Tennessee state line sign in this one, but at least I cut off my face awkwardly, as I did in these next two:

This was shot in Anniston, Alabama at the World's Biggest Office Chair which you can just barely see over my crudely shot shoulder.

Me, blurry and off-kilter, at Mammy's Cupboard, Natchez, Mississippi (and the photo's blurry and off-kilter, too).

The sign in the lower left corner says "Welcome to Louisiana" but you'd never know it in this terrible shot.

This one's so bad, I'm not sure what was supposed to be in the background.

Yep, that's my cheek and sunglasses at Oprah's home site in Koskiusko, Mississippi.

And last but not least: some roadside grass, a stop sign and half of my face. Appalling.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Crappie and proud of it: Centre, Alabama

Everyone is good at something, I like to think, and the good people of Centre, Alabama want you to know they're the crappie capital of the world, crappie being a freshwater fish in the sunfish family. They take their bragging rights because of nearby crappie-tastic Weiss Lake. Seems like there's an Abbott and Costello routine in here somewhere: How's the crappie fishing? Crappy. Yes. What? The fishing? Crappy. I know it is. You know it's what? Crappie!

So here's to you, Centre: keep that crappie attitude going.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Most smiles are started by another smile

This bit of whimsy was spotted in the charming seaport town of Gloucester, Massachusetts. The viewer is one of those classic binocular sight-seeing devices manufactured by the Tower Optical Company, in business for 77 years. You know you're at a great old-time tourist place when you see one of those babies and I really love how they haven't been modernized much over the years. The smile comes courtesy of an anonymous, yet brilliant artist. Picasso himself couldn't have done a better job. Funny how one curved line of graffiti can really make your day.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Incredi-bull: The Pike County Cattlemen and Cattlewomen's big steel bull of Troy, Alabama

Anatomically correct, don't you know.

It's always a delight to come across an unexpected over-sized roadside bovine sculpture while tooling down the side streets of this great land of ours. I had just such a pleasure while cruising along Highway 231 in southeastern Alabama. Parked proudly on a trailer hitch outside the Pike County Cattlemen Park in the town of Troy was a spectacular steel bull, smiling at all passers-by. He's the apparent mascot of the Pike County Cattlemen's Association, and I hear they put on a heck of a rodeo at their indoor facility, including saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, breakaway roping, and my personal favorite: cowgirl barrel racing. It's the home of the Troy University Rodeo Team, the Trojan Stampede, and host of high school and junior rodeos, too. I couldn't find any information on who the artist of this masterpiece is, or if the mascot has a name. I vote for Roy, if anyone is asking. So if you find yourself in Pike County, do yourself a solid and "steer" your vehicle to Cattlemen's Park. Not to do so would be incomprehensi-bull.