Light Dispelling Darkness

Edison New Jersey is boring, don’t go there

I grew up in a small town called Metuchen, New Jersey. Metuchen is best known as the hometown of magician David Copperfield. In terms of interesting things to see, it has a haunted house and a Revolutionary War graveyard. Otherwise, it’s a safe, borning commuter town in the middle of New Jersey. Surrounding Metuchen is an even more boring place called Edison, New Jersey. Edison is a patchwork of strip malls, warehouses, and tract house neighborhoods, stitched together by a commuter rail line and several major highways. Boring. Folks call Edison the “donut”, and Metuchen is the “donut hole” — in other words, I grew up in the literal void inside, perhaps, the most boring place in the world.

It might sound like I’m trashing Edison, but I’m not (well, maybe a little). Boredom can be inspirational — it can inspire people to live more interesting lives, move to more exciting places, travel, or make the world a better place. But you’ll have to take the first step — boring never changes to exciting or interesting on its own. Boring will fight you to stay boring. Newton’s first law of motion states that “an object at rest stays at rest” — the same is true of boring. Something that is boring will stay boring. Either you need to exert some influence on it to make it less boring (often futile), or move to a better place (GET OUT).

Now you’re thinking “Dan you’re just playing with words”, I love Edison, it’s not bad at all, we’re close to New York City, surely Edison is less boring and soul-destroying than North Brunswick, New Jersey (touche) or the Mid-West. Well, news flash, every location in the Mid-West is less boring than New Jersey because the most of the Mid-West has legal explosive fireworks — right there, that’s more exciting. The Mid-West has better fast food as well.

So, what if you’re stuck in Edison (there on business, your family moved there), and you’re looking for something interesting to check out. There are two places.

Edison Light Tower at the Thomas Edison Center

Edison Tower

Go here to see a large tower with the world’s largest lightbulb at the top. Link to the website. The location features a small museum, a park, and a pond, where as legend has it, inventor Thomas A. Edison procured a fishing hook which he used as a filament for one of his blubs. The light tower and blub is impressively large, and from a historical perspective, the location is significant. Worth seeing if you’re in town.

Light Dispelling Darkness

Rooselvelt Park Fountain

Light Dispelling Darkness is an amazing fountain located in Roosevelt Park. According to Roadside America it was a Depression-era WPA Art project, unvieled to the public in 1938. The fountain portrays evil — in the form of greed, disease and other bad stuff — fleeing from good — in the form of industry, science, and other wholesome activities.

If you’re into weird or horrific things, this fountain is for you. The sculptures portraying “darkness” are truly grotesque. Intertwined, wresting octopuses; a skeleton riding a screaming horse; a horse with measles; naked dudes; dudes with 5 heads. Not what you would expect in a boring town.

Light Dispelling Darkness becomes a good metaphor for Edison, the town, except the town is Boring and the Bored are Fleeing it. Light Dispelling Darkness, Bored Fleeing Boring. In both cases, Edison is an inspiration for progress and change.

This is the GOOD: science, sports, zeppelins, etc:

Rooselvelt Park Fountain

I think this is WAR:
Light Dispelling Darkness

This might be GREED or PESTILENCE:

Light Dispelling Darkness

This might be DEATH:

Light Dispelling Darkness

I need to take some better pictures.

Bonus: Dismal Swamp

When I grew up, the most exciting thing to do in Metuchen or Edison — if you had no money — was to go hiking (drinking) down by the train tracks or in the woods. The woods with the best name in Edison is the Dismal Swamp aka the Everglades of New Jersey (no gators). Dismal can mean “dreary, drab, dull, bleak, cheerless, depressing, uninviting, unwelcoming”. Almost “boring”. If you like nature and hiking, this is probably the best place in town.

Also, once every 17 years (next 2030) they get a good crop of cicadas. Otherwise, don’t go to Edison.

Lucy the Elephant

Margate New Jersey’s Lucy the Elephant

New Jersey prides itself on its weirdness, whether that be cultural, architectural, historical, or cryptological weirdness. There’s a magazine devoted to it: Weird NJ. We have a hockey team called the Jersey Devils, named after a mythological demonic chimera that torments the Pine Barrens.

But why?

New Jersey might be “weird” because is not an easy place in which to live — it’s ridiculously expensive, it’s polluted, it’s unforgiving, and I’m guessing the first human to be called an “asshole” was born here — the Garden State grows more of them than tomatoes, blueberries, and corn combined. Perhaps weirdness is both a product of and a refuge from the harshness of Jersey. I also think that a lot of what we Jersians label as “weird”, might actually be perfectly normal — we just call it weird as a defense mechanism to keep the assholes at bay.

I scoured Roadside America’s New Jersey page (Doug Kirby used to live in Jersey, btw) and my own memory, for the roadside attraction in Jersey that is both weird and magnificent. Something you might travel from another state to see. My answer is Margate City, New Jersey’s Lucy the Elephant (9200 Atlantic Ave, Margate City, NJ).

A square photo of Lucy:

Lucy. #icon #bucketlist

Lucy is a stunningly beautiful, 65 feet tall statue of an elephant that spends her days admiring the Atlantic ocean. She has lovely painted nails. You can visit her at her home in Margate City. You can take a tour, climb through her insides, ride her back, and get the best view of the beach and sea in town. She’s so wonderful that it pains me to call her “weird”, but since “normal” on the Jersey Shore is beige condo complex or a gaudy McMansion (with too many “voids”), weird is a compliment.

I was working on my “bucket list” on the 31st of March and realized that I’d never seen Lucy in the flesh. I thought “I can check this one off my list today”, entered my vehicle, and steered toward Margate City.

You have to pay a toll (“the Downbeach Express”) to get into and out of Lucy’s hometown. E-ZPass won’t work, so bring 4 singles. Seeing Lucy for the first time was an experience. Not cathartic, but definitely worth the trip — worth bringing others with you. There are a plethora of souvenirs to purchase — stuffed elephants, t-shirts, mugs, keychains, pens, candies — I got a fridge magnet.

I recommend stopping by the Margate Dairy Bar & Burger for a snack while you’re in town.

Lucy’s Toes (on fleek):

Lucy the Elephant’s Painted Toenails #roadsideamerica #jerseyshore #margate

A water tower featuring Lucy:

Lucy Watertower

It wouldn’t be New Jersey, without an asshole:

Lucy the Elephant in Margate City

Calico's Face

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 disdain 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.

wv

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

Monkey

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 Loch 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

Best PokeStop ever!

The best thing about Pokemon Go

Note: this story needs some editing, but it’s late and I want to get it out.

TIPPER Pokemon Go might be the biggest fad of the century (so far). Like Rock and Roll in the 1900s, it represents a massive, and permanent, culture shift. Like any change, people will fear it, lament it, ridicule it, and try to regulate it. Some will use it as a distraction, to turn their minds from the more difficult and frightening issues of the day.

PokeStopThat said, Pokemon Go has a truly valuable side effect: kids are actually learning about their neighborhoods, towns, counties, and other real-world places they visit. They’re learning to value their local parks, trails, monuments, and attractions. The game makes kids go to these greenways, trailheads, statues, sculptures, etcetera, in order to win Pokemon Balls and achievements. 90% of these kids would never have learned about these places. This best thing about Pokemon Go: kids are learning about the real world, in amazing detail, and even after they grow out of Pokemon Go, they’ll remember and appreciate these places and return there someday.


Poricy Park Fossil BedsI downloaded the app to test this out. Yeah, I caught a few Pokemon. Yeah, I captured Tauros in Deep Cut Gardens. But, mostly what I was interested in was the PokeStops aka the real-world places of interest that appear in the game. My town only had one: “Fish Art” — a giant fish painting outside a fish restaurant. But once I left my town, I found monuments to war heroes, parks, hiking trails, and here’s the coolest one: a place to go digging for fossils. FOSSILS!

It was after work. Maybe 6:30 pm. I started the Pokemon Go app specifically to look for some interesting local places. In the distance (within the app) I saw a marker for a PokeStop. So I drove there (I know, I should have walked, cheating), and there it was: Poricy Park Fossil Beds. Actual fossil remains of sea creatures. Like finding the skeletal remains of ancient Pokemon! And guess what?! I walked into the woods and up to a muddy, dank stream bed. I dug my hands deep into that mud. I swirled that mud around in my fist, and within minutes I had a small collection of fossils.

Fossils

I’m going to go out on a limb here, but fans of apps like Roadside America: you want Pokemon Go too. Why? While Roadside America will show you the weird and oddball stuff, Pokemon Go will show you the normal, but still awesome stuff. If you’re the type of traveler who likes to wander around a town looking for things that make that town unique — you want both apps.

Freddy’s Mart

I’ve discussed in previous posts how my in-dash GPS likes to take me on nail-biting, white-knuckle journeys down roads better suited for ATVs than my silver muffin low-rider. A few weeks ago the GPS decided to take me down a crooked snake of a road called Bear Creek Road in Garrett County, Maryland.

While the road was a harrowing one-lane adrenaline ride, the view was gorgeous: beautiful forest and bubbling streams. Another case of “do I enjoy the scenery, or do I focus on not dying”.

Garrett County Maryland

Along the winding way, I encountered Freddy’s Mart: a ramshackle micro-village of barn-shacks encrusted and encumbered with all manners of Appalachian Plateau cultural artifacts. At the time I spotted the place I was being tailed by teens trying out for Fast n’ Furious: Appalachia Drift. With no time to slow down to allow them to pass I had to keep going, likely never to see Freddy’s Mart again.

In my mind, Freddy’s Mart became a legendary place, and I began to manufacture a history for it. I cataloged in great detail its contents: logs shaped like snakes, buckets of thread spools, pots filled with old spark plugs, camping detritus abandoned by soft-handed weekend sportsmen, half used spools of Stren, roadsigns with shot holes, old glass insulators from telephone wires, one-eyed dolls that granted wishes.

By the time I shook the teens, it was too far and too late to swing back for an investigation. I had to settle for my imagination. Or so I thought.

Headed back to Jersey a week later, my GPS once again took me down Bear Creek Road, providing me with a twice in a lifetime chance to see Freddy’s Mart. Fortunately this time I was able to slow down and stop and take some photos. The place was closed, but seemingly just as interesting as I imagined.

My pictures are kind of poorly framed, but the locals started to stare me down, and I didn’t want to outstay my welcome. I can say that the property is for sale, and if anyone wants to buy it, now might be the time.

Freddy's Mart

Freddy's Mart

Freddy's Mart

Steve Heller's Custom Car

Steve Heller’s Custom Car Sculptures

While rambling along Route 28 on my way to a Catskills camping adventure, I encountered Steve Heller’s amazing space age & custom car sculptures. Staged on the grounds of Steve’s Fabulous Furniture showroom (3930 Route 28 Boiceville, NY), you’ll find U.F.O.s, rocket ships, metal dragons and pigs, and custom cars chopped and cropped into works of art.

At a minimum, you’ll want to stop and take photos, but you really should go inside the Fabulous Furniture showroom and check out Steve’s smaller space-age sculptures and live-edge furniture. You really have to see it to believe it.

A U.F.O.:

Rocket to Roswell

Rocket Ships:

Fintasia 14 Blast Off!

Rocket rebuilt from retro cars

Severely chopped cars:

Retro Rocket Car

Steve Heller Car Sculpture

And even an actual functioning car:

Custom Car

Lisa Marie

Elvis Presley’s Jets

Back in 1995 I visited Graceland (35.048798, -90.026006) and took the tour of the mansion. I saw the Jungle Room (I remember lots of green shag carpeting), the TV room (decorated in the colors of the Pittsburgh Steelers), and the billiards room (with pleated fabric on the walls and ceiling). While the mansion was much smaller than I expected, it was clearly the castle of a king who knew what he liked, and had it custom-made. At the time I was unable to see Elvis’ jets.

Flash forward to 2015, and I’m back at Graceland specifically to see the Elvis’ private air force. Rumor had it that his jets were sold to a collector, and this was my last chance to see them.

I had a minor incident with the parking lot toll troll. Here’s a tip for the folks who run Graceland: put up a big, easy-to-read sign that says “Parking $10”, so “foreigners” like myself understand that there is a fee to park. Yeah, the troll called me a “foreigner”. It doesn’t bother me. I look like Lucious Malfoy, so I understand her confusion.

Having paid my dues to the toll troll, I made haste for the jets. The folks who run Graceland are shrewd business people — to get to the jets, you have to get a ticket and then navigate a gauntlet of souvenir gift shops. Make no mistake: the souvenirs are Graceland are some of the finest quality souvenirs you will ever buy. There are no snow globes that leak; no pint glasses with logos that wash off after the third wash; no chintzy t-shirts with neck holes that are too small or that shrink or fade after the first wash. Graceland = quality. I got an awesome gold on black TCB Quickly t-shirt & a bumper sticker for my vehicle.

Bumper Sticker

On to the Jets…

There are two jets at Graceland. One large, and one small. The large one is called the Lisa Marie, and the small one… might also be called the Lisa Marie (I’ll get back to you on that).

The Lisa Marie:

Elvis' Lisa Marie Jet #3

Elvis' Lisa Marie Jet #4

As you can see from the photos, it’s a nice, looking jet. Nice red, white and blue color scheme. Maybe a little schmutz on the undercarriage. It doesn’t have the “wingtip device” featured on modern planes, but otherwise, it looks like a standard passenger jet.

The Lisa Marie has everything Elvis could need: a bar, a conference room with a surfboard table, and a bed for sleeping or “hunching”. Everything inside is either green or brown or somewhere in between — the same color scheme as the Jungle Room in the mansion. My mother had green appliances in the 1970s, so I think it was a 70s thing.

Bed, covered with a plastic slip cover:

The Bed on Elvis's Jet

Conference room with surfboard table:

Inside Elvis' Jet

The smaller jet

The smaller jet was much less auspicious and more practical. It was clear that this vehicle was for short trips — may be to hop across town to get a peanut butter, bacon and banana sandwich.

Elvis' Small Jet #2

I’m glad I got to see Elvis’ jets before they were hidden forever in a collector’s warehouse or ground up for scrap metal. Elvis was a King, and in most ways, he exemplified the good (jets & mansion) and bad (burning out your body from having to work so hard) of the American dream.

south of the border

South of the Border, the Quintessential Roadside Attraction

South of the Border is an amazing guitar solo in the otherwise mediocre song that is Interstate 95.

Another View of the South of the Border Sign

Growing up, South of the Border was legendary. It was a mystical placed filled with fireworks, primary-colored souvenirs, and frozen desserts. Any kid lucky enough to have a family that made the road trip from New Jersey to Florida returned from summer vacations with magical tales of the place — and paper sacks overflowing with firecrackers, bottle rockets, and roman candles. And of course, their family car (typically a station wagon) was tattooed with the iconic South of the Border bumper sticker.

South of the Border Gorilla

At the decrepit age of 46, I finally made it to the Mecca of roadside attractions. I arrived at about an hour before sunset, providing the perfect light to make all the yellows yellower, and all the reds redder, including the sombrero and slacks of the gigantic South of the Border mascot dude. 85% of everything at S.O.B. is colored a slightly-orange yellow (like Velveeta cheese) and tomato red.

The grounds were populated by several gorillas and flamingos. I am not sure of their significance other than family photo opportunities. Maybe a hug for a road-weary and lonely traveler.

South of the Border is roughly the size of a college campus, filled with multiple gift shops, a fireworks store, places to eat and get ice cream, and a hotel/motel. Each gift shop has its own personality. One has a nautical/ocean/tiki/flamingo theme; another is upscale and hoity-toity featuring gifts costing hundreds of dollars, and yet another is a supermarket-sized building dedicated to Mexico-themed souvenirs. The nautical-themed shop resonated with me, since I live at the beach, and the staff was helpful and humorous. I loaded up on magnets, ashtrays (I don’t smoke), shot glasses (I rarely drink), coffee mugs, and of course bumper stickers (which cost a dime or a quarter, and the proceeds go to charity).

SOB

I purchased a lot magnets: sobmagnets

Since this was day-one of a 9-day road trip, I did not purchase a sack of fireworks, but I did festoon my vehicle with the classic South of the Border bumper sticker.

Finally visiting S.O.B. filled one of the many holes in my swiss-cheese soul. The mystery was no longer a mystery. I got to do what all the lucky kids got to do 40 years ago.

###

PostScript. If I was still in college I would probably write a paper about how S.O.B. engages in cultural-appropriation or stereo-types Mexican culture. 25 years later, I’m just happy the place still exists.