I visited the attraction twice in December of 2019 — once during the day (12/3), and once at night (12/10). During the day, all the shops & restaurants are open for business. At night, the shops are closed & the place becomes a neon ghost town.
I didn’t plan on visiting South of the Border at night, but when I passed it — all lit up like a bowl of electric candy — I could not resist. How often do you get to explore a tourist attraction when you’re the only tourist? Rare. I stopped, walked around, it was worth it.
I saw one other guy, and we were both taking photos of the giant Pedro statue:
The Hot Tamale restaurant & “hot dog” statue:
Fort Pedro Fireworks store:
Pedro’s Pantry convenience store:
Ice Cream shop with Christmas Tree:
Giant neon sombrero tower:
“Never Fart” (Josh) sticker on a dumpster:
The big, colorful neon South of the Border sign visible from the highway:
Fayetteville, North Carolina is a solid half-way stop between New Jersey and Florida. I’ve stayed there overnight several times — Marriott Springhill Suites is my top hotel recommendation.
On my last trip, I nearly crashed my car when I caught this roadside attraction out of the corner of my eye. It is a reasonably large Eiffel tower replica at a strip mall called Bordeaux Center. Maybe not as exciting as a giant pink dinosaur or mermaids, but surprising none the less, and worth a stop for a photo.
Driving through Georgia on a major interstate road you’ll likely see dozens of signs for Peach World. Like the signs for Florida Citrus Centers in Florida, or South of the Border signs in South Carolina, the repeated Peach World signs form a mantra in the mind — billboard hypnosis that compels the curious to eventually stop at one of these roadside markets.
Georgia, of course, is known for its production of peaches, and Peach World is an orange shrine to peaches and peach-based foods.
I visited my first Peach World in December of 2019 returning from a road trip to Miami. To be honest, it wasn’t Peaches or the hypnotic, meme-mnemonics of seeing a Peach World sign every mile — it was Boiled Peanuts. Throughout my travels in the South, I saw hundreds of signs for Boiled Peanuts. Peach World had them, and that was enough for me to stop.
The exterior of the Peach World was what you might expect: an orange-colored (not “peach”) building (if you think about it, peaches are mostly orange & yellow, not pink/”peach”) with a sign that reads Peach World. Both the sign and the ramp needed cleaning with a power washer. The grounds featured a donkey & pony, which you’re free to feed corn and an eye-catching orange VW Bug.
The interior was very clean (no need for power-washing). One side featured the cash register and various machines to make peach-flavored ice cream and boiled peanuts. The rest of the shop was packed tight with wooden shelves & tables, packed even tighter with so much good stuff — pretty much everything you can imagine that incorporates peaches, peanuts, pecans, and anything you can bake, dry, or otherwise preserve. And a minimal amount of souvenirs — magnets, shirts, glassware. The proprietor was perfect — not pushy, but eager to entertain any question about Peach World and the confections it offers.
Much of the food I encountered was not easily found in New Jersey (where I’m from). New Jersey has its fair share of farmers markets & foods, it’s known for (tomatoes, corn, blueberries, cranberries, pork roll, salt-water taffy) — but there’s nothing like a Peach World or Florida Citrus World in New Jersey — there’s no “Jersey Corn Country” or “Jersey Pork Roll, Egg & Cheese Planet”. I purchased a case of various jarred foods — peach cobbler in a jar, peaches, okra, tiny corn cobs, & quail eggs. They were all fantastic, but the cobbler & quail eggs were a revelation — both I would definitely get again, whether on the road or via mail-order.
Now, onto the boiled peanuts — the reason I stopped in the first place. They’re literally peanuts in the shell that have been boiled. You get a heaping hot bagful — and if you let it be known that you’re eating them on a road trip, you’ll get a plastic bag and napkins so your hands, lap & car doesn’t turn into a swampy mess of hot peanut juice. I recommend giving them a try. They’re warm and soft — almost like a tiny potato — any they taste like shelled peanuts, not like peanut butter.
It’s worth contrasting Peach World with a Florida Citrus World. While I’ve only been to one of each, they’re as different as they are similar. Peach World focuses on preserved foods & baked goods, like Florida Citrus World is more bags of citrus fruit & candy. Florida Citrus World’s souvenir section of t-shirts, glassware, alligator toys & other tchotchkes dwarfs the minimal souvenir selection of Peach World. Both have animals — I’m sure it varies by location — but Florida CW’s got baby gators. I guess, if you’re like me, you have to stop at both, at least once, but because the foods are so good at Peach World, it’s more memorable.
In December of 2019, I took a few weeks off to drive to Florida, because I’ve never been to Florida before. Never — not even to Disneyland. Along the way, there was one place I wanted to visit more than any other: the Oozlefinch brewery in Fort Monroe, Virginia.
First, what is the Oozlefinch? An Oozlefinch is a cryptid (like Bigfoot or the Jersey Devil) — a featherless bird that was seen, as legend has it, by certain members of the U.S. military, perhaps during a state of intoxication, and was then embraced as a mascot. From Wikipedia:
The Oozlefinch is the unofficial historic mascot of the Air Defense Artillery – and formerly of the U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corps. The Oozlefinch is portrayed as a featherless bird that flies backwards (at supersonic speeds)and carries weapons of the Air Defense and Coast Artillery, most often a Nike-Hercules Missile. Oozlefinch has been portrayed in many different forms and artistic interpretations through its history.
I learned about the Oozlefinch from a tour guide at the Nike Missle Radar Base at Fort Hampton in Sandy Hook, NJ. As part of the tour, the tour guide tells the tale of the Oozlefinch and its importance to the U.S. Air Defence program. If you’re ever on Sandy Hook, make sure you take the tour and visit the various abandoned military bases there. It’s rad — it’s like something from a Half-Life video game.
The tour guide (I think his name is McMahon) explained the history of the Nike Missle program and the Oozlefinch:
Old radar, now a favorite roosting place for vultures (no Oozlefinches):
As part of the history of the Oozlefinch, the tour guide mentioned the Oozlefinch brewery in Virginia. At that moment, I got it in my head to visit that brewery. Once something novel or bizarre gets lodged in my mind, there’s no getting it out.
If you’re traveling from New Jersey to Florida, no GPS will take you through Fort Monroe, Virginia — it’s going to take you on I-95S, circumventing Delmarva entirely. Even when you ask the GPS to take you to Fort Monroe, Virginia, it’s going to take you through Washington D.C. — you don’t want to do that — for many reasons. What you want to do is take US 13 South instead — through the guts of Delaware, into Maryland, and then into Virginia and across the Chesapeake Bay. Why? Because that’s the most scenic route. I’m also going to recommend crossing the Chesapeake at sunset because it’s spectacular.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is amazing. It’s 18 miles of bridges and tunnels over and under the Chesapeake bay — lit by the setting sun, illuminated by cycling rainbow-colored lights — it’s a sight to see. At this leg of my journey, Spotify was playing Lana Del Rey and Grimes — pretty good, chill music considering the flow and visuals of driving across an 18-mile expanse of water at sunset. To be honest, I don’t pay attention to the lyrics.
I rolled into Fort Monroe right when the sky turned black and rain began. Nestled in the moist darkness of the Virginia milliary base, I found a black cinderblock building, with a beer garden illuminated with large-bulb, festive Christmas lights glimmering in the rain — and there it was: the Oozefinch bird in all its featherless, long-necked glory inviting me in.
Inside, like many brewpubs, there’s massive, gleaming brew kettles, and a medium-sized bar and souvenir area. They have an extensive variety of beers, with lots of fancy different flavored beers. Not basic at all. If you’re into craft beers, you’re going to want to try them all. I tried the hefeweizen — pretty tasty.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have food — no carbs to soak up the alcohol — and with at least 4 more hours of driving ahead of me, I limited myself to one beer. [REDACTED]. And I bought some souvenir keychains and stickers — in case I ever make it back to the Nike Missle Base in New Jersey, I’m going to give one to the tour guides there.
I hope to visit the Oozlefinch again, hopefully, next time I can get a hotel or a designated driver so I can enjoy more beer.
Oh yeah, why “Oozlefinch or bust”? Well, somewhere in Delaware my windshield started to crack… severely. The whole way I was thinking “am I going to make it without my windshield caving in?” I made it. And because I’m a low-key gambler, I drove that cracked windshield all the way to Miami and back…
When you think of the Jersey Shore, you probably don’t think of nature preserves, hiking trails, or freshwater ponds, but they do exist. Open a map on your cellphone, and look for green open areas — they’re there, but they’re not always obvious. Across the highway from a skateboard park, in Long Branch, NJ, is Jackson Woods — a multi-acre park made up of a pond, a brook, and winding paths bounded by trees, viny plants, and Phragmites australis. From the road, you wouldn’t expect it to be as large as it is — maybe 100 feet wide — but it is deep, and wedged between a few neighborhoods and an apartment complex. Even though I had passed it hundreds of times in the past ten years, I didn’t visit the park until 2018. I wish I had visited sooner.
Jackson Woods, as it turns out, is a true “hidden gem” of the Jersey shore. The pond — while it doesn’t seem to have fish, it does have turtles and plenty of dragonflies, which are great subjects for fans of macro photography. Throughout the grounds, you’ll find all sorts of trees, vines, flowers, and even the occasional colorful fungus. Within the woods, there are several winding paths that criss-cross through the park, a bridge that takes you over a brook, and even a pyramid-like structure made of blocks of stone. I visit the park to take photos, and for a quick getaway from the stereotypical loud and drunken aspects of the Jersey Shore. Like any park, it has its imperfections — invasive species like knotweed, occasional graffiti, the odd rubber tire sticking out of the earth, and trash here and there — as do most parks and public spaces.
After my fourth visit to the park, I met Tom Booth. He saw I had a camera, and asked about the photos I was taking. At the time Tom has the caretaker of the park. In the past, he fought developers who would have turned it into yet another gaudy Jersey Shore condo complex, ensuring the park would remain a peaceful haven for the residents of Long Branch. My conversation with Tom left a lasting impression on me. Tom had chosen to devote his life to something he loved — the park — and made certain it would be preserved for others. Tom was the antithesis of most of the people I meet on the Jersey Shore, most of whom are loud, thoughtless, hateful pigs. Tom was a true mensch.
Sadly Tom passed away last year. There is a bench by the pond dedicated to his memory.
Nothing But Trouble is a 1991 comedy (horror) film starring Dan Akroyd, Chevy Chase, John Candy, Demi Moore, and Taylor Negron. It was directed by Dan Akroyd and written by Dan and his brother Peter. The film is very weird. I believe the Akroyd brothers knew how weird it was, but they didn’t know it was so weird that the average American would reject it. The film only made $8 million dollars in theaters — one-fifth of its budget — which is a flop by any measure.
So, why is it weird (or at least too weird for the average human)? Spoilers ahead: It’s a hero’s journey but the protagonists are not heroes. All the characters are despicable on some level, so it is difficult to empathize with any of them. Chevy Chase & Demi Moore’s characters are unlikeable yuppies. Dan Akroyd’s “Judge” character and his clan are demented serial murderers. I think we’re supposed to root for Chevy & Demi’s characters, but I get the feeling Akroyd’s true sympathy lies with the Judge, who is a victim of bad bank loans and spends his life seeking retribution. John Candy’s character does have a heroic moment but ends up only exchanging his despicable family for a new wealthier one. I don’t want to give away too much — I want you to watch this film and see if you can enjoy it. Perhaps the weirdest moment of the film is a song and dance scene featuring Digital Underground and 2Pac (then a member of the band).
The town of Valkenvania was inspired by Centralia, Pennsylvania, a very small town that was all but abandoned due to a below-ground coal fire. Like much of Pennsylvania, the town sits above vast deposits of coal. Legend has it that someone lit a fire too close to a coal shaft, the coal caught fire, and the town eventually had to be abandoned because it was not safe to live above a massive, underground, inextinguishable, poison-gas-producing inferno.
There are a few documentaries and urban-explorer videos about Centralia on YouTube. These explorers cruise the local streets, enter abandoned homes, find the occasional doll head or VHS tape, and hike the graffiti highway. Most encounter a local or two — the town does have some inhabitants, the graveyards are well kept, and the graffiti highway is owned by a coal company — if you visit, you will encounter other people, so be respectful.
July 12, 2019, I drove to Centralia to check it out. When I arrived, I drove right through it — I saw no indications that there was a town there. Just a weed-lined, two-lane county road (61).
I expected Centralia to be abandoned, but it was not. There are homes standing, and they seem to be occupied. Most of the town has been raised with the exception of 5 or 6 houses, a municipal building, and 3 cemeteries. Look at the town on Google maps — the homes have green lawns and cars parked outside them. Granted, they could be cars belonging to urban explorers in some cases.
I felt guilty for invading their town and disturbing the peace. I live in a tourist town and know first-hand what it’s like to have a city slicker come to town, cause a ruckus, and relieve their bowels on the street in my neighborhood (no joke), so I can empathize with Centralia’s remaining population. I imagined a resident living in their home clutching their head wondering what was worse: a migraine from coal fire fumes, or jackasses from New Jersey, or YouTube doing k-turns in their front lawn.
So, I left the local streets and went looking for the graffiti highway.
I saw a half dozen cars parked at the bend of highway 61 and figured this was a good place to stop and start looking. Both sides of the road had tell-tale graffiti marking, so I flipped a coin. I walked east down a gravel road, which led to a small cemetery and motocross trails, punctuated with piles of coal, shotgun shells, mud pits, vents for the coal fire, and weathered piles of people’s stuff. I assume the stuff — which reminded me of things you would find in a thrift store dumpster — were dumped there, or stolen from abandoned homes and left there by urban explorers.
Finding nothing east of route 61, I headed to the west side. After scrambling around a mud pit, twisted trees tagged with graffiti, ankle-rolling used graffiti cans, and tick-encrusted weeds, I found sunlight and the graffiti highway.
It was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen: a wide two-lane road, every available inch covered from beginning to end with a tangled rainbow of spray paint — much of it fresh — for 7/10ths of a mile. I expected the air in Centralia to smell like coal fire fumes, but it smelled like paint.
Most of the graffiti was tags/signatures and cartoon characters & memes. No Mona Lisas or Starry Nights — just 1000s of colorful, funny, and ephemeral modern-day runes & hieroglyphs. There were dozens of people walking the road, riding bikes, or adding to the graffiti.
I did not see any vapors or steam rising from vents or cracks in the road. I did get a slight headache, but that could be because it was HOT and sunny out and my large forehead was baking in the sun.
I think everyone should go see it, but…
In early 2020, the road was covered with soil by the coal company that owns the road. They probably don’t want someone breaking their leg or exchanging viruses, and then suing them. For the coal company, the road was probably “nothing but trouble”.
Life lesson: make sure you get out there and see stuff while it’s still there to be seen. You gotta get it, while the getting is good.
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 where 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.
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.
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.
A 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 places I visited:
Here’s a list of places I wanted to visit but did not because of time and the blown intercooler: