Land Yacht

A little bit east of Pittsburgh

Another year and another road trip to witness and map a 17-year periodical cicada emergence. This year it was Brood VIII (8), a group of cicadas in an area wrapped around Pittsburg on the east, north, and west. Disappointingly, my trip only lasted 4 days, including driving to and from Pittsburgh, thanks to crappy weather (rain) and a blown turbo intercooler.

Driving through Pennsylvania is rarely exciting, though much of it is pleasant to look at — mostly long green mountains that hug the ground like exhausted dachshunds, and the occasional tunnel to break the monotony. Blue, Kittatinny, Tuscarora, Allegheny. Route 70 is nice — not amazing, not grim, just nice.

I chose to stay at the Springhill Suites in Latrobe Pennsylvania because it was near a golf course. Golfers wake early and make quite a racket — cloudy brains in the grasp of a hangover struggling to assemble themselves, knocking into every wall, tripping over every chair, slamming every door. I wanted to wake early each day, and a hotel full of golfers is as good as any alarm clock. The Suites were nice — Paul Mitchel soaps that smelled of orange & spice; a desk in the room; a refrigerator to hold Redbull and snack cakes; a window facing west towards and a small airport — nice sunsets. Free Chupa Chups in the lobby. The Wi-Fi wasn’t free but also wasn’t expensive. The free breakfast was bland, but you get what you pay for.

Most of my trip was spent driving from one park to another, with the guidance of the built-in navigation system that came with my 7-year-old car. The system is outdated and often takes me along some wild paths — plenty of as the Germans say “hoffnungsvollunddocherschaudernd” — hopeful yet cringing — like mud & gravel one-lane roads with no exit for 2 miles.  Two white knuckle miles of potholes and ruts and the constant fear that a Silverado 6500HD is heading around the bend at 70 miles per hour. Still plenty of fun. It’s usually on roads like this were you find beautiful bubbling road-side brooks or a Grand National with 36″ tires parked next to a slowly oxidizing tractor. Life becomes interesting when your GPS forces you outside your comfort zone.

My favorite named location was the Hoodlebug Trail in Black Lick, PA (a “lick” is a natural salt or mineral deposit).

I use my entomological road trips as an excuse to partake in a few of my favorite things: gas station convenience store junk food fireworks stores, Little Debbie Snack Cakes, and weird, or not so weird, roadside attractions.

I’ve decided that my current favorite convenience store is Sheetz. I also like United Dairy Farmers (know for their ice cream). Circle K, Wawa, Quick Check, and 7-11 are fine as well — they all have their quirks. Sheetz has the best-iced coffee flavored drinks — banana, coconut, chocolate. Good stuff.

Frog Prince and Princess Fireworks

Glitter Mountain fireworks store in Donegal, PA had an enchanting selection of novelty fireworks, like Frog Prince and Princess, a Black Cat Mobile (like a Bat Mobile), and meme-themed rocket batteries. I love fireworks packaging as much as fireworks — all the bright, contrasting colors, hissing cats, grinning frogs, menacing aliens, metallic jellyfish starbursts — all advertise amazing explosive experiences. I want them all.

Little Debbie Snack Cakes

The biggest Walmarts usually have the best selection of Little Debbie snack cakes. Ever since I heard the band Southern Culture on the Skids sing about them in their song Camel Walk, I’ve been into them. I have a painting of Little Debbie on my office wall. I don’t eat them every day — but when I’m on road trips I track them down. I love their flavor, sweetness, and their unique plastic-like frosting.

As for roadside attractions, I didn’t see many of those. I did blunder upon The Laurel Hill Iron Furnace in St. Clair Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. This was an iron furnace back in the 19th century — now it looks like an ancient temple found in the jungles of South America.

Laurel Hill Iron Furnace

A shed being consumed by a forest…

Shed being consumed by a forest

And a car on a pole (Excel Auto Body in Export, PA on RT 66):

 

Here’s a map of the placed I visited:

Map

Here’s a list of places I wanted to visit but did not because of time and the blown intercooler:

  • Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney
  • Johnstown Flood Museum in Johnstown
  • Quality Dry Cleaners in McKees Rocks
  • Trundle Manor in Pittsburgh
  • Fallingwater in Mill Run
  • Kecksburg Space Acorn in Mt. Pleasant
  • World’s Largest Teapot in Chester, WV
  • Bayernhof Museum in Pittsburgh
  • Mars Flying Saucer in Mars

 

Notes about New Jersey

Moon Motel

A friend of mine was traveling to New Jersey, so I typed up some notes for her about what to see and do in the state. This is, by no means, a complete list, but in context to her winter-time travels it made sense. It was cut and pasted into a Facebook message.

If you’re from New Jersey, you’ll likely have strong opinions about the content of this article. It likely won’t feature your favorite places, and you’ll likely disagree. You’ll likely tell me about gramatical errors. But that’s New Jersey for you.

This article is written with a traveler in mind, so when I say things like “Jersey food is horrible” I’m thinking about how often I’ve gotten food poisoning from the average restaurant (a lot). Travlers need to avoid food poisoning. I’m sure your favorite — or your personally owned restuarant — is just fantastic.

Here is the message/notes on New Jersey.

Independent Reading

My expertise is mostly with West-northern and Central New Jersey.

Food

NJ has a lot of food choices, including some unique to the state. Those unique to the state are typically due to a regional business or the Shore (beach area). The diversity is due to NJ’s proximity to NYC. Generally speaking, if other states have it, they’re doing it better — for example, NJ is rife with great pizza parlors, but there’s better pizza in Brooklyn. Generally speaking, Jersey food is horrible — or at least no better than chain restaurants. With a few exceptions, the local Applebees is as good or better than the mom & pops.

So what’s unique to NJ?

Porkroll, which is ground up pork parts shaped into a bologna-shaped tubes that people sice up and cook with eggs and cheese, and eat them on a bun. A grab-and-go blue-collar belly warmer. These can be found anywhere. In the north they call it Taylor Ham, in the south it’s Pork Roll.

Giant hot dogs (found along the shore) and Italian Style Hot dogs (Newark area).
Giant hot dogs are large, thick-skinned hot dogs heated on a metal pan and served on a bun often with chili & cheese. Everyone will have their favorite place to get these, but Windmills are the most reliable — the Windmill in Longbranch is actually shaped like a windmill.

Italian Style hot dogs are hot dog served in an Italian bread roll, with ketchup, potatoes, and onions. I don’t know a specific place to get these. This is really a variety of the Jersey “Fat Cat” sandwich, with is typically a burger with EVERYTHING on it.

Tomatoes pies. A tomato pie is the inverse of a pizza, in that the sauce goes atop the cheese. That’s about it. Just as good as pizza — same combo of flavors.

Papa’s is the best known. https://www.papastomatopies.com They also have a mustard pie which I’ve tried once and actually liked.
It’s Nutts has a great name, and their tomato pies are pretty good as well http://www.itsnuttsrestaurant.com .

Disco Fries. French fries with gravy and cheese, but not curds like poutine. Found in diners.

Frozen Custard. This is a south Jersey shore thing. Basically soft serve ice cream, but instead of cream its based on custard (includes egg, which works well with vanilla). Very good, but not much better than plain old soft serve ice cream.

White Rose style burgers. These are essentially large White Castle burgers. Burgers with a lot of onions mixed into the meat, smash fried by allenged former convicts [this is not said for comic effect — it’s what I’ve been told time and time again]. Burger places have names like the White Rose System and are usually isolated from anything else interesting.

Baked eggs. Instead of frying eggs these hole in the wall mom & pop places bake them. The result is dry, not buttery, with a faint smell of burnt hair. Don’t recommend, but the places they serve them are are usually interesting as they haven’t updated since the 50s.

The Best City: Asbury Park

Asbury Park might be NJ’s most interesting city.

Wooden Walls Project. A couple dozen graffiti/street artist murals found throughout the town made by world-famous artists like Shephard Fairie, Squid Licker, and others. http://woodenwallsproject.com

The Silver Ball museum http://silverballmuseum.com/asbury-park/

The Carousel/Casino https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/asbury-park-casino-carousel-house

The Steam Plant https://blogfinger.net/tag/the-asbury-park-steam-power-plant/

The Paramount Theatre https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paramount_Theatre_(Asbury_Park,_New_Jersey)#/media/File:Asbury_Park_Paramount_Theater.JPG

Morro Castle Monument https://weirdnj.com/stories/mystery-history/morro-castle/

Good galleries [Parlor Gallery is superb], decent restaurants, music venues, and the boardwalk.

Roadside Signage/Figures

Interesting roadside sights are being rapidly destroyed as older businesses fail, so now is the time to see them.

Top of mind is the Clown in Middletown NJ. That’s going to torn down soon to make way for a Mall and Condos. It’s a giant plywood clown. https://weirdnj.com/stories/roadside-oddities/evil-clown-of-middletown/ . East-central Jersey.

Circus Drive-in sign. https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/27279 I think it is still up.

Motel Moon sign. https://www.flickr.com/photos/dancentury/42446341480/in/dateposted-public/

Some Unique Weirdness

The Deep Cut Gardens mafia volcano in Middletown. https://www.dancentury.com/travel/the-volcano-of-middletown-nj/ Better in the summer, because the gardens are in bloom.

Light Dispelling Darkness fountain in Edison NJ https://www.dancentury.com/travel/edison-new-jersey-is-boring-dont-go-there/

Quick Stop groceries from Clerks. It’s a real place. https://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/8659

Museums

Most museums in NJ are aimed at kids, and so a visit is 2 hours of high-pitched screaming and having strollers shoved into your ankles.

The Silverball Museum in Asbury Park is a pinball machine museum and you actually get to play with the machines. http://silverballmuseum.com/asbury-park/ It is the “#1 attraction in NJ”. East-central Jersey.

Sandy Hook/Hartshorne Woods/Fort Hancock. In the 1960s and prior, this was the military base that protected NYC from Nazis and the US from Russian missiles. Now it’s a huge, disintegrating military base that’s semi-open to the public. The fact that it’s winter and the government shutdown makes a lot of it inaccessible. But the stuff in the woods, and that isn’t fenced off is accessible. It looks like something from a post-apocalyptic video game (admittedly, I’m not a gamer). Two lighthouses. East central Jersey.

Grounds for Sculpture is a gigantic sculpture garden in Hamilton Township. http://www.groundsforsculpture.org It is, however, closed in February. There are many sculptures in the surrounding area outside the grounds through. West-central Jersey.

If you know someone interested on model trains Northlandz https://northlandz.com in Flemington is worth enduring screaming children. I’ve never been, but I hear it’s amazing… if you like trains. West-central Jersey.

InfoAge Science Center. Deep historical science and technology nerdery. https://infoage.org East-central Jersey. I’ve been to a computer fair there, but never to their main exhibit.

Holmdel Horn Antenna. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/holmdel-horn-antenna

Closed in February, but the Franklin Mineral Museum quarry is neat because they have glow under black-light rocks https://franklinmineralmuseum.com West-northern Jersey.

It’s sister mine might be open though: Sterling Hill Museum https://www.sterlinghillminingmuseum.org West-northern Jersey.

Thomas Edison Center Boring, but the world’s largest light bulb. East-central Jersey.

Decrepit and Abandoned

Other than the aforementioned Sandy Hook/Hartshorne Woods/Fort Hancock, NJ doesn’t have as much decrepit and abandoned that is obvious. Because of our large and ever-growing population the old gets ground up and replaced pretty quickly. The stuff that doesn’t get rebuilt/processed is typically left alone because it’s a toxic dump, there are legal issues, or it’s far enough from civilization that it gets a pass. Weird NJ http://weirdnj.com chronicles the stuff that’s a little out of the way, and beyond Atlas Obscura and Roadside America.

What is a mystery to me is South Jersey. Pine Barrens, southern Shore, odd little downs. They’re probably interesting stuff there.

Walked around Dallas in 107°F degree heat and it felt like the insides of my eyes were boiling

Back in July, I walked around Dallas in 107°F degree heat and it was so hot it felt like the insides of my eyes were boiling. I didn’t mind. I was happy. I love HOT weather, specifically dry HOT weather. Put me outside on a 100°F+ day, and I’ll stand in the heat until my head cracks open like a kernel of popcorn. Drop me in Texas on a 100°F+ day, and you’ll find me outside with a Shiner Bock beer and a pack of heat-loving chihuahuas — just as dumb as me — roasting their fontanels like chestnuts on an open fire.

That said, here are 10 Things to See or Do in Dallas during a Heatwave:

NUMBER 1: go see the The Giant Eyeball. There is a giant eyeball at the location: 1601 Main St, Dallas, TX 75201.

Dallas Eye Sculpture

NUMBER 2: get yourself some dried shrimp with their heads still attached at the 7-11. They don’t have these in New Jersey, so to me, they’re a novelty, and I find them interesting.

Bought this for the novelty of it. Will not eat.

Address: 1295 Commerce St, Dallas, TX 75202.

NUMBER 3: Pioneer Park Cemetary at Dusk. Pioneer Park is a quiet old cemetery, shaded by big oaks, and the occasional crepe myrtle. It is loaded with Megatibicen resh cicadas. Each night after work, I would grab a snack and some water, and head to the park and wait for the cicadas to sing at sunset. If you haven’t heard them sing, it’s kind of amazing. Other than the cicadas, which sing for just a half hour a day, the park is quiet, relative to the rest of the city. No one is there to hassle you, which I like.

A crepe myrtle at sunset.
Crepe Myrtle about 45 minutes from sunset

The squirrels are cute as well, and once they figure out you have snacks, they’ll follow you everywhere.
Dallas TX Cemetery Squirrels

Pay your respects to Baby Bowser:
Poor Baby Bowser, rest in peace

Is that a kid leaning up against that tomb? No, just an optical illusion.
Dallas -- above ground grave split by tree

Address: 1201 Marilla St, Dallas, TX 75201.

NUMBER 4: the Cattle & Cowboys sculpture at Pioneer Plaza.

To the west of Pioneer Park Cemetary is Pioneer Plaza, which features about 40 realistically sized and rendered sculptures of cows and cowboys. If you’re in Dallas you must see it.

Metal cattle:
Dallas cattle sculpture

A cowboy looking towards the skyscrapers of Dallas that beef, oil and telecommunications helped to build.
Dallas

As I walked around Pioneer Park, the nearby Police Memorial, and City Hall, one person after another stopped to ask me where “the cattle” were, like I was a park ranger. Maybe it was how I comport myself that gives me an air of authority. I am the new mayor of Dallas.

Address: 1428 Young St, Dallas, TX 75202.

NUMBER 5: Dallas Police Memorial. To me, it looks like something out of science fiction.
Dallas police memorial

Address: S Akard St. Dallas, TX 75202.

NUMBER 6: Fountain Place (the diamond shaped building) is perhaps the most impressive building in Dallas because it is capable of vibrating through time and space and transporting reptilian travelers to our dimension. What?

Dallas 7-11 and "diamond" building

Address: Fountain Place, Dallas, TX 75202.

NUMBER 7: Dallas World Aquarium. BUT ONLY WHEN FAMILIES ARE NOT AROUND.

When you pack hundreds of people, on a 100°F day, into an attraction with a climate that resembles an actual jungle, where customers can only walk as fast as the person ahead of them, and one out of five have strollers or baby carriages, and the parents are ramming the strollers into your Achilles tendons… its a nightmare. “Oh look, a sloth”… good luck taking a photo as a herd of humanity gathers you up like a wave and pushes you down the path like a log down a flume.

Go on a day when it is not crowded and families are not around.

Blue frog will poison you. Don’t touch.
Blue frog at the Dallas World Aquarium... which is like a combination DMV and a pet shop. It was 110 degrees inside. You have to walk down winding narrow paths at 1 mile per century while kids scream and their parents ram your Achilles’ tendons with strollers.

Address: 1801 N Griffin St, Dallas, TX 75202.

NUMBER 8: Perot Museum of Nature and Science. Just look at the building, which looks like it should be a modern art museum by the shape of it. Stacks of collapsing twisted metal & glass. But don’t go in because it’s filled with thousands of families. Families love dinosaurs, and this place has them. Avoid, unless you are a family.

Perot museum in Dallas

Address: 2201 N Field St, Dallas, TX 75201.

NUMBER 9: Dallas Museum of Art. The Dallas Museum of Art … because it is spacious, has fewer families than the Perot Museum or Dallas World Aquarium, and it is air-conditioned. Bonus points if you actually like art — I do — you may not.

Elliptical bottle depicting a sprouting bean with a human face. 300-100 BC, Mexico. Looks like the Etruscan Boar Vessel.
Elliptical bottle depicting a sprouting bean with a human face. 300-100 BC, Mexico

Address: 1717 N Harwood St, Dallas, TX 75201.

NUMBER 10: The fountain at City Hall with the rotating red Pacman sculptures.

Dallas panorama

“The fountain”, as I call it, is a large, round artificial pond featuring water fountains, and rotating red Pacman-like structures. On a blazing-hot day, it looks quite refreshing.

One evening, I was exploring the grounds looking for evidence of cicadas and taking photos of the semi-futuristic City Hall when a figure in black appeared in the courtyard surrounding the fountain. Black pants and a hoodie. Shoulder-length black hair. From a distance, I couldn’t tell if the person was a man or woman. I kept my distance. The person approached the fountain, slid in and began to swim around. I envied this person’s bravery, and how cool and refreshed they must have felt. No fear of authorities, disease, or harm from the mechanical or electrical systems powering the dual, rotating, red Pacmen. Freedom. I just sat and watched and admired that person and thought “if I had shorts on, I would have gone in too.”

I’m pretty sure the person was a she, and she sat next to me on the flight back to Newark.

Address: 1500 Marilla St. Dallas, TX 75201

BONUS! TRAVEL PRO-TIPS!

  1. If you go someplace, and it’s full of kids and families, and you’re there alone, just go. Leave. It’s their space. You’ve entered a time and space that belongs to families. Go to a bar… or some other place for adults… and maybe come back when there are no families around. But just leave. You don’t belong there.
  2. If you have 10 hours to kill before a flight, do this: take all your stuff (luggage, unnecessary jackets, laptop), and bring it to a UPS or FedEx and ship it to your home or office — and then go out and enjoy the town. That’s what I do. It’s good advice.
  3. Dallas has a lot of refreshing looking fountains. On a hot summer day, they look very inviting. Will you go for a swim? Probably not.

Lots of lovely fountains in Dallas

10 things to see or do in Cleveland other than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

NUMBER 1: DEVOtional. In late July, I attended the DEVOtional event in Cleveland, Ohio. The DEVOtional is a 3-day event celebrating the band DEVO, with performances by DEVO cover bands, DEVO karaoke, vendors of DEVO merch, guest speakers (2018’s event featured Jerry Casale of DEVO), and mini-events like a 5K run. If you love DEVO, you owe it to yourself to attend this yearly extravaganza at least once.

Devo fans in Cleveland at the Devotional

Check their website for future locations.

NUMBER 2: The GIANT silver hand. The giant silver hand is currently over by the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA), last time I checked. I might have crawled to a new location.

Giant metal hand outside MOCA in Cleveland

Approximate address: Address: 11400 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, OH 44106.

NUMBER 3: Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA). Look at the shape of that building. There are exhibits inside as well. Check their website for current exhibits and events. Rub your hands on it. It’s smooth.

MOCA

Address: 11400 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, OH 44106.

NUMBER 4: The Peter B Lewis Building. Look at this building. Just look at it. Twisting metal and curving brick. It’s something else.

Peter B Lewis Building in Cleveland

Address: 11119 Bellflower Rd, Cleveland, OH 44106.

NUMBER 5: the world-famous Etruscan Boar Vessel. I was literally shaking when I saw it. Epic.

World famous Etruscan Boar Vessel

The rest of the museum is genuinely amazing as well. Top 10 museums I’ve ever been to. During the summer fo 2018, they had a massive Yayoi Kusama exhibit.

Yayoi Kusama exhibit at the Cleveland museum

Address: inside the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd, Cleveland, OH 44106.

NUMBER 6: the Blue Morpho butterflies at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. The Cleveland Botanical Garden itself is pretty awesome, but its huge butterfly pavilion is super amazing.

Morpho butterfly at rest (don't be shy, show your colors)

Address: 11030 East Blvd, Cleveland, OH 44106.

NUMBER 7: the sculptures around Wade Lagoon. Wade Lagoon is a lake in Cleveland that is surrounded by many exceptional sculptures. My favorite are the mermaids.

Wade Lagoon Mermaids contemplate moving into the apartments across the street

Coordinates: 41.51°N 81.61°W. (Hint: it’s in front of the place the Etruscan Boar Vessel is in.)

NUMBER 8: Blue Arrow Records. This record store is located in the Waterloo section of Cleveland. They have a cat, t-shirts with the cat’s face on it (I bought one), and an awesome selection of used (and probably new) records. I’ve been to the Princeton Record Exchange, the Groovy Graveyard, Revilla Grooves & Gear and Curmudgeon Records, so I know what I’m talking about — it’s a great record store.

Blue Arrow Records in Cleveland

Address: 16001 Waterloo Rd, Cleveland, OH 44110.

NUMBER 9: the Axolotl in the basement of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. It’s there, just chilling out. Trust me. Don’t hassle it though. Give it the peace and quiet it craves.

Axolotl

The rest of the museum is top notch. There’s an eagle named Spaghetti, a friendly raven, and a massive wildlife of Ohio exhibit in the basement (close to the Axolotl).

Address: 1 Wade Oval Dr, Cleveland, OH 44106.

NUMBER 10: B.A. Sweetie’s candy warehouse. I already wrote an entire article about that place.

at b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

Address: 6770 Brookpark Road, Cleveland OH 44129.

B.A. Sweeties Candy Company in Cleveland, Ohio

I’m a sucker for candy and novelty as much as any American, and that’s why I stopped by B.A. Sweeties Candy Company (6770 Brookpark Road, Cleveland OH 44129) this past summer.

B.A. Sweeties is a massive warehouse of candy and soda. It’s about the size of a large supermarket or Best Buy, but not quite as big as a Target or Walmart. It is entirely filled to the ceiling with candy, gum, and soda. One of their slogans is “$3,000,000.00 worth of inventory available at any time!”, and I know I spend almost $200. If memory serves, I bought Charleston Chews, Cherry Mash, candy necklaces, Sour Patch Kids, DOTS, candy cigarettes, sour-candy-flavored breath spray, Chowards gum and candy, Goldberg’s peanut chews, Good n’ Plenty, and many more. Some of this I could get at the local 7-11, but a lot I cannot. I live in New Jersey, which is pretty much a “candy desert” in terms of good candy selection, so when I’m in Ohio, I stock up.

Receipt!

b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

With sympathy to those amongst us with Type-2 diabetes, or those like myself, who have struggled with obesity most of their life, here’s a selection of photos from B.A. Sweeties.

Here’s some “old timey” Chowards gum and candy. Their violet scented gum always fascinated me. Who came up with that idea? Mrs. Chowards?
Chowards are an acquired taste.  at b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

Look at all these chocolates! Have you tried a Cherry Mash before? If you like candied cherries and chocolate, you simply must eat an entire box full (in a single afternoon).
So much chocolate  at b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

Necco Wafers! The legendy candies that no one admits to liking, but everyone in New Jersey used to use as Jersey Turnpike toll tokens (according to legends).
Neco wafers at b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

I love Dots candies. Their fruity flavors are delicious, and never too weird. I love the sensation of biting into a Dots, and the sweet resistance they offer as my molars compress and slice into their candy gel.
Dots  at b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

Candy buttons! A classic! A little paper with your candy nevery hurt anyone!
Candy Buttons at b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

I lost 45 pounds this year simply by cutting out sweets, and for the first time in my life, I could see my abdominal muscles. Since visiting Sweeties, I’ve gained back 10 pounds (not the full 45). I’ve found that the key to a happy life is to limit your treats and sweets for approximately 360 days a year, and then for the remaining five days, just do crazy and go on a candy vacation.

Funk n Waffles

Funk n’ Waffles

Ask people where you should eat in Syracuse, and more times than not they’ll say Dinosaur Barbeque. And when you tell them you went to Syracuse, and you didn’t go to Dinosaur Barbeque, they’ll gasp and sigh like you passed on the opportunity of a lifetime. I am not kidding.

Dinosaur Barbeque must be really good. But I’ve had barbecue in North Carolina, and most southern states. And I’ve never had fried chicken served on a waffle before. So when I was in Syracuse, I opted to dine at Funk n’ Waffles.

Funk n Waffles in Syracuse

Funk n’ Waffles is a groovy little restaurant that serves fried chicken tenders on waffles, with an optional selection of sauces. I think I got the ‘spicey maple’. Soul-warming and unexpectedly decadent. Crisp and tender. Savory and sweet. Recommended. Their logo is a waffle on a record turntable — doesn’t get much cooler than that.

I spent some time wandering around Downtown Syracuse. I walked past Dinosaur Barbeque — it was packed, inside and out. Decorated with cartoon dinosaurs. I didn’t get a second dinner, but I thought about it.

The colorfully illuminated art-deco Niagara Mohawk Building:
Art Deco with colorful lighting. Syracuse

A road cone with koi painted on it:
Koi road cone

A metallic building:
Metallic building in Syracuse

The reason why I was in Syracuse, might be more interesting than this story: 17-year Cicadas.

A Rave about Hunter DineRant

The diner: that great American species of restaurant! When I think of a diner, I think of a variety of food, at a reasonable price. Eggs at 2 am. A place where cash-strapped young adults can gather and converse, recovering from or plotting their next adventure over black coffee and fries. A place were laughs, worries and dreams can be shared among friends.

Hunter Dinerant (I’m guessing Dinerant is a portmanteau of diner & restaurant) is located in Auburn, New York, about 3 miles north of the finger lake, Owasco Lake. On Google, it’s called “Hunter’s Dinerant”, but the actual signage lacks the apostrophe. The Dinerant seems to hang over the side of the Owasco River.

The Dinerant is what I would call a classic American diner. Not quite the romanticized Hollywood version with a cast of gum-snapping, pomade-greased teenagers bopping about — but close.

The Dinerant has many of the features that every classic diner should have:

  1. It is shaped like a railroad dining car. A single aisle down the center. Curved corners.
  2. It is wrapped in gleaming chrome, and detailed with crimson and white stripes.
  3. It has booths for groups, and a counter & stools for solitary folks.
  4. Cadillac-pink vinyl upholstery. Pink Formica everywhere.
  5. Meat-pink floors flecked with white and black confetti patterns.
  6. Vinyl-protected menus listings dozens, if not hundreds of reasonably priced comfort foods.
  7. A mini jukebox at every table, with alpha-numeric keypads. You want to play a song just to feel the mechanical pop of those keys.

This type of diner differs from the Jersey Greek diners I’m used to. Jersey Greek diners lack the railroad dining car shape and 1950’s aesthetic. Same basic food and jukeboxes though.

The waitress was polite and welcomed me to sit wherever I like. I ordered a coffee, fries and a grilled cheese on white — my personal favorite diner foods. It’s been 5 months since I was there, but I remember the coffee was strong, but not burnt, bitter or sour. It was perfect. Nice white porcelain mug. The fries — not too thin, not too thick — I covered with a reasonable shower of ketchup — that familiar micro-moment resistance of the fried outside, giving way to the soft potato fluff inside. The grilled cheese was photo perfect — cut on a diagonal. Each bite was a harmony of buttery, barely crisp bread, oozing with just hot enough to not burn your mouth American cheese. Delicious. Exactly the lunch I needed to supply the energy for a long day of driving.

Visit the Hunter Dinerant for its classic looks and a perfect diner meal. Marvel at how it partially hangs over the side of a small river.

Interior of the Dinerant — thankfully just one TV, with the volume turned low. So much pink and chrome.
Interior of Hunter Dinerant

The exterior of the Dinerant — see the river below?
Hunter Dinerant

Across the street and to the right you’ll see a large pale red sign for Genesee Beer. It looks like it was once neon, but the tubes have been removed.
Genesee Beer

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

The House on the Rock, Area 3

Area 3 of the House on the Rock includes new views of the Carousel, Organ Room, Inspiration Point, Doll House Room, Circus Room, Galleries, Doll Carousel Building and the Japanese Garden.

After touring Area 1 and Area 2, you have experienced a lot. Your mind cannot possibly process it all — and probably can’t store much more information. You’re likely exhausted and perhaps dehydrated like I was. But, like me, you bought the ticket for the Ultimate Experience, so you keep on moving…

The Doll Carousel is much like the main Carousel, but it features Dolls — just as magnificent, but in smaller, G-Rated ways:
Small Carousel. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

A small cafeteria area with free water — needed after miles of walking — leads back outside to Inspiration Rock. A rock formation Alex Jordan would visit to contemplate his dreams.

Inspiration Rock

Back inside there are more mind-numbingly immense and intricate robotic bands…

Robotic band. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

Massive and ornate sculptures made of red lanterns, trees, and copper drums…

Red lamps and drums. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

And a giant electrical machine dedicated to Nikolai Tesla…

Red chandelier. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

You also get a close-up, elevated view of the large Carousel at the end of Area 2, in all its incredible, anatomically correct, magnificence.

Exit the door near the naked woman wearing the goat mask (I’m not kidding), and Area 3 ends with the Japanese Garden and the Gift Shop. The House on the Rock tour begins with a garden and ends with a garden. A perfect circle of sorts…

Garden. House on the Rock in Wisconsin

What else can I say?

Go see it for yourself. I’ve heard it’s featured in the Neil Gaiman book American Gods. The fudge sold by the gift shop is delicious. The staff is kind and helpful.

Link: The House on the Rock website.
Location: 5754 Wisconsin 23, Spring Green, WI