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.

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

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, trail heads, 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 some day.


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 6:30pm. 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 is 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 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 minium 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

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), 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 — maybe 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, the Quintessential Roadside Attraction

South of the Border is an amazing guitar solo in the otherwise medicore 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 were helpful and humorous. I loaded up on magnets, ash trays (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.

###

Post Script. 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.

The World’s Largest Horseshoe Crab

The world’s largest Horseshoe Crab is in Blanchester, Ohio. I know what you are thinking: 1) what is a Horseshoe Crab, and 2) why is there a crab in Ohio, which is no where near an ocean?? Horseshoe crabs are not true crabs, but they do live in the sea, and they are arthropods, and they have blue blood, and they look amazing… and the world’s largest one is a giant sculpture.

You’ll find it at the Freedom Worship Baptist Church in Blanchester, Ohio. Read more about it on Roadside America.

World's largest horseshoe crab in Blanchester, OH

World's largest horseshoe crab in Blanchester, OH

Last time visited: 2008.

The Superman Museum in Metropolis, Illinois

The Superman Museum (37.152684, -88.732646), or technically the Super Museum, in Metropolis, Illinois, is both a museum dedicated to Clark Kent/Superman and a comic book store/souvenir shop.

Superman Museum

Outside the brightly-colored (red, blue & yellow of course) brick building you’ll find a phone booth (just in case Clark needs to change), a green car reminiscent of the car on the cover of Action Comics #1 (the debut of Superman) and some contraptions that let you take a photo of your head on Superman or Supergirl’s body.

Phone Booth

Inside you’ll find a museum, and a comic book store skewed towards Superman and DC Comics. The best purchasable items are the glow in the dark Kryptonite rocks and the Kryptonite candy.

This Super Museum is worth a visit if you’re in the area, and I suppose it would be a must-visit destination for super-fans of Superman.