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.
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:
Also, note that the original drawing of Calico features all 7 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.
My Hocking Hills story beings as many of my travel stories do: mapping periodical cicadas. I had heard that Hocking Hills park in Ohio was a hotspot for the rarest of the three 17 year cicada species (Magicicada septendecula), so I traveled there to check it out. The reports were true… the cicadas were there in abundance… but no one had told me about the cave.
I’m a sucker for a good cave. I see a sign for a cave and I’ll drive 100, no, make that 200 miles to see that cave. Case in point: Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky. Back in 2014 I was in Cincinnati, started heading home (east) for New Jersey, but the next thing you know I’m 208 miles south at a cave! Sure, I stopped at the Jim Beam distillery along the way, but I ended up at a cave.
While wandering through the Hocking Hills state park — clutching my video camera, listening for septendecula, trying not to stand out amongst the dozens of tourists milling about — I saw the sign: “Old Man Cave”. Suddenly the sounds of cicadas dissolved from my mind and all I could think was “cave”.
That’s the third paragraph that ends in cave. Get the point?
Surprisingly Old Man Cave is not a “traditional” below ground cave. It is an above ground cave, because it has no ceiling. Perhaps it had a ceiling at one time; perhaps it collapsed. Had you asked me, I would have guessed that it was actually a canyon. As you’ll see from my photos and video, it still looks like a cave — limestone rock sculpted by the erosion of water — but it also looks like a canyon.
To get to the cave you have to enter a tunnel (the most “traditional” cave-like part of the journey). At the mouth of the tunnel were two healthy-looking young men; before I could enter, one stopped me. “Are you sure you want to go into the cave? It’s a hard walk even for me.” He advised me to go through the tunnel, enjoy the view, and then turn around and go home. He wasn’t an employee of the park — just another tourist.
I had to pause, if just for a moment, and ask myself: “how decrepit is my appearance?” Yes, I know I look like Lucious Malfoy: clearly middle-aged, with bone-white hair. And certainly, I could stand to lose a few pounds (more like 20). “How feeble and near death do I appear?”
I thanked the young man for his advice and concern and entered the tunnel. Upon exiting, the view was amazing. It’s hard to capture the magnificence with a photograph. To the right there’s a massive limestone overhang, slick with moisture and stained with streaks of green algae; straight ahead the cave/canyon drops maybe a hundred feet to the cave floor. It’s spectacular. At that moment I thought, “I have to do this; I have to experience this, even if the young man is right and I will die trying.”
The Old Man Cave trail passes under the massive rock overhang, and then winds and twists along the side of the cave until you reach the bottom, at that point you can enjoy the view of the waterfall, and then you hike back up the other side and continue around until you reach the start.
The hike down is long, and the hardest part is maintaining your balance and not falling to your death while taking a photo. Core strength is important. The hike up requires leg strength and stamina, but it isn’t all that bad. There were a few septuagenarians and little kids hacking it — it was fine. No worries.
Video from my hike:
After the Old Man Cave, I took a break… grabbed some water… made a video of some bugs…
Along the path back to my car there were a group of young dudes debating on whether they should hop a fence and go swimming in the stream below. They were having a serious debate — you might think they were getting up the nerve to talk to some young women — no, just going for an illegal swim.
Crossing back across the bridge I could hear them splash into the river below. I thought “good, they’re living life, and taking chances as they should”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
1) The Lake. Most tourists probably go to Burlington for Lake Champlain, which provides all manner of water-based outdoor possibilities. It is beautiful. It has its own Loch Ness monster-like creature named Champ.
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.
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.
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.
5) The patriotic Egg Man. I don’t know the story of this mural, but it certainly deserves a good one.
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.
Note: this story needs some editing, but it’s late and I want to get it out.
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.
That said, Pokemon Go has a truly valuable side effect: kids are actually learning about their neighborhoods, towns, counties, and other real-world places they visit. They’re learning to value their local parks, trails, monuments, and attractions. The game makes kids go to these greenways, trailheads, statues, sculptures, etcetera, in order to win Pokemon Balls and achievements. 90% of these kids would never have learned about these places. This best thing about Pokemon Go: kids are learning about the real world, in amazing detail, and even after they grow out of Pokemon Go, they’ll remember and appreciate these places and return there someday.
I downloaded the app to test this out. Yeah, I caught a few Pokemon. Yeah, I captured Tauros in Deep Cut Gardens. But, mostly what I was interested in was the PokeStops aka the real-world places of interest that appear in the game. My town only had one: “Fish Art” — a giant fish painting outside a fish restaurant. But once I left my town, I found monuments to war heroes, parks, hiking trails, and here’s the coolest one: a place to go digging for fossils. FOSSILS!
It was after work. Maybe 6:30 pm. I started the Pokemon Go app specifically to look for some interesting local places. In the distance (within the app) I saw a marker for a PokeStop. So I drove there (I know, I should have walked, cheating), and there it was: Poricy Park Fossil Beds. Actual fossil remains of sea creatures. Like finding the skeletal remains of ancient Pokemon! And guess what?! I walked into the woods and up to a muddy, dank stream bed. I dug my hands deep into that mud. I swirled that mud around in my fist, and within minutes I had a small collection of fossils.
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.
When writing this post, the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas came to mind. In that movie Johnny Depp (Raoul Duke (Hunter S. Thompson)) and Benicio Del Toro (Dr. Gonzo) are traveling to Las Vegas (or was it from…) when Depp announces “wait, we can’t stop here, this is Bat Country!”, which is a famous line from the film. Bats become a major component of the film, and are mentioned 35 times in the script. There are many strange and creepy moments in the film, and bats are a major (but perhaps the most natural) part of the experience.
Driving through Garrett County, Maryland — alone and totally sober (okay, caffeinated) — I noticed the appearance of Bears everywhere. Signs in the shape of bears, wooden bears, places with “bear” in their name. And to be clear, I’m talking about black bears aka Ursus americanus. Garrett County Maryland is clearly “bear country”.
Unlike Raoul Duke, I had no fear of the dominant local mammalian fauna. Statistically speaking, only one person per year dies of a bear attack — and that’s all bears, not just black bears. You are 33,000 times more likely to to be killed by a human driving a car than a bear. That’s 3,300,000% more likely. Here’s the source if you don’t believe me. Now, am I suggesting that if you’re on a road trip in bear country it is safe to stop in a forest, and prance off into woods covered in spoiled lard and blueberries? No! You should be wary of bears, and pay them the respect they deserve, but don’t avoid Garrett County because the dominant megafauna are bears.
If you think like I do, you’ll want some bear-themed souvenirs. Bear Creek Traders in McHenry, Maryland is a super-market sized store filled to the rafters with all manner of bear-themed bric-a-brac, tchotchkes, quelque chose. When I walked through the door, an alarm went off that announced “a rube as entered the building”. When it comes to travel situations, I have little self-control, so I loaded up on $99 of t-shirts, mugs, magnets, shot glasses, and stickers. I love that kind of stuff.
The most iconic manifestation of Garrett’s bear obsession are the chainsaw-carved bears that festoon nearly every business or homestead in the county. Chainsaw bears are not unique to Garrett, but they “own” the art form. If you haven’t seen them before, they’re literally bears sculpted out of wood using a chainsaw; the limited precision of a chainsaw combined with the natural grain of the wood simulate the fur of the bears.
Sell fudge and popcorn? Why not sell bears as well?
While mapping the outer edge of Brood V, I stopped at a chainsaw vendor in Bittinger along rt. 495. I met the proprietor, and we had a short conversation about bears, insects, religion, and life. There’s no sense in traveling unless you stop and talk to folks along the way.
In a “why the heck not” moment, I decided to purchase a small chainsaw bear. He now greets people who visit my apartment, and guards it from evil spirits.
When hard-working New York entrepreneurs want to relax they head to New Jersey. Mostly they go to the Jersey Shore. Vito “Don Vito” Genovese was no exception. Vito took his hard-earned money and invested it in an estate in the northern-most shore town: Middletown Township. Within the estate, Vito created a majestic botanical garden, featuring dozens of species of trees, a massive rose garden, a koi pond, a frog pond, and terraced gardens featuring pools, waterfalls, and a volcano.
That’s right: a volcano. Not a real volcano of course, but a model of the famous Mount Vesuvius in Italy.
I’ve seen this Grimace-shaped stack of rocks a dozen or more times and never thought it was a volcano. A horribly misshapen barbecue or kiln perhaps. But now I can see it. It doesn’t really look like Mount Vesuvius, but that isn’t something I would ever say to Don Vito.
But in context of the beauty of the gardens, it’s pretty alright.
Did I mention the volcano has a side-hatch? A hidey-hole? A place to put stooges who say it doesn’t look like the real Mount Vesuvius?
It’s also worth mentioning that I discovered that the volcano was a volcano thanks to the Roadside America app, which is the best app of all, and one of a handful of reasons to own an iPhone.
Also, important to note that the volcano is located in Deep Cut Gardens, which is now owned by the County of Monmouth. Go see it.
Accident, Maryland is a town created by accident. Legend has it that there was a guy, and this guy had one job to do. That job was to divide up the land in Garrett County, Maryland. But, he messed up. He done goofed. Instead of dividing the land up evenly, he accidentally left one area unaccounted for. His accident became the town of Accident.
I visited Accident on purpose, but mostly to get this photo of this sign.
The Sideling Hill Overlook is at welcome center & rest stop in Maryland on i68. It’s worth stopping for the view of the massive cut through a mountain called Sideling Hill, and the overlook of the valley to the east. Good for photographers, which is everyone these days.
Overlooking the valley below:
Mountain? No problem, just carve a wedge out of it:
There is a Vietnam War memorial on the premises. The rest stop facilities are clean as well.
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”.
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.