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:

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

Archie McPhee in Seattle

What would life be without the occasional zany novelty item? Life would be gray, dull, routine, boring. It would be a song that that has rhythm, but no melody.

The front of the store. Note the neon sign, lizard face and notice that they were moving locations:
Archie Mcphee

Archie McPee is the grand champion of zany but tasteful novelties (they seem to stay away from the fart and sex jokes). They have their favorite topics, like rubber ducks, rubber chickens, bacon, cats, bigfoot, squirrels, pickles, unicorns, the devil, and odd-ball historical figures. They have their favorite types of novelties, like finger puppets, wind-up toys, bandages, cat hats, mints, masks, squirrel feeders, lip balm, and air fresheners. Need underpants for your squirrel? They got it. Need a bacon-scented air freshener? They got it. Need an inflatable wizard hat for your cat? They got that too.

I’m a big fan of Archie McPhee. I’ve been ordering from their catalog for at least 20 years, particularly for Christmas gifts. My favorite item of all time is their (discontinued) Cicada Keychain. When I was in Seattle for business I visited their brick n’ mortar store. Every fan of zany novelty items should visit at least once in their lifetime.

The store was everything I hoped for: everything in the online catalog and more… much more. They had boxes of eyes meant for taxidermy, and odd-ball stuff like that. Plus, giant heads, carnival fortune readers, and other props that fit the motif of their merchandise. The staff was helpful, pleasant but not dead behind the eyes.

A row of the Devil Duckies that they are famous for:
Archie Mcphee

Giant paper-mache devil head:
Devil Head

Captain Archie, Fortune Teller:
Capt. Archie

My purchases:
Archie Mcphee purchases

The location I visited, in May of 2009, has since closed and the store has moved to a new location. I imagine the new location is just as magical.

If you want more insight into Archie McPhee, check out this blog post on the Secret Fun Blog and follow their CEO Mark Pahlow in twitter.

Official Bad Art Museum of Art

Who’s to say that a particular piece of art is “bad”? You, that’s who.

Art is best when it is able to change our state — state of mind or state of emotion. If a piece of art can make you feel joyful, energized, comforted, disgusted, curious, fearful, motivated, relaxed, inspired, satiated or terrified, it is good art. If art makes you feel nothing or leaves you unchanged, it is bad art. But keep an open mind — because something you perceive to be bad, might be good — you just lack the knowledge, experience, and perspective to see the good in it.

The OBAMA room

This brings us to the Official Bad Art Museum of Art a.k.a. O.B.A.M.A. (no relation to P.O.T.U.S.), a small museum located in the Cafe Racer, a bar / coffee shop / small music venue, located in Seattle, Washington.

The art in the Official Bad Art Museum of Art is really more “tacky” or “kitschy” than “bad” — black velvet, glitter, cloying, bizarre, outmoded, or in poor taste. All these qualities are capable of putting a smile on someone’s face — either a grin borne of genuine adoration or a smirk born of irony. Either way, the art is capable of changing a person’s state, and is therefor not truly “bad”. It’s fun to call it bad art, though, so I won’t pass judgement on the name of the gallery.

Here is some of the “so bad it’s good” art to be found at O.B.A.M.A.:

A Glittering Elvis:
Glitter Elvis

A Cute Pooch on Black Velvet:
Classic pooch on black velvet

An Unbelievable Jesus Made of Peeps:
Jesus made from Peeps

A Fluffy Cat:
Fluffy Baby

Anthropomorphic Poodle Lady:
Poodle Lady

The Cafe Racer itself is a comfortable, little beer, booze and coffee bar. The people there were friendly. I enjoyed having the option to enjoy some delicious beers and strong coffee. Stop for the museum, stay for a drink and some conversion.

A wish all bars offered good coffee, in addition to booze.

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I was last there in the spring of 2009.