“A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.”
— Robert Frost
My son Ben, who lives in Taipei, Taiwan, is a faithful reader of this blog, and he often offers critiques and suggestions.
His latest suggestion is that I seek out curiosities along the road as our bicycle journey progresses from California to Florida and perhaps create a blog page of roadside attractions with a photo gallery.
America’s highways and byways are littered with such come-ons. Some are monuments to one person’s eccentricity or obsession or to crass commercialism. But almost all are places where road-weary tourists will spend a little money on kitschy souvenirs, say things like, “Well, Myrtle, would you believe that!” and amuse the kids for half an hour.
There’s the world’s largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kan.; the world’s largest Lincoln statue in Ashmore, Ill.; the Alley Oop Museum & Fantasy Land Park in Iraan, Texas. And, of course, there’s a Web site for the devotees of quirky tourist stops: Roadsideamerica.com.
All of the roadside attractions cited above will be well off our track along the southern tier of the United States, so I’ll have to save a visit to the world’s largest ball of twine for another trip.
But a couple attractions that I might need to check out at the start and end of the transcontinental bicycle journey are a Wyatt Earp museum in a bookstore in San Diego, where the legendary lawman and shootist lived in the 1880s and 1890s,and Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, Fla. I’ll probably need a deep draught from that fountain at the end of this journey.
During a visit to the Texas Hill Country last week I had a chance to visit the Old Tunnel bat colony, home of 3 million Mexican free-tailed bats, not far from Comfort, one of the towns we’ll pass through in Texas. And on a 1996 ride down the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to St. Louis I saw the world’s largest six pack in La Crosse, Wis., and the Dickeyville Grotto, the life’s work of an obsessed parish priest, also in Wisconsin.
Maybe it’s the nature of the human animal to embrace things eccentric and bizarre. Perhaps that’s the reason I have more vivid memories of the world’s largest six pack and the Dickeyville Grotto than a glorious sunset on the Mississippi.