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March 2, 2013

You know you’re in Yooper territory when…

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You know you're in Yooper territory when the most popular vegetable in the store is rutabaga... a key ingredient in pasties.

You know you’re in Yooper territory when the most popular vegetable in the store is rutabaga… which is a key ingredient in pasties.

January 5, 2013

Unnecessary Invention of the Day

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Unnecessary invention of the day. Holed hot dog buns.

Call me a traditionalist, but I really don’t see myself messing with hot dog buns with a hole in the middle.

Spotted at Miesfeld’s Meats in Sheboygan, WI.

December 28, 2012

Ummmm.

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Ummmm.

Was visiting my friend Jeanette in Lansing this week, and we couldn’t resist the Michigan State University Surplus Store. That’s where the university unloads all kinds of random things… like these old microscope slide drawers.

November 25, 2012

Oh Liam.

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Oh Liam.

It doesn’t take much to entertain Liam.

November 4, 2012

Candyland

gum

lifesaver

Our budge hotel in Grand Rapids is a veritable Candyland. Lifesavers on the floor, Tic Tacs in the hall, gum on the doorstop (all on display for the entire three days we were here). Ewww.

gum

September 23, 2012

There’s a Washington Theme in the Land of Lincoln

There’s a Washington Theme in the Land of Lincoln

A shabby replica of the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon, IL

We were in the Land of Lincoln, but George Washington has claimed a bit of southern Illinois. Mount Vernon, IL, takes its name from George’s Virginia home, but with streets like Potomac Boulevard and a mini (and slightly shabby) Washington Monument in town, it’s all about our nation’s first prez.

April 14, 2012

Talking Animals in Louisiana

Talking Animals in Louisiana

Atchafalaya Welcome Center, Gross Tete, LA

It might seem hokey, but the talking raccoon, turtle, alligator, and pelican at the Atchafalaya Welcome Center near Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, is pretty well done. The stop gave us a nice introduction to Cajun Country.

Atchafalaya Welcome Center, Gross Tete, LA

April 6, 2012

Aw Nutz, They’re Closed

Aw Nutz, They’re Closed

Gettin' a roadside attraction fix this morning.

We got to see the giant squirrel, but no nuts at 8am in Sinton, TX.

March 30, 2012

Journey to the Center of the World

Journey to the Center of the World

Chapel at the Center of the world -- Yuma, AZ

From the highway, it looked like a cute, little church on the top of an enormous, man-made hill… just the type of roadside attraction we couldn’t resist. Signs declared “The History of the World in Granite” and “The Center of World.” It was the combination of a church + someone’s version of history + reference to the center of the world had us concerned. Might we be spending our afternoon among recruiters from a cult?

A bronze statue of The Hand of God from the Sistine Chapel pointed to a modern granite pyramid which was flanked by a gift shop on one side and a museum on the other. Beyond the pyramid, hundreds of feet of granite slabs pointed toward the church on the hill. It looked a bit like aliens installed a desert version of their crop circles and ended up with triangular arrows.

Looking for Answers

Confused, we poked our heads into the museum and were greeted by a letter signed by Ronald Reagan and a dozen plastic yard chairs pointed at a dark television. Across the courtyard, a girl in the shop waved to us. We marched passed the pyramid to the store counter.

“Hello,” the girl chirped. She was young and pregnant and didn’t bear any signs of a cult… unless she was about to bear the Anti-Christ or something. “Admission is three dollars per person unless you want to go into the pyramid and see the center of the world. That’s another two dollars.”

Liam confessed his confusion. “What is this place?”

“It’s the history of the world in granite.” She proceeded to mention the history of mankind, the history of Arizona (which was just finished), the history of California (which hadn’t been completed yet), the history of the French Foreign Legion, and then she told us details like the dimensions of the slabs of granite.

“Huh?”

“There’s a video included with your tour. That explains everything,” she assured us.

We followed her back to the museum where she cued up the DVD. “When you finish the movie, you can check out the History of the World and the church.”

The film showed images of military leaders, clergy, even a French ambassador attending events at the site.

Apparently, the center of the pyramid had been recognized by the State of California AND the country of France as the official Center of the World, but the only explanation as to why was a passing reference to some obscure children’s book.

The movie quickly shifted its focus to the History of the World in Granite. Again, never really telling us why here, why granite… except that it would last long after we are gone. Then again, what else would you put at the Center of the World, right?

Wandering History

Although arranged like a formal garden, the even rows of granite slabs created a disorientating labyrinth. The panels looked like oversized pages from a gradeschool textbook… words, pictures, diagrams, all carved in stone. The information was straightforward, but its editorial bent, well, that appeared to be random.

There were several engraved quotes that suggested the site is intended for those who come after us… human or otherwise, but I dare say they will find us a mysterious lot. The evolution from ape to man was placed next to a copy of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The French Foreign Legion had it’s own row. Chronology provided but a loose guide for how things were presented.

After walking across the granite field, I climbed the steps to the church. It was as charming up close as from the highway. A simple, peaceful room with doors on one side and windows on the other.

What Did It All Mean?

The two girls in the gift shop stayed open twenty minutes late to answer all our questions. The funny thing was they were unfazed when they didn’t understand some of the “big picture” questions we presented. I was a bit envious of their “that’s just the way it is” attitude.

Here’s what I gathered from the visit… not sure it’s entirely accurate, but this isn’t the type of place where everything needs to make sense to be interesting.

  • The entire experience is an evolving brainchild of a guy named Jacques-Andre Istel… he invented the town, serves as its mayor, convinced a few people to recognize it as the Center of the World, and built a roadside attraction.
  • Among the things to see… the pyramid marking the Center of the World (because pyramids belong in the desert), a set of original stairs from Eiffel Tower (because that’s just cool), a church (because every town needs one), a restaurant (that is only open for one meal a day), a gift shop (that sells just about anything), and the field of granite slabs engraved with the history of the world (which has become Istel’s focus).
  • Istel seems to be an interesting, eccentric… if not slightly off-kilter guy. He clearly must be quite charismatic… not many could convince so many to buy into this type of dream. Unfortunately, he was at a doctor’s appointment so we didn’t get to meet him.
  • There are no apologies made for NOT being able to cover ALL of human history, but I think that’s because if Istel had his way, eventually EVERYTHING would be included. For now, it all depends on which donors open up their wallets.
  • I’m glad I saw the place now, and that I’ll be able to stop again, because I have a feeling there will always be something new in the works. Therefore, it’s better to start taking it in now.

Read More from Roadside America>>

March 19, 2012

That Creepy Van… It’s Following You

That Creepy Van… It’s Following You

We had to call the Arizona Highway Patrol on these crazy people who were trying to get us to pull off the highway.

There’s not much on Arizona Highway 85 between Gila Bend and Buckeye… a landfill, some mountains, a small school.. no gas stations, no rest stops. The road is busy with trucks bypassing Phoenix on their way to and from Los Angeles, but off the blacktop, it’s just desert and rocks.

… desert and rocks and one creepy, old, blue conversion van. That’s the vehicle that pulled alongside us and the passenger tried giving us a message. He was in his sixties, stringy grey hair, and teeth missing from his mouth. He held a small pad of paper to his windshield and pointed toward it with a black-rimmed fingernail. Liam thought he must have been trying to warn us about the dust cloud a few miles off, so he gave the man a nod.

The van crept in front of us, then pulled onto the shoulder of the road rousting up a blanket of dust. We drove on, but kept one eye on the road behind us. Sure enough, the man and his driver pulled back on the road… then inched back alongside us. The man motioned for Liam to open his window. Down zipped the glass, and the man used a form of rough sign language as he spoke, “A rock… from your tires… hit our windshield.”

Liam nodded and said, “oh.”

Again they crept in front of us. The driver was a woman looking very similar to the man… only her face was rounder, and she kept her head a bit too close to her knuckles clutching the steering wheel, and her somewhat glazed-over eyes stared directly in front of her… Not even a glance in either direction.

Once in front of us, they pulled off the road again. They wanted us to stop. Our first reaction was to follow their lead… they must need us. Our gut told us “no way.” A half-second later, our logic concurred.

Calling for Backup?

Once we passed, they were soon on our tail, following about three car lengths behind us. I looked at Liam and said, “Do you think Arizona has some law that says we’re supposed to stop.” Neither of us thought so, but we called our friend Betty to confirm.

“Don’t pull off,” Betty insisted, “that is no reason to stop for these people.”

Fifteen minutes later, the van was still behind us keeping the exact same distance no matter what speed we drove.

“Should I call the highway patrol?” I asked.

“Maybe you should.”

Neither of felt we were in immediate danger, but we didn’t know what was up with these folks. What might they do when we finally do pull off the road?

I tried to find a non-emergency number, but finally called 911. After the list of standard questions, the dispatcher reiterated, “Don’t pull off the road. We’ve got a sergeant in the area and he wants to catch up to you.”

As the dispatcher was trying to pinpoint our location, the van pulled up beside us again. I gave the dispatcher a play-by-play.

“The guy just yelled that he needs our contact information. He has a pad of paper. Liam just yelled back, ‘Call your insurance company.’ The guy just said, ‘Oh, okay…’ like he’s satisfied with that. They’re pulling in front of us. Now they’re pulling ahead.”

“Is the vehicle still in sight?”

“Yes, but not for much longer.”

After a moment she replied, “The sergeant is trying to determine if he should try to catch up to them and pull them over. It doesn’t look like he’s close enough, but he’d like to talk to you. Can he meet you at the next exit.”

“Of course.”

A few minutes later, we were standing beside a squad car recounting the story. He was quick to point out that a rock hitting a windshield is a road hazard… it’s not even considered a “collision” unless there’s $1,000 worth of damage. He did point out that if we were hauling rocks and one fell off, that would be a different story, but as he said, “you certainly aren’t hauling rocks.”

We confessed that we felt a little embarrassed for making him come out, but he was gracious. His point of view was that they could have been planning a scam or could have been carrying a weapon, and he said, “I’d rather be having this conversation with you than the alternative.”

So for all our friends who were concerned when I posted the photo above on Facebook, we were never in danger… just in the middle of a very strange situation. We played it extra safe and everything turned out okay.