For an American, it’s quite the shock to learn that many of our European friends think an hour-long drive is absurd. Travel is a necessary part of life in the U.S., and we’re used to it. Even those of us who bike or walk everywhere can tolerate being stuck in a car for a long time. The “road trip” is a well-known and frequent rite for us Americans: we do it for work, we do it for family, we do it for fun. And regardless of what sends us on our way, we’re always well-prepared for the journey and its hazards of tedium. We fend off boredom with carefully curated playlists, a book or three, good company, and stops at places that strike our fancy.
That last inclination made a niche which has been filled by what I find to be the most bizarre phenomenon: the roadside attraction. A 50ft tall plaster dinosaur. Why? A giant chair? A giant cow? They’re not all giant, lumpy sculptures, but they certainly are all strange, random, unnecessary. I love it though; something weird and unnecessary is a perfect respite from the necessary monotony of the road. But what I love most about some of these places is that they are a manifestation of some person’s creativity and immense dedication. The people who create these weird, unreal-seeming places are folks I’m proud to call fellow Americans; they didn’t merely make “an uncommon career choice”—they’re pioneers who ventured off into the uncharted.
I myself have only really experienced one roadside attraction. It was very spontaneous, which I’ve decided to be the best way to experience such a thing. Years ago, a friend and I were driving through Pennsylvania when we were set upon by this... sign. All it said was: “Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium,” followed by directions. We immediately agreed that a detour was of dire importance. Oh, we knew that this Mr. Ed slick, being vague and confusing to pull our strings. But we were overwhelmed by our curiosity anyway. Just who was this “Mr. Ed,” and what in the world was an elephant museum? Was there a zoo out here, off some random stretch of freeway in Pennsylvania? Or maybe it was a building full of mummified elephants? And the candy part! Did he slap that on just to make the name longer and more impressive sounding?
The place we arrived at a did not seem at all like a business. It was a cozy little house, bearing that ugly yet comforting style which manages to pervade the entire grandparent population. Already, it felt strange to be there, at a business that did not look at all like a business. The yard was filled with various elephant decor and figurines, which answered our questions in a disappointingly conventional way. Inside, the house was absolutely overtaken by all things elephant-related. It was like being in an I Spy book with no white space: colorful, busy, perhaps even overwhelming. The walls were completely covered—I can’t even give examples of anything, because it was really so much that I don’t remember. What I truly remember most is how bizarre it felt being there, like I had slipped from reality into some sovereign little bubble.
I emphasize the strangeness of that experience, and of roadside attractions in general, because I think it’s so fascinating that within our country, a person can achieve success with their passion, even if it’s a part of the tiniest, most unknown niche—or maybe it’s entirely unknown. In either case, passion is a force with the strength to propel anything into the light of success. Even something completely unnecessary to our lives, like a house full of random elephant stuff, can flourish with true dedication.