In case you guys haven’t gathered, I am a total roadside attraction nut.
You know how people obsessively quote movies?
“Party on, Garth! Party on, Wayne!”
Umm… I might’ve actually just had to Google that to get it right. I have a terrible memory, and I’m pretty reserved, but if you want to see me light up and ramble like a psychopath, just ask me about the world’s largest ball of twine.
Without any reference materials, I can tell you there are actually three that contend for the title – one in Minnesota, one in Kansas and one in Missouri. The one in Missouri is actually the least interesting, residing in a Ripley’s Believe It or Not (a chain I was so obsessed with as a child that it was my first ever bucket list item before I knew what a bucket list item was – to visit every single one of them). It is actually the tallest of the three, but the lightest.
The original is the one in Minnesota. It’s housed in this weird little pagoda and to get there you also pass the world’s largest fiberglass chicken and the world’s largest snowman (although I suppose the direction you approach the twine ball could alter this).
Finally, the coolest of the three is in Kansas where each August they actually have a twine-a-thon and add more twine. There is a gift shop (a key piece of criteria for any proper roadside attraction). You can wander around the downtown area following a string of “twine” painted on the sidewalk and check out murals and other twine themed things.
So. I get a little excited about this stuff. To my utter delight, so does my current cast. Between the last few months, a best friend who is often up for road-tripping and my own driving across the country a few times, I’ve seen a lot of weird roadside stuff.
To make roadside attractions even better, they’re often very cheap, if not totally free.
Lesson #1: Sometimes You Get What You Pay For
Exhibit A: A piece of the Blarney Stone in Shamrock, Texas. Literally just a tiny hunk of cement in the ground.
Exhibit B: The Yo-Yo Museum in Chico, CA. There’s so much they could do to actually make that museum fun and they haven’t.
Lesson #2: Proper Preparation is Key
I’m not saying you can’t just accidentally stumble across something awesome – we found the World’s Largest Chili Pepper and the World’s Largest Pistachio on the same day without even trying. I don’t think my cast even knew what to do with me, I was so over the moon.
However, this is pretty rare. Most good attractions require some research, because the adventure and the hunt are part of the fun. Also, people don’t usually just build the world’s largest something or other in the middle of a metropolis. They are usually bored out of their mind in the middle of nowhere.
Also, some attractions should be seen at certain times of the year, you know, like when they’re actually open.
Exhibit A: 1880s Town. Totally closed. Completely not even worth the trip. Also a freezing, wind tunnel, death trap.
Exhibit B: Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. The best time to see it is not while they’re changing out all the husks for next year and the place is surrounded by trailers.
Lesson #3: Turn Lemons Into Lemonade
A lot of the cool roadside things are 10,000 times cooler because of what we did when we got to them.
Exhibit A: Murals in the Middle of the Desert. Once we pulled over on the side of the road and took a bunch of pictures with this mural painted on a deserted jerky store in the middle of the desert.
Exhibit B: Strange Mini-Golf. We also went to this really cheap mini-golf in Wisconsin where each hole was sponsored by some local business, but most of them were built so kids could play on them. We rode a night gear see-saw sponsored by the local dentist. It was so strange, but so much fun since we approached it with a “why not” attitude.
Lesson #4: Practice Makes… Better
Believe it or not, road-tripping is kind of an art form. I’m pretty good at knowing where to scour the internet to check for fun stuff. I have a good eye for what’s not worth visiting (although, as we’ve seen above, no matter how much you travel, some things are still hit or miss).
Like anything else, the more you do something, the quicker you’ll be able to separate the chaff from the wheat (mostly by accessing your own internal database of fails).