In search of the perfect pillow

Behold my collection of uncomfortable pillows: Pillow Collection

Everyone is different. We all come in different shapes and sizes. Some of us have long, delicate necks. Some of us have necks like tree stumps. Some have spines that are a tangle of mashed nerves crushed by crumbling vertebrae. Some people sleep on their sides, some sleep on their backs, and some people can get blackout drunk and fall asleep in a pile of snow on the side of the street. We all have a unique set of physical attributes & personal experiences, which inform our preferences and prejudices. And… most of us have a favorite pillow, or type of pillow.

I have a difficult time finding the right pillow for me. I’ve tried buckwheat pillows, NASA science foam pillows, TV-Infomercial pillows that turned out to smell like gasoline and seemed to be just a bag of shredded foam. I’ve tried “normal” pillows — the type you can get at Home Goods or Bed, Bath & Coupons. I hate most of them too. I hate when I rest my head on a pillow, it completely flattens, and the rest of the pillow balloons out like an air-bag.

Over the years I’ve found a few pillows I’ve liked. A small Sealy pillow that they don’t seem to make any more. Sometimes the white & blue/black stripped “prison” pillows are nice. Nice pillows don’t last forever of course — like sheets, and a mattresses, you have to retire them to the local dump after steady use.

My favorite pillows are hotel pillows, in particular Hampton Inn pillows. I like Hampton Inn for other reasons — free ice water in the lobby, the photo of the dog wearing sun glasses on their elevator doors — but their pillows are great. They’re firm and don’t have the balloon/air-bag effect. They’re also relatively small — smaller than Queen, which is what I like.

The thought has crossed my mind to try to buy (not steal) some of these Hampton Inn pillows, but I want a new ones. (But maybe it’s the 1000’s of human heads that made them great). I’ve tried ordering them online, but they’re not the same. Admittedly, I’ve only tried the down alternative. Maybe it is the down version I need. Maybe I need 1000 people to come to my home to help me break my pillows in. 1000 heads compressing the pillow into a comfortable shape — natural skin oils conditioning the pillows. If you do stop my, please shampoo first. 🙂

YouTube channel recommendation: This is Dan Bell

YouTuber This is Dan Bell has two fascinating series worth watching: Dead Mall Series and Another Dirty Room. If you like to travel to see unusual things (as I do), or you simply enjoy cringing, these series are for you. If you’re a business major, you should watch them too.

Dan, video camera in hand, explores abandoned and dying shopping malls and big-box stores, in the Dead Mall Series. Malls seem to be dying at a rapid pace across America, due to online shopping, the slow-death of once-popular retailers, and changing demographics. Dan’s mini-documentaries provide a cringeworthy but beautiful (kriechenschön) autopsy of a once cornerstone aspect of the American dream.

The malls Dan films are mostly studies in early 1990s decor, like pastel colors and diamond & ribbon shapes, and oddly-beatiful decay and destruction. Light cascades down from shattered skylights, feeding a small jungle of trees and weeds that have claimed an old fountain/planter. Vines creep out of planers to rest on seats once intended for mall shoppers. Sprays of shattered glass glimmer like diamonds on floors where hope once strode. (Maybe that’s too poetic).

Dan details the history of the malls, including the reasons why they failed. Many malls die when their “anchor” stores die. Anchor stores include once-great retailers like Sears, K-mart and JCPenny. The times have not been kind to these former giants. When the anchor dies, it’s like an animal losing its mouth — the rest of the mall loses the nourishment (shoppers) that the anchor provides, and the whole thing collapses and dies.

In his most recent installment, Two Quirky Malls in Michigan : Dort Mall & Hampton Square Mall, Dan visits a fascinating “small mall” called the Dort Mall owned by hockey-magnate Bob Perani. The Dort Mall is an unintended museum of Americana (neon signs, a dinosaur made of car parts) and pop-culture (a boat from the Doctor Doolittle film), and home to a single operating hockey equipment store. This is the type of stuff I would pull over to the side of the road to photograph, but it is all conveniently collected into a single dying mall.

Dan and his team of forensic friends Will Krupinsky & Rick Serra check into hotel & motel rooms just to see how dirty a random room can be, in Another Dirty Room. As someone who stays in a lot of hotel rooms, this series piqued my interest, and sparked new fears.

Vermin (roaches, fleas, bed bugs, mice), human bodily fluids (including shocking sprays of blood), cigarette burns, soiled bedding, literally rotting pillows, pre-moistened hotel soaps… they’re all there in almost every episode.

The show is equal parts horror and comedy. The lighting and videography are cable TV reality-show quality. I’m reminded of reality classics like Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs, and my all time favorite, Dave Attell’s Insomniac. Will Krupinsky is innately hilarious — he’s like a Matt Judge character come to life.

The recent episode $40 NIGHTMARE : The Swan Motel : Halethorpe, Maryland is a good place to start. If you like it, you will probably spend the rest of the day binging on the rest of the episodes.

Return to Archie McPhee

My last visit to Seattle was in 2009, and at that time I visited Archie McPhee at the their old location. Seven years have passed and it was time for another visit. The location has changed, but the fun remains the same.

“What is Archie McPhee”? It’s a catalog, website and brick and mortar store — created and owned by Mark Pahlow — that sells wacky gimmicks and novelties. What kind of novelties? How about unicorn masks, bonnets for your cat, Bigfoot Christmas ornaments, glow-in-the-dark octopus tentacles you wear on your fingers, squirrel underpants, rubber chickens, and bacon flavored candy canes? Their website has about 600 different novelties, and the store seems to have about 10,000. The novelties stay on the classy side of the street — no fart jokes or vibrating devices. Every Christmas I place a massive order, and treat my friends and family to some memorable oddball amusements.

I arrived at Archie McPhee about an hour later than I planned. The GPS in my rental got me lost 4 or 5 times, allowing me to see much of Seattle, but limiting my time at McPhee. Fortunately the new location was easy to spot — red & yellow and lined with many of the mythical characters featured in their gimmicks — and they have free parking. Once I entered the store, it was like one of those game shows where you have a limited time to grab as much money as you can. Instead of cash, I was grabbing finger monsters, squirrel-sized coffee cups, fugu-flavored candies, gummy candy bacon (tastes like strawberry, looks like bacon), a Bigfoot scarf, zombie pirate finger puppets, rubber tentacles, Thanksgiving dinner flavored gum, rubber chicken floating pens, and much more. I ended up spending $197 dollars (and got a free book about Archie McPhee). Had I more time, I would have spent a thousand dollars. Literally $1000.

Click and zoom in on these photos to get an idea about how vast their novelty selection is.

SO MUCH FUN at Archie McPhee in Seattle WA

Showroom floor at Archie McPhee in Seattle WA

So, in 7 years, what has changed? Obviously the location and the exterior of the building has changed, and inside many of the attractions have been altered in some transformative but amusing way. Otherwise, it’s the same store, packed with goodies and awesomely helpful employees (who, even though I arrived close to closing time, they didn’t chase me out the door — which I really appreciate).

The new store front is missing the Jesus Lizard and neon (the neon is around the corner), but it has gained a Bibo and Bigfoot:

Archie McPhee Storefront

Cap’t Archie the Fortune Teller, once clearly a boat captain, now appears to be on his day off, enjoying a meal at a diner:

Cap't Archie

The Devil Head has gained some blond locks, X’s for eyes, and a veil of sorts:

Devil Head

So, what did I learn from to my most recent trip to Archie McPhee:

  1. Our time on earth is short, so have and share as much fun as you can, while you can.
  2. Things change over time, but if your core beliefs and aspirations stay the same, cosmetic/superficial transformations make little difference.
  3. You can learn valuable lessons by returning to places you’ve visited in past.
  4. Rental car GPS, not so good.

Links:

Green mystery tower in Bothell, WA

On a recent business trip I encountered a strange tower that looks like it is made of green glass beer bottles. It is at approximately 19332 North Creek Pkwy. I have no idea what it is, but it looks cool at night. It’s like a bar saved every Heineken bottle it ever served, and made a chimney out of them. During the day, it isn’t that special, so look for it at night.

Green tower in Bothell WA

Dick’s Drive-In and Driving Around Seattle

The point of this article is to showcase Dick’s Drive-In’s amazing rotating, partially neon sign. Look at this sign. Just look at it.

Dick's Hamburgers

The rest is a ramble about driving around Seattle in a rental car:

The week before last I found myself in Seattle, Washington on a business trip. The rental car was a Toyota Yaris, a peppy sub-compact that gave me the odd feeling of driving while sitting on a bar stool — higher up that expected, never quite comfortable, ever feeling like I could topple off at any moment. I never felt like the Yaris was my car — I felt like Hertz could remotely eject me from the vehicle at will or whim. This is fine. A rental car should remind you that you’re only visiting, and not here to stay (and perhaps not welcome). Yaris — weird, but fun to drive.

Every big city likes to brag about their traffic. L.A. takes an hour to move 5 miles. NYC has its gridlock. Atlanta has drivers who refuse to use turn signals. Seattle has bad traffic for its own reasons. Reason number one: it rains a lot. Rain is annoying as-is, but the accompanying foggy windows and tire-swallowing flooding are even worse. I imagine Seattle’s hilly streets can be quite treacherous on icy winter days. Number two: much of the area looks rural, but it is actually a city; hilly, tree-lined neighborhoods of bungalow-style homes quickly transition to congested highways — unexpected and jarring. Number three: the high-traffic times seem to last longer than expected — like from 5pm to 8:30pm. I wonder if this is due to folks working in the tech industry, where 12 hour days are the norm (Microsoft, Amazon). Think you’re going to avoid traffic by leaving at 7:30pm — NOPE! Number four: Seattle-area drivers are not courteous. I live in New Jersey — a state that celebrates its rudeness; we call it “unhöflichkeitstolz” — Seattle is just as rude. If you see someone in the lane to your left who has signaled that they want to merge into your lane, give them space and let them in. Combine this set of challenges with an abundance of residents and visitors because of the tech industry, and driving around Seattle can be miserable. Seattle residents seem to take pride in their miserable traffic. “Elendstolz” or “misery pride” in German (I made that up).

Combine Seattle traffic with a less than accurate GPS, and a half hour trip becomes an hour and a half. If you’ve read my Maryland trips this year, you know I enjoy when my demented GPS takes me to places I otherwise would have never known. When time is a factor, however, a GPS that continually thinks you’re driving 1 street to your right can be both bemusing and vexing. You’re going to miss a half dozen exits, and make 100 wrong turns, but you’re also going to accidentally see the tent cities, shipyards, the first Starbucks, the Fremont troll and dozens of other sights the typically visitor will miss.

The Dick’s Drive-In I spied was on North 45th street, which also features the tentacle neon of the Octopus Bar, and the brick and mortar manifestation of Archie McPhee. The Dick’s Drive has no servers on roller-skates or food trays that hang on your doors — this is not the 1950s. Instead you find parking, wait in line, you watch workers prepare burgers, fries and shakes in bright, medically-white clean conditions, place your order, your order appears in about 10 seconds, you pay, and then you leave. Very efficient. No sass or insincerity. After an hour of Seattle traffic, simplicity and efficiency is what you need.

The “B-Side” of the rotating sign.
Dick's Drive In in Seattle WA

Calico, the “Evil” Middletown Clown

New Jersey has many massive & memorable business mascots, including Margate City’s Lucy the Elephant and Asbury Park’s Tillie. My personal favorite promotional character is Calico the Clown: an enormous, primary-colored clown, located at 853 Route 35 North, Middletown, NJ. Calico now stands before a Spirits Unlimited liquor store, but he once was the mascot of Food Circus Super Markets, Inc., a company that operates a bunch of Foodtown supermarkets (more info). I can see the connection between “Food Circus” and a clown, and … liquor makes folks “act like a clown” as well.

Calico has garnered the unfortunate name “the Evil Clown of Middletown”. The look on his face conjures up terms like wily, scheming, bemused, or vexed. His eyebrows are reminiscent of the Rock’s “people’s eyebrow” – but with both eyes. I don’t see “evil” when I look at Calico. I see a complex individual, often misunderstood and under-appreciated, stoic, with a healthy distain and sense of humor about the world around him. I guess I see myself in Calico.

Middletown Liquor Clown

The clown has been profiled by Weird NJ and Roadside America over the years. There is a Facebook page dedicated to preventing his destruction (Save Calico, The “Evil Clown” of Middletown, NJ). There are even songs about him.

One “controversy” with the clown is: “what is he doing with his right hand?” Some dirty-minded folks say he is making a lewd gesture. He is — or at least he should be — holding a balloon string. The “SAVE” circle on the sign is actually a balloon:
The Hand

Also, note that the original drawing of Calico features all 7 chakras:
Clown with Chakras

It appears that his third eye was omitted or removed from his roadside manifestation. I also wonder why they chose to paint his finger red.

Middle Aged Man Hikes Above Ground Cave

fall My Hocking Hills story beings as many of my travel stories do: mapping periodical cicadas. I had heard that Hocking Hills park in Ohio was a hotspot for the rarest of the three 17 year cicada species (Magicicada septendecula), so I traveled there to check it out. The reports were true… the cicadas were there in abundance… but no one had told me about the cave.

I’m a sucker for a good cave. I see a sign for a cave and I’ll drive 100, no, make that 200 miles to see that cave. Case in point: Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky. Back in 2014 I was in Cincinnati, started heading home (east) for New Jersey, but the next thing you know I’m 208 miles south at a cave! Sure, I stopped at the Jim Beam distillery along the way, but I ended up at a cave.

While wandering through the Hocking Hills state park — clutching my video camera, listening for septendecula, trying not to stand out amongst the dozens of tourists milling about — I saw the sign: “Old Man Cave”. Suddenly the sounds of cicadas dissolved from my mind and all I could think was “cave”.

That’s the third paragraph than ends in cave. Get the point?

Surprisingly Old Man Cave is not a “traditional” below ground cave. It is an above ground cave, because it has no ceiling. Perhaps it had a ceiling at one time; perhaps it collapsed. Had you asked me, I would have guessed that it was actually a canyon. As you’ll see from my photos and video, it still looks like a cave — limestone rock sculpted by the erosion of water — but it also looks like a canyon.

To get to the cave you have to enter a tunnel (the most “traditional” cave-like part of the journey). At the mouth of the tunnel were two healthy-looking young men; before I could enter, one stopped me. “Are you sure you want to go into the cave? It’s a hard walk even for me.” He advised me to go through the tunnel, enjoy the view, and then turn around and go home. He wasn’t an employee of the park — just another tourist.

I had to pause, if just for a moment, and ask myself: “how decrepit is my appearance?” Yes, I know I look like Lucious Malfoy: clearly middle-aged, with bone-white hair. And certainly I could stand to lose a few pounds (more like 20). “How feeble and near death do I appear?”

I thanked the young man for his advice and concern, and entered the tunnel. Upon exiting, the view was amazing. It’s hard to capture the magnificence with a photograph. To the right there’s a massive limestone overhang, slick with moisture and stained with streaks of green alge; straight ahead the cave/canyon drops maybe a hundred feet to the cave floor. It’s spectacular. At that moment I thought, “I have to do this; I have to experience this, even if the young man is right and I will die tying.”

Old Man Cave, Hocking Hills

Old Man Cave, Hocking Hills

The Old Man Cave trail passes under the massive rock overhang, and then winds and twists along the side of the cave until you reach the bottom, at that point you can enjoy the view of the waterfall, and then you hike back up the other side and continue around until you reach the start.

Old Man Cave, Hocking Hills

The hike down is long, and the hardest part is maintaining your balance and not falling to your death while taking a photo. Core strength is important. The hike up requires leg strength and stamina, but it isn’t all that bad. There were a few septuagenarians and little kids hacking it — it was fine. No worries.

Video from my hike:

After the Old Man Cave, I took a break… grabbed some water… made a video of some bugs…

And then walked across this funky looking bridge…

Hocking Hills

And then hiked up a hill into the woods and recorded some cicada song.

Along the path back to my car there were a group of young dudes debating on wether they should hop a fence and go swimming in the stream below. They were having a serious debate — you might think they were getting up the nerve to talk to some young women — no, just going for an illegal swim.

Crossing back across the bridge I could hear them splash into the river below. I thought “good, they’re living life, and taking chances as they should”.

More info:

More from Magic from Vermont

My last post was about 6 cool things about Burlington, Vermont… but what about the rest of the state? I’ve only been to a small portion of Vermont, but here are a few of my favorite things to see and do there (yes, most are odd).

A Gorilla Holding up a Volkswagen on Route 7

This masterpiece is somewhere along Route 7. A huge gray gorilla holding aloft a rusty VW Bug. I can’t remember what type of business the gorilla stands in front of, but I assume it is either a mechanic or a gymnasium for gorillas.

More info on Roadside America.

Gorilla Holding a VW on RT 7 in Vermont

The Whale Tales on Route 89

Imagine that you’re driving along a Vermont highway, enjoying the pastoral scenery, when suddenly two massive whale tales appear, as if the whales are diving into the green grass sea of a cow pasture. “Am I hallucinating?” you might ponder, and you very well may be, but the whale tales are very real. These massive sculptures are made of black African granite and the sculptor is Jim Sardonis.

Whale Tails in Vermont

More info about the whales www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/1377.

Tiny Village

I can’t remember where this was. An entire village of tiny houses. Someplace in Vermont. I wish I had more facts to share. Enjoy the photos below.

tiny village

more tiny village

Ben and Jerry’s

Ben and Jerry’s is famous for their cleverly named ice creams. What once started as a small business in Vermont is now a very large subsidiary of the mega-corporation Unilever. In spite of this change, their ice cream is still tasty, and their factory in Waterbury, Vermont is still worth visiting. My favorite attraction within the Ben and Jerry’s factory compound is the graveyard of retired flavors.

Ben and Jerry Bus

Ben and Jerry Flavor Graveyard

Maple Syrup Everywhere

I love maple syrup. I prefer it to honey or cane sugar. Vermont has maple syrup everywhere you go, and in virtually any format you can imagine. Candy, ice cream, syrup… candy.

Last time I visited I bought a jug of the stuff, kept it in the fridge and took swigs off it at least once a day. I’m not proud of that fact, but neither am I ashamed.

Vermont got maple syrup

Cow Palace

Don’t worry folks, the antlers used to make this massive arch outside the Cow Palace fell off the elk naturally. But they also will serve you an elk burger. Naturally.

Cow  Palace Elk Antler Arch

www.derbycowpalace.com

Burlington Vermont Six Pack

1) The Lake. Most tourists probably go to Burlington for Lake Champlain, which provides all manner of water-based outdoor possibilities. It is beautiful. It has its own Lock Ness monster-like creature named Champ.

Parorama from my hotel room

2) Downtown Sculptures. Downtown Burlington is loaded with many sculptures. Some are simply nice, like a bear or a deer. Some are exuberant and whimsical.

Sculpture in the Burlington VT Marketplace

Leaping frog  in Burlington VT

3) Gnome Mushroom: Some ne’er–do–well or perhaps force majeure must have tipped this sculpture over at some point. This marble masterpiece was across the street from my hotel. Some of the locals referred to it as a choad rather than a mushroom. Use your own imagination. The mushroom gnome can be found in Battery Park Extension.

Burlington Vermont Mushroom/Toadstool & Gnome

4) Wizard of OZ Flying Monkeys. Legend has it that these creatures once guarded a furniture store named the Emerald City. Now they perch atop a building down by the waterfront.

Winged monkey sculpture in Burlington VT

Winged monkey sculpture in Burlington VT

Flying monkey sculpture in Burlington VT

About the monkeys, which can be found at One Main Street.

5) The patriotic Egg Man. I don’t know the story of this mural, but it certainly deserves a good one.

Meeting the egg man  in Burlington VT

6) Dolomite. I’m a fan of the actor/comedian Rudy Ray Moore. His Dolemite films were truly something else. This rock is a piece of Dolomite, which is a mineral that is sold as a diet supplement associated with good health and strength, which is exactly why Rudy named his character after the mineral (true story, I wouldn’t lie). This rock can be found in Waterfront Park.

Dolomite, not Dolemite