Monorail

Jungle Jim’s International Market

Whenever I’m traveling through the mid-west I try to stop at Jungle Jim’s. In the past, I’ve said Jungle Jim’s was the greatest supermarket in America, but up until this spring I had only visited the Eastgate location. This year I visited the original Fairfield location… and I was not disappointed. Jungle Jim’s — no matter which location you choose — is the greatest supermarket in America.

James O. Bonaminio (Jungle Jim) started his business as a humble produce stand in 1971 in Hamilton, OH. Jim opened the Fairfield location in 1975, expanded to 19K sq. ft. in 1982, and added the trademark Zoo animal pond in ’83. By 2001 a monorail was added and the store expanded to over 284,000 sq. ft. — that’s roughly 5 football fields of food, beverages, and fun (source).

Nascar - Jungle Jim's

The big difference between the original Fairfield and newer Eastgate location (est. 2012) is their layouts — the Fairfield location feels like it evolved over time, which it did, and Eastgate feels like it was planned out ahead of time, which it was. Fairfield has more twists, turns, and bottlenecks, and the Eastgate location is more rectangular. The amazing selection of food and beverages are the same. Both have plenty of safari-themed fiberglass animal attractions, and pop-culture themed displays — Fairfield has a NASCAR hanging over the Foodie entrance, an animatronic singing bear named Elvis, and a small yacht featuring the cast of Gilligan’s Island, to name a few.

IMG_0055

While Jungle Jim’s has plenty of vehicles and animals to amuse kids and adults alike, it’s the rare foods and beverages that keeps me coming back. Isles and isles of food from around the world — particularly candy, maybe the best candy selection in the world. Hundreds of types of hot sauce. Hundreds of types of soda-pop. Hundreds of types of beer. All these crazy brands you’ve never heard of before. Yes, they have normal food too. They even have rows of health food! Imagine the selection of a Whole Foods, plus the most popular brands, plus an unbelievable selection of novelty food & drinks that would otherwise take a lifetime to find — all in one convenient location.

It’s Disneyland for your mouth!

Jim the Wizard of low prices and finer foods:
Wizard of Food

How many supermarkets have a tribute to Gillian’s Island?
Jungle Jim's Gilligan's Island Boat

The Massive Hot Sauce display:
Jungle Jim's Firetruck Hotsauce display

Jungle Jim’s has a massive selection of candy from all around the world. These Gummi Snails from Germany and sour lemon candies from Japan were amongst my favorites.

Gummi escargot #schneck #lecker #candy #escargot

Sour Lemon Candy from Jungle Jim's

Elvis

IMG_6764

Info: Jungle Jim’s website.
Location: 5440 Dixie Highway, Fairfield, OH 45014

Recent podcasts featuring world travel

I’m not much of a world traveler. “Someday”. That said, I enjoy and am inspired by stories of world travelers and adventurers. Here are some podcasts featuring stories of world travel hosted by famous comedians.

Ari Shaffir’s Skeptic Tank #298: Vagabonder (with Rolf Potts). Comedian Ari Shaffir — who recently traveled around the world himself — interviews world traveler and author Rolf Potts. 4 hours and 38 minutes.

Ari Shaffir’s Skeptic Tank #277: Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost (@HenryRollins). Ari Shaffir interviews renaissance man and world traveler Henry Rollins. 3 hours.

Joe Rogan Experience #906 – Henry Rollins. Joe Rogan interviews Henry Rollins about travel and his life in general. 2 hours, 38 minutes.

Circus Tent

Circus World in Baraboo Wisconsin

On June 12th, 2017, I found myself in Baraboo, Wisconsin looking for periodical cicadas, attempting to verify their existence in that city. I found no cicadas, but I did discover the Circus World Museum/historic site. Driving past Circus World, it didn’t seem that compelling: the buildings were bland and seemed unexceptional.

Circus World in Baraboo WI

I parked across from the museum so I could inspect the trees in a park for cicadas — from that vantage point I could see into the grounds of the museum — I could see an elephant, a circus tent, and trains of circus wagons. That was enough to make me think “okay, that looks interesting, I’m here, I’m not finding any cicadas, I might as well go inside”.

Perceiving the value of something often requires a new perspective.

One hundred years ago circuses had a lot less competition — no Internet, no video anything, no radio, no plenitudes of delicious foods, no giant amusement parks, no touring rock, country or rap groups, no NASCAR, no air conditioning, or easy to obtain birth control. If you lived in a rural community 100 years ago, and the circus came to town, you went to the circus. You put down your hammer, gathered up your kin, and went to see “the greatest show on earth”.

Enter the circus tent, and you enter an alternate dimension. The circus represents a mirror world. Each ring, or circle (circus), is a mirror laid flat, in which a distorted & amplified view of the ordinary world appears. At the circus, ordinary animals, like dogs, horses & bears perform tricks; extra-ordinary animals from foreign lands, like monkeys, elephants, tigers & lions, appear in the flesh; mysterious humans of extreme dimensions, attributes, and skills amaze unexperienced minds; clowns — representing everything an adult is not allowed to be: silly, playful, foolish, loud, colorful, outlandish — pour from tiny cars to delight child and adult alike.

I have to imagine this experience was quite healthy for the spirit, mind and even body. The circus comes to town and takes you away from the day to day grind of a difficult life; it makes you laugh; it shows you sights you might never otherwise see; it blows your mind. The circus picks you up in its primary-colored arms and shows you the truth of what the world is, and what it can be. It offers the gifts of joy and perspective. And maybe you can have an affair with the strongman or tattooed lady.

Clown - Circus World, Baraboo, WI

The modern world has few mysteries. The Internet offers millions of hours of footage of ordinary & rare animals performing tricks. Want to see an extremely tall man fly through the air? Just turn on ESPN. The “Tattooed Lady”? She’s your best friend. Adults behaving like clowns? They’re everywhere today (perhaps they always were). We have entered the mirror world.

Today we have no need for the Circus because we have 24/7 access to the amazing & mysterious, silly & insane. As Madge would say “you’re soaking in it”. And because we’re inside it, we’ve lost some perspective.

So what about Circus World?

Considering Circus World as a whole, the bland exterior works perfectly. At that point, the visitor is outside the circus. Even the entrance to Circus World is unexceptional — a simple gift shop and ticket booth and bathrooms. But one step beyond these operational necessities, you enter the Circus World. Bright lighting and white walls, switch — in an instant — to shadow and spotlights illuminating circus scenes and artifacts: a maze of brightly-colored circus posters and banners; elaborate displays of mannequins (human & animal) donned in glittering circus attire. Visions of the circus, frozen in time. But it only gets better once you step outside.

Monkey Circus

Circus costumes for performers and elephants

Once outside, you have two options: 1) make a right and explore, what I’ve called the “bland” and “unexceptional” buildings, or 2) cross the river and enter the circus world. I chose to ease into it and headed for the buildings.

Have you ever met someone who looked totally ordinary — plain clothes, common haircut, average physique — and have them tell just the most amazing story about their life? I have. Some people and some things look ordinary, only to contain and protect what they hold inside. It turned out that the buildings visible from outside Circus World once held circus equipment and animals from every continent — while they appear ordinary and utilitarian, they were built to hold the heart of the circus itself. Today these buildings continue to house treasures — each is a museum to an aspect of the circus. One holds massive and detailed dioramas depicting circus performances and circus train yards. Another holds a museum of famous clowns and clown equipment. Another features the costumes of circus performers from around the world. Another has tributes to famous circus animals, like Silver King, the most famous circus horse of all time.

Giant Hammers used by Clowns

A model of the circus at Madison Square Garden

Back outside, and across the river, and you’ve entered the living circus. There you’ll see the circus tents, elephant, and horses, and performances by acrobats, clowns, and Ryan Holder and his magnificent family of captive bread Bengal-Siberian tigers (I pulled that last sentence from their website). The performances are so good, you’ll probably forget to take a photo like it did. Plenty of delicious carnival foods are available as well.

The circus wagons were my favorite exhibit at Circus World. The grounds of the museum feature dozens of these ornately shaped, colored and decorated wooden wagons that once held glamorous circus performers, exotic animals, and yes, even clowns and equipment. Some wagons featured bars to allow folks to see the animals inside. Some contained complete, automated musical machines — steam-powered calliopes that played the loud, festive and other-worldly music of the circus. There are even buildings where the wagons are restored and repaired — it must take great skill to preserve and replicate the amazing carved woodwork of these wagons. Pure whites, blood reds, rich golds and silvers, fiery oranges, uncommon blues, and the occasional John Deer tractor green, gilded with gold, of course — the colors of these wagons stand out from the beiges and grays of the ordinary world.

Golden ornate circus wagon

Arthur Bros Circus Wagon

Link: circusworldbaraboo.org.

Location: 550 Water St, Baraboo, Wisconsin.

More Photos:

Circus World, Baraboo, WI

pillow collection

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 anymore. Sometimes the white & blue/black stripped “prison” pillows are nice. Nice pillows don’t last forever of course — like sheets, and 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 sunglasses 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 one. (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. 🙂

Upside down mall

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 cringe-worthy 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-beautiful 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, bedbugs, 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-tv 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.

Bibo

Return to Archie McPhee

My last visit to Seattle was in 2009, and at that time I visited Archie McPhee at 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 in Seattle

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 than 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 7:30 pm — 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 typical 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 are what you need.

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

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.