I’ve always loved the weird. My roommate says this is the fault of my birth chart which attracts people born under my combination of planets to things that other people may find strange or dark. I don’t know if that’s true, but I suppose it’s as good an explanation as any.
If you haven’t, I recommend pretty much everyone read the fantasy masterpiece American Gods by Neil Gaiman (along with basically everything else he’s ever written). In the story, the Gods of the old world meet up at Roadside Attractions because they are places of power. In it, as authors often do, Gaiman managed to get a hold of something I could never quite organize into thoughts about my attraction to weird roadside Americana, aside from the fact that I always felt I was only inches from being able to understand what would drive someone to abandon everything and instead move to nowhere and build a castle out of bottle caps or something.
“In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power. Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would just be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew that something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel, some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples or cathedrals, or erect stone circles, or…well, you get the idea.”
“There are churches all across the States, though,” said Shadow.
“In every town. Sometimes on every block. And about as significant, in this context, as dentists’ offices. No, in the USA, people still get the call, or some of them, and they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void, and they respond to it by building a model out of beer bottles of somewhere they’ve never visited, or by erecting a gigantic bat house in some part of the country that bats have traditionally declined to visit. Roadside attractions: people feel themselves pulled to places where, in other parts of the world, they would recognize that part of themselves that is truly transcendent, and buy a hot dog, and walk around, feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.
In reading the epilogue of American Gods I was excited and shocked to learn that the Roadside Attraction much of the book takes place in was a real place. The House on the Rock in Northern Wisconsin. A bucket list was born in my heart.
For several years, I have been working as a tour manager for a rock band called the Biters, which has given me an incredible opportunity to travel the country. I began to seek out off the beaten path attractions to visit while touring. Mostly Cemeteries (my first love) and more “traditional” roadside attractions and urban exploration. The so-called travel bug got it’s hooks into me. Deep.
On a tour of the Midwest I found myself in Traverse City, Michigan. I’ve always associated Michigan with manufacturing and that famous Kiss Concert at a high school, but it turns out it’s also quite famous for its cherries. Traverse City once made a record holding cherry pie and kept the pan. We climbed in it for a photo. I suddenly realized some of world’s largest random objects had become a pattern and Beena and the big things was born.
The World’s largest cherry pie pan which once held the world’s largest cherry pie. Traverse City, Michigan
Roadside Attractions are a dying breed, they are inherently nostalgic. If I ever have children they may never get to see an old school mini golf course, a roadside dinosaur, or a wax museum. Their transience makes seeing them feel more important, and maybe almost noble.
So here are my adventures across America. It’s not the temples or castles or monoliths of older parts of the world. It’s the sad and the strange and the kitschy and the larger than life, which is pretty darn American if you ask me.