Tuesday, July 11, 2017

See you later alli-crater: the coastal limestone gator of Jupiter Island, Florida

Blowing Rocks Preserve is a beautiful natural wonder on Jupiter Island along Florida's Atlantic coast. There, you'll see craggy Anastasia limestone along the shore, giving the area a bit of a Maine coast feel. As if to remind you that you're still in the Sunshine State, an outcropping resembling an alligator, Florida's unofficial ambassador, juts out into the crashing foam. We love this place, and that's no crock.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Zero F's given: Greetings from Lorida, Florida

We've been doing most of our roadtripping around Florida these past few years and there's no shortage of eccentric roadside attractions in the sunshine state. Take, for example, the tiny town of Lorida. Lorida, Florida. Florida without the F. Now, that's just funny. This little berg with a population of 1,696 rests in the south central part of the state along Route 98, about 43 miles northwest of Lake Okeechobee. It's a bucolic farming and fish camp community with beautiful Lake Istokpoga right nearby. According to this guy's blog, it got its name from its postmistress Mary Stokes back in 1937, after several names (Can I get a whoop whoop for Sunnyland? No?) didn't work out. Apparently she liked the Spanish origin of the name Florida so much she corrupted it a little and the name stuck.

Places with names like this make roadtrips fun. WTF, notwithstanding.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

I say a little ospreyer for you: The osprey nest in the pineapple sign of Lake Placid, Florida

Run children, run!

A recent roadtrip to the pretty little south central Florida town of Lake Placid yielded us a two-fer: an abandoned, decaying roadside sign and business, and a wonder of nature. On top of the pineapple-shaped sign in front of a decommissioned citrus stand along busy Route 27 sits a large osprey nest with a rather angry mother protecting her young. At first we didn't notice the nest and thought this was just a cool, abandoned place, so beautifully melancholy Old Florida, but after getting out to walk around and get a closer look, a lot of loud squawking was heard. It was then we noticed a large hawk-like bird right in the top. The closer we got, the more distressed she acted until she flew off and began circling and crying. This was something I hadn't seen before, I thought to myself, and for a minute I wondered if I should be heading to a phone booth for protection, like Tippi Hedren in "The Birds". We would have lingered longer to get more pictures but moved on after a minute because the poor bird really did seem distressed. To stay any longer would have seemed, well, hawkward.

Monday, February 13, 2017

I'll see you in my 'streams: The late, great Airstream Ranch of Dover, Florida

It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of one of our favorite eccentric roadside attractions. The Airstream Ranch of Dover, Florida consisted of eight different sized Airstream trailers (seven and a half, actually, to commemorate Airstream's 75th anniversary) partially buried and angled as an homage to the Cadillac Ranch of Amarillo, Texas. It was assembled by the Bates R-V dealership in 2007. The dealership was sold four years ago and the ranch was torn down a few days ago to make way for  expansions to the new owners' dealership and to make space for an Airstream museum. While we're happy with the idea of an Airstream musem --who wouldn't be? -- we're a bit verklempt they had to take down such a funky one-of-a-kind work of art to do it. This just serves as a reminder to visit these wonderful wacky places while they're still standing because they may not be there the next time to you look for them. In other words, carpe 'stream.

Here's what we said in our original post from 2010: 

Field of 'Streams: Dover, Florida's Airstream Ranch

Amarillo, Texas has the Cadillac Ranch. Alliance, Nebraska has Carhenge. And the pleasant central Florida hamlet of Dover has the Airstream Ranch, seven and a half shiny Airstream trailers of different size and vintage upended and partially buried nose-first in a field along Interstate 4, about a half-hour east of Tampa. The brainchild of Frank and Dorothy Bates, proprietors of the Bates R-V dealership (who bill themselves as the largest Airstream dealership in the United States), it was installed on their property on 2007 in honor of Airstream's 75th anniversary (hence the seven and a half). But like all great eccentric roadside attractions, it wasn't without controversy. Seems some of the neighbors hated it and Hillsborough County officials fined the Bateses $100 a day until it was taken down. The Bateses appealed and last February a three-judge panel ruled in their favor and they got to keep their ranch. The Bateses' argument was that it was an artistic expression, not an advertisement, and, while the judges avoided answering whether or not it was art, they did conclude that it wasn't advertising and it wasn't junk, so there it stands. And it's going to get even better: "Now we're going to light it at night," says Mr. Bates. Bravo to the Bateses for their eccentric artistic vision. If you build it, they will come.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Happy 60th birthday to the Mai-Kai Polynesian restaurant of Fort Lauderdale, Florida!

We've been a bit under the weather and off the road for the past few months, but we could not let the day go by without wishing a very happy 60th birthday to a true eccentric roadside attraction wonder, the Mai-Kai Polynesian restaurant of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They'll be celebrating with book-signings by authors of Mai-Kai and tiki culture books Sven Kirsten and Tim Glazner, an extended happy hour featuring three "lost cocktails" revived from the Mai-Kai's original 1956 menu, a new tiki statue in their outside garden, and a new Polynesian dinner show. Here's what we had to say when we visited back in 2014:

Even though we've traveled thousands of miles across the USA, we've never made it to Hawaii. And if we never do, we think we've found a worthy surrogate -- the Mai-Kai Polynesian Restaurant of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Dating back to 1956, it's been Dole-ing out (as in the pineapple) powerfully intoxicating exotic drinks from ceramic coconuts, tiki heads and rum barrels to go along with the (mostly) Chinese food and thick steaks on the menu and the South Pacific native dancers' floor show. Originally located in an empty field along a then-two lane stretch of Route 1, it's lush acreage is now surrounded by the hustle and trafficy bustle of outer Fort Lauderdale sprawl, and its old-timey oasis-like feel is quite refreshing. Easter Island-like sculptures mingle among the flaming torches, lush palms and waterfalls of the Mai-Kai's grounds with a thatched tiki roof on their A-frame and retro neon sign thrown in for good measure, hearkening back to the glorious post-World War II era when America was gaga for all things South Seas.  They've expanded many times over the years but the fun, 1960s retro vibe (when tiki was at its "peak-i") has not been lost. You can dine outdoors, or go for a Zombie, Mai-Tai or Sidewinder's Fang served by pretty bikini-topped, sarong-bottomed waitresses at the Molokai Lounge. But for the full Mai-Kai experience, you must take in the Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest running Polynesian dance show in the continental U.S. Pretty girls shaking their hips in grass skirts? Got 'em. Beefy guys in warrior paint walking on fire? Got 'em. A rockin' hula band with Hawaiian drums and ukuleles? Got 'em! And all for only $12 a head more than your meal. For devoted fans of tiki, this place is mecca. For everyone else, we say "Be there. Aloha."

And as an unrelated side-note, we haven't posted anything on this blog in over three months but we had over 27,000 page views last month. That's more than we ever got when we were posting regularly. Go figure!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Gatored community: The Miccosukee Indian Village alligator wrestling statue

We saw the real deal just down the road apiece.

Route 41 is the old highway that runs east and west along the very most southern part of Florida. It's also known as the Tamiami Trail (that name being a Desilu-type smashup of Tampa and Miami) and runs right through the Everglades. A good deal of this land is owned and run by Native Americans and the Miccosukee tribe has a large development that includes dining, gaming, nightlife, entertainment and other resort-like whatnot. They also have the Miccosukee Indian Village, that features a museum, airboat rides and an old-time Florida tourist staple throwback, alligator demonstrations. We're glad to see them using the word "demonstrations" and not "wrestling" because we're not huge fans of poking at animals mercilessly until they snap at you. We also understand, though, that Native Americans get shafted a lot of the time and need to make a living, so we're happy their website says "no harm or pain is inflicted on the alligators during The Alligator Encounter," an event where visitors are taught "how to respectfully touch and mount a Florida alligator." This is good to know -- if I was going to be touched and mounted by a tourist, I'd want it to be done with respect. The statue depicts a young, husky tribesman with his hand under a frisky-looking alligator's chin, and not in a "coochy-coochy-coo" sort of way. The signature reads that of Chris Dixon of Chris Dixon Studios and 2009. The statue can be seen as you whiz down Route 41 at 60 mph and does cause a double take because of its size and folk-art style, a reaction we get when we see other huge roadside giants. Nice for us eccentric roadside attraction fans that such a recent work of promotion was done in such a retro sort of way. See you later, alligator!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Are the Everglades eccentric? Does a bear ride an airboat on a Coke can?

As far as national parks go, Florida's Everglades are more subtle and don't scream crazy-eccentric like Yellowstone or Bryce Canyon, but they are not without their kooky charms. Take, for instance, the sign that beckons travelers to the Gator Park restaurant/gift shop/airboat depot on Route 41 near Shark Valley. An approximately 8-foot tall Coke can sits atop a 4-foot pedestal. But wait, there's more. Cruising the top of the Coke can is a decommissioned airboat driven by a life-sized artificial bear. This is particularly eccentric, since the place is called Gator Park and not Bear Park. It's just the tacky ticket to greet you or bid you farewell to this one-of-a-kind region and must have taken some doing to assemble.

Kudos to you Gator Park. This place floats my (air) boat and to not "pop" in would have been more than I could bear. You really know how to gator done.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Twine and cheese: Sharknado visits Cawker City, Kansas

A big ball of twine, sharks, a tornado...it's Twine-nado!

 We were in Cawker City under much calmer conditions.

You may have noticed the posts here have been rather few and far between lately, but something just got us off our duffs and back to the old blogging keyboard. While casually partaking in the national pastime/tragedy known as "Sharknado" we encountered an eccentric roadside attraction shout-out that got our noses out of the road atlas and glued to the electronic fireplace aka TV set. In "Sharknado: The 4th Awakens" Fin Shepard (played by the sublime to ridiculous Ian Zierling) and his gang find themselves in Cawker City, Kansas where the inclement weather results in a twine-nado: a shark-infested world's biggest ball of twine that liberates itself from its shed in downtown Cawker City and rolls down the main drag not unlike that big ball in the Indian Jones movie ("Sharknado" never met a movie it didn't like to blatantly steal, er, pay homage to). Fin stops the ball by grabbing a loose string and, well, tying it up so it won't roll any more. Unfortunately, this is after the ball takes out, among others, Paul Shaffer, who has apparently fallen on hard times since David Letterman retired and is doing a live (final) performance in town.

We give a rating of five out of five concrete potatoes to the Sharknado gang for including Cawker City in their masterpiece. Here's our original Cawker City post from a few years back:

I've often used the phrase "the world's biggest ball of twine" as a generic label for any really eccentric roadside attraction that makes an awesome feat out of something mundane. It wasn't until recently, though, that I actually got to see one of the actual world's biggest balls of twine (there's more than one, depending on who you believe), which makes its home in the small north central Kansas town of Cawker City. A Mr. Frank Stoeber, a local farmer, started the twine ball with odd bits in 1953 and within four years he had a ball that weighed 5,000 pounds and stood 8 feet tall. In 1961 he gave the ball to Cawker City and at the time of his death in 1974 the ball was 11 feet tall and contained 1.6 million feet of sisal twine (sisal being an agave plant that yields a stiff fiber). To keep the ball growing and its place in the record books, Cawker City holds an annual Twine-A-Thon every August where the public is invited to add odd bits of twine to Mr. Stoeber's overgrown baby (string and yarn are prohibited and rules are strictly enforced). Today, the ball sits under an open air gazebo (its second after outgrowing the first) complete with park benches to meditate on its magnificence. As of September 2009, the ball weighed over 9 tons, has a 40-foot circumference and over 1500 miles of twine -- enough to reach either coast from the heartland of Kansas, or wrap up an awful lot of brown paper packages.

And as if that wasn't enough, Cawker City did something even more wonderful. In the windows of the melancholy downtown abandoned storefronts are parodies of art masterpieces such as The Mona Lisa, The Scream and American Gothic, all containing balls of twine. Local artist Cher Olsen has painted over 40 of these gems that delight with every passing glance, making Cawker City one of the eccentric roadside wonders of the world. To twine own self be true.