Top 5 American Roadside Attractions That’d Never Work In Britain…

Share this blog! Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponShare on TumblrEmail this to someone


‘Roadside Attractions’ are a uniquely American phenomenon. Seen through the eyes of a Brit they seem completely void of function and social value. Their sole function is to tempt passers by off the interstate and spend money in a place that otherwise has nothing to offer out-of-towners…

On our six week, 8,062.6 mile road trip around the USA, my girlfriend and I passed by countless examples of highway frivolity – the majority of which wouldn’t last five minutes if plonked down on a British roadside.

Here’s five of our favourites – the ones most at odds with the way we do things in the UK…

 

5. 69-Year-Old Bacon

69 year old bacon

 

What Is It?

A forgotten slab of bacon cured some time around 1945.

 

Where Is It?

Hurricane Valley Pioneer Heritage Museum, 35 West State Street, Hurricane, Utah

 

What Happened When We Went There?

”Have you ever heard of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints?” said the Mormon woman…

Very white Jesus

It was an ominous start to our visit to the Hurricane Valley Pioneer Heritage Museum. I hadn’t the faintest idea why we were there – my girlfriend had read about the place beforehand and decided to hold off explaining ‘the surprise’ for maximum impact.

Hanging from the walls were seven foot tall paintings of a very Caucasian looking Jesus with his very Caucasian looking disciples. In the middle of the room was an assorted collection of bric-a-brac – ironing boards, cash registers, chairs, bottles, sewing machines, farm tools, even an old commode…

Ye Olde Commode

‘This commode was used by households before flush toilets. Usually emptied by Mother,’ said a helpful plaque attached to the commode.

This museum was a tribute to the early Mormon settlers of a quiet little desert town in deepest darkest Utah. Everything had been donated by local residents from years gone by…

Old irons    Old farm tools    Freaky doll

“The historic floors of this building were laid down by the early pioneers,” said the Mormon woman. “Just look at the quality of the craftsmanship! And this was way back in 1932!”

Historic flooring

We were led in to a room full of prams, quilts, dolls… and then I saw it…

69 year old bacon

…a solid uncut slab of ancient bacon sat behind a sheet of protective glass.

‘This bacon was cured in about 1945 by Grace Wright Jepson,’ explained the plaque. ‘It was hung in her cellar long before her death in 1958. It remained undisturbed, hanging in a cloth flour sack from the rafters, until January 1996 when it was donated to the museum by her son Woodrow Jepson.’

The bacon was dark and slightly translucent. I was bamboozled as to why anybody could leave bacon untouched for so long without eating it. I felt hungry.

Elsewhere in the Hurricane Valley Pioneer Heritage Museum we also found a 107-year-old wedding cake tier…

107 year old cake

The cake was older and mouldier than the 69-year-old bacon, but hey, I’m a red blooded male and I’ll be damned if ’69-Year-Old Bacon’ isn’t gonna be the headline here rather than some wedding day memento.

Why It Would Never Work In Britain…

The cake and bacon were not the only ‘historic’ roadside finds on our journey across the USA. In Florida, we went to an ‘historic’ opticians in ‘historic’ downtown Kissimmee, founded in 1883. In Cody, Wyoming we passed by a ‘historic’ motel built in 1927. In Waverly, Iowa we found a ‘historic’ 1950s gas station.

The way the word ‘historic’ gets bandied around in America will always be something of a mystery to us Brits.

In Britain we’ve got history too. Bloody loads of it. It’s considered a given that every single square inch of land has been traipsed over by some king or other at some point in the past. We’ve got castles and cathedrals and roman roads coming out of our ears. British museums, even the ones in small towns, are chocked to the rafters with rusty swords and old coins and broken pottery.

Stuff that dates back for hundreds, thousands, no, wait… millions of years… it’s not even a big deal in Britain. We’ve got so much history that we can afford to distinguish between useful and useless relics. Most Britons get so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of artefacts of exquisite historical significance lingering on every street corner that they’ve stopped caring.

Americans, by contrast, have grown up starved of history. They believe that adding the word ‘historic’ to something denotes quality. If something is old, it is good by default.

In Britain, we would ask – what valuable information about the way we used to live could possibly be gleaned from a 69-year-old slab of bacon? Was it made using traditional methods that have subsequently been lost? Does it contain ingredients that are no longer available? Was the bacon used in a regal ceremony? Was it decisive in a war? Is there anything that the 69-year-old bacon can tell us that cannot be found out by simply asking one of the many millions of still living people born before the year 1945?

If the answer is no to all of the above, throw it out.

America is a young country, so naturally it is skewed towards short-termism. For example, Americans love to ramble on about their success in the 1776 War of Independence. In Britain, we’d probably argue that it’s still too early to tell whether or not it has been a success.

This key difference in the perception of time explains why a 69-year-old slab of bacon in America can be portrayed as a heroic chapter in the story of the development of a nation, but in Britain it could only ever be seen as a sad waste of breakfast meat.

Pig wagon

 

 

 

4. The Field Of Dreams Movie Site

Field Of Dreams sign

 

What Is It?

Remember that Kevin Costner film about a farmer who turns a cornfield in to a baseball field? This is that field.

 

Where Is It?

28963 Lansing Road, Dyersville, Iowa.

 

What Happened When We Went There?

We drove for three miles off the interstate, wondering whether we had taken a wrong turn. There were cornfields stretching to every edge of the horizon, none of them separated by a baseball field-shaped gap. Was this heaven? No, it was Iowa.

Lost in Iowa

We turned off the Satnav as it kept trying to push us back on to the interstate. There were no signposts to help us find the Field Of Dreams Movie Site but the location was marked in our huge 120-page Rand McNally Road Atlas. Great things were expected as ‘Field Of Dreams Movie Site’ was written in the same font size as ‘Grand Canyon’ and ‘Statue of Liberty’ a few dozen pages later.

Endless corn

We arrived. It was exactly as I remembered it from the movie, insofar as one can remember a movie seen 25 years earlier – a small white farmhouse overlooking a baseball diamond, surrounded by corn.

The Field Of Dreams

‘Field Of Dreams, released in 1989, is a film that inspired millions. Welcome to a place where reality mixes with fantasy and dreams can come true…’ read the sign adorning the entrance.

‘People have come here from all corners of the globe,’ the sign went on. ‘They are magically drawn here for reasons they can’t explain. The best thing about this place is what isn’t here – instead of providing images and dreams, it is content to be a mere stage. It falls to each individual guest to supply whatever drama he or she desires…”

Skidding in to third base

Dads were playing catch with their sons. Others were skidding in to fourth base. The gift shop was packed with more people than we had seen all day since driving across the Iowa-Illinois border that morning. On sale was every form of Field Of Dreams branded tat imaginable, apart from snow globes which were out of stock.

We spent a good half hour pretending to emerge from the cornfields like a ghostly Ray Liotta. A man walking his dog whilst riding in a tractor pulled up beside us.

Field Of Dreams

“It all started 25 years ago. Changed my life!” he said without any form of solicitation whatsoever. “Kevin Costner came back here a few months ago for a cast reunion.”

He was the farmer that owned the land. His accent was so thickly Iowan it was practically indecipherable to British ears. He didn’t seem to be able to understand us much either.

For the next ten minutes we asked each other questions and then pretended to comprehend the answers by nodding and smiling. Probably the thrust of the discussion was to point out that this was still very much a working farm and we were faffing with his produce.

 

Why It Would Never Work In Britain…

That night we pulled in at a motel and illegally downloaded a copy of Field Of Dreams to watch on my 11 inch screen laptop.

The film has not aged well, but it isn’t just the nonsensical dialogue, undeveloped characters, irrational plot and whimsical sentiment that explains why the Field Of Dreams Movie Site would never work as a roadside attraction in Britain.

Movies are entertainment in Britain. We watch them to distract ourselves from the mediocrity of day to day living, not because we believe they speak volumes about the human condition. For that, we have books.

We do celebrate locations of historical and cultural significance on our side of the Atlantic though – usually by slapping a blue plaque on the side of the building – but filming locations most definitely do not meet the British definition of ‘historically and culturally significant’.

“But what about the set of Coronation Street or Dr Who or Harry Potter or that house from Downton Abbey?” I hear you cry. Yes, those places do attract hordes of tourists, but the appeal is purely nerdy. People go there because they want to know about production secrets and behind the scenes gossip.

The Field Of Dreams Movie Site is intended to be a family day out, a chance to bond with loved ones and to reflect on America’s lost innocence. Such grandiose pretences from something as ephemeral as celluloid is – in the British mindset – like expecting a Lego spaceship to take men to the moon.

Corn!

 

 

 

 

3. World’s Largest Popcorn Ball

Popcorn ball

 

What Is It?

A 5,000lb ball of popped popcorn kernels. It lives in a small red house.

 

Where Is It?

1325 West Main Street, Sac City, Iowa

 

What Happened When We Went There?

We drove through several hundred miles of nothing before landing in Sac City – quite a generous name for an inescapably small to medium sized village. The village was dead quiet…

Sac City

The giant ball of popcorn was viewable from the side of the road. We spent a full five minutes discussing whether or not it was worth bothering to get out of the car to get a closer look…

House of the World's Largest Ball Of Popcorn

Opening the car door was like awakening the Kraken. A portly lady from the adjacent building came running out to greet us. She had been waiting in a state of cat-like readiness for the next bunch of tourists to pitch up.

“So this is the world’s largest ball of popcorn?” was our obvious, low risk conversation opener.

“Yep,” said the portly lady. “Well actually there was a bigger one somewhere else, but they broke it down for cattle feed. This is the biggest one still in existence. It’s been here for a few years now. All the popcorn got supplied by the popcorn factory down the road.”

How the popcorn ball was built

Stuck to the side of the little red hut housing the popcorn ball was a Guinness World Record sign and photos of an army of volunteers fixing bits of popcorn together with corn syrup.

Guinness World Record

“Are those black bits mould?” we asked,

“Yep,” she replied. “Once in a while one of the girls goes in there and tidies the whole thing up. Also, insects get in there sometimes and start eating it.”

 

Why It Would Never Work In Britain…

America’s roadsides are full of giant things. The World’s Largest Ball Of Popcorn was our favourite because it was made of actual popcorn… all the others were just fibreglass facsimiles, like the giant Pocohantas in the Iowan town of Pocohontas, the World’s Largest Strawberry in the Iowan town of Strawberry Fields, and the giant lobster in a Floridian town the name of which I have forgotten, but it wasn’t ‘Lobster’.

In Britain, size doesn’t matter (right ladies?!). In America, size isn’t just a desirable trait – it is an achievement in itself.

Perhaps mere geography can explain America’s obsession with size. Vast and varied landscapes have enabled America to make large scale projects its international niche. They make things big because it is cheap for them to do so. Shopping malls, battle cruisers, twelve lane highways and 64oz Big Gulp Slurpees… these are the cornerstones of American thinking.

The World’s Largest Ball Of Popcorn is far too innocent, too cute, too playful in its ambitions to ever work in Britain. We are a cold hearted and cynical bunch. Unless increasing the size of an object increases its function, we wouldn’t see the point.

Why not instead have a single kernel of popcorn encrusted with diamonds and preserved in formaldehyde by Damian Hurst? What about a popcorn flavoured range of alcopops or Walker’s crisps? What if members of the public got to decide on the nation’s favourite kernel in a weekly televised vote…?

After a lengthy and expensive public consultation process on how best to celebrate popcorn, us Britons would most likely shelve the project in favour of filling our tiny island with more socially valuable enterprises like wind turbines, pubs and Tesco Expresses.

Close up popcorn

 

 

 

 

2. The Mini White House

Mini White House

 

What Is It?

An exact replica of the official residence and workplace of the President of the United States Of America, built on a scale of one foot to one inch.

 

Where Is It?

23 North Highway 27, Clermont, Florida

 

What Happened When We Went There?

The building in which the mini White House is housed is also shaped like the White House, like a matryoshka of White Houses…

White House Matroyshka

In the parking lot we found a Presidential Limousine from the 70s, a downsized Mount Rushmore replica and a shrunken Lincoln Memorial…

Fake Mount Rushmore   Presidential Limousine

There was also a statue of a black guy on a bench overlooking the highway. It didn’t look anything like Barrack Obama, not least because his skin tone was a few pantones too dark…

Not Barrack Obama

We shuffled in through the entrance way. Inside was a tight squeeze. Staring back at us were lifesize waxworks of every single US president since 1776…

America's finest

Many of them had slightly droopy heads – like stroke victims – but presumably they were just victims of Floridian heat and humidity…

Droopy presidents

A lady with very large hair gave us the tour. The walls were covered from floor to ceiling with presidential paraphernalia from every era, none of it ordered logically – electioneering badges, posters, leaflets, pens, pencils, torches and an unexplained cardboard cut out of John Wayne…

Presidential paraphernalia

The large hair lady pointed out a jar of Nixon’s jellybeans – not Nixon’s actual jellybeans, just a jar of jellybeans in amongst other Nixon related artefacts, to remind museum visitors that Nixon was a fan of jellybeans. There was also the chair that Lincoln sat in when he was assassinated – again, not the actual chair, just a chair similar to the one Lincoln sat in when he was assassinated…

Not Nixon's jellybeans

We were shown an animatronic diorama of the White House under construction and a ‘controversial’ Floridian vote counting machine from the 2000 Bush v Gore elections…

Building the White House   Floridian Voting Machine

Before moving on to the main attraction, I decided to go for a quick toilet stop. Staring back at me whilst sitting on the khazi was a life size cardboard cut out of a smiley Ronald Reagan…

Toilet Reagan

The Mini White House itself was a masterstroke of microengineering. Whoever constructed it displayed the kind of attention to detail usually displayed by serial killers and predatory paedophile model makers…

Inside the Mini White House

Chandeliers had real glowing light bulbs, carpets were made of real fabric, the star spangled banner flying on the roof even fluttered in a fake breeze generated by a small fan…

Inside the Mini White House

On our way out the large hair lady asked us if we had any questions. This led to an hour long discussion about Obamacare, gun control, the legalisation of marijuana for medical purposes and whether or not Prince William will make a good king.

 

Why It Would Never Work in Britain…

In Britain we prefer to think of our political system as something to be tolerated rather than celebrated. Americans love to hate their politicians too, but they love the ideals on which their political system was founded.

What my girlfriend and I discovered at the Mini White House was a celebration of the concept of America’s top job in politics.

It is commendable that the Mini White House curators have managed to get away with a refreshing lack of earnestness and a surprising level of political impartiality throughout the exhibition (a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that the overwhelming bulk of the population in this particular corner of the US delight in showing signs of physical repulsion whenever Barrack Obama gets mentioned) but it lacked the sneering misanthropy required for an equivalent commemoration of the political system in Britain.

This is perhaps because America has a little bit more to celebrate than the Brits. It is, after all, the world’s largest and most successful economy (for now). Its people are empowered to achieve on merit alone (so long as they are white, male and ideally of English or Scottish descent). You can practise whatever religion you want without fear of persecution (except Islam). You can say whatever you want without fear of retribution (so long as it doesn’t offend military families, the National Rifle Association, Judeo-Christian church groups or Oprah Winfrey).

The US Constitution guarantees a land of opportunity for all within its borders (apart from the indigenous population who were subjected to the most wide scale and thorough mass genocide that the world has ever known). It is perfect (33 amendments have been made to date). When writing the Constitution, America’s Founding Fathers were so clever that they were able to foresee every single technological, social and geopolitical advance that human civilisation will ever make, thus rendering the Constitution immune to future abuse by those who have enough money to play the justice system.

Because of the infallibility of the American political system, Americans give their politicians the benefit of the doubt. When American politicians slip up, Americans (just like the Brits) revel in tearing them apart – but it is always the fault of the politician for not sticking to the political system, rather than the political system itself.

Britain, on the other hand, is an ex-super power in terminal decline. Our entire national dialogue revolves around the idea that life as we know it can only ever get worse. There is no optimism, just differing degrees of paranoia and hopelessness. The only prize we got for winning the Second World War was that we were allowed to convince ourselves we gave back our colonies voluntarily.

Rather than take responsibility for their woes and misfortune, Britons have taken to blaming the arseholes in charge. Politicians are considered guilty before they have even taken office. When politicians get it wrong, Brits unite in a collective ‘I told you so,’ because it helps deflect from the agonising truth that we are a miserable, pompous, stubborn island nation with terrible weather and mismatched architecture.

I suspect that deep, deep down, most Brits think the country took a wrong turn when it stripped the monarchy of all meaningful political power by beheading King Charles I in 1649. Murderous, vengeful, inbred despots that they were, at least British kings and queens got to wear snazzy clothes.

Now we have to live with the crushing realisation that democracy only exists in Britain because of the complete failure to come up with a better system. This isn’t something Britons would ever celebrate with a waxwork museum and a Mini Big Ben – more likely a sit down and a cup of strong tea.

Uncle Sam

 

 

 

 

1. Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

 

What Is It?

The faces of four US presidents carved in to the side of a mountain.

 

Where Is It?

13000 S Dakota 244, Keystone, SD 57751, United States

 

What Happened When We Went There?

When you’re backpacking across the world with someone for fifteen solid months, you have to pick and choose your arguments.

Mount Rushmore baseballs

Having driven 4,000 miles from Orlando, Florida to Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, my girlfriend chose this moment to quibble over the $11 car park entry fee. Granted, she had a point, but the queue of cars behind us was now backing up on to the main road. I didn’t fancy asking them all to kindly reverse and let us out – not least because Americans carry guns.

With our wallets $11 lighter and World War III narrowly averted, my girlfriend and I made our way towards the Mount – but not before a quick toilet stop next to the gift shop.

Mount Rushmore baseballs  Another Mount Rushmore photo album  Mount Rushmore photo album

Inside the gift shop was an incredible assortment of Mount Rushmore souvenirs and trinkets – mostly manufactured in China – baseballs, socks, mugs, sweaters, jigsaw puzzles, snow globes, Christmas decorations, cross stitch kits, plastic dinosaurs…

Mount Rushmore socks  Mount Rushmore mugs  Mount Rushmore cross stitch kit

It was difficult to see how much of the stuff on sale could be deemed related to Mount Rushmore. There was even Mount Rushmore branded coffee (the nearest coffee grown to South Dakota is 2,500 miles away in the Dominican Republic).

Mount Rushmore coffee

In the middle of the store was an old man signing books. It turned out he was one of the original drillers of Mount Rushmore way back in the historic 1930s.

“We’re so lucky and honoured that you could be here today so we could meet you,” said a couple of privileged tourists.

“I’ve been here every day for the last seven years,” he replied.

Our bladders were now empty. We pressed on past the flags of every state in the nation.

The flags of every American state

And there it was. Mount Rushmore – the iconic symbol of American pride.

Mount Rushmore

We stared at it for a good 30 seconds and then wondered what to do next. You can’t wander round the back or the side of Mount Rushmore to view it from a different angle. You can’t get up close to examine the fine chisel work. Visitors are forced to just stare head on and absorb the splendour.

More Mount Rushmore

We asked a fellow tourist to take our photo in front of the monument. He did. It was probably the worst photo ever taken of two people in front of Mount Rushmore, with the heads of two out of the four presidents cut off.

The worst photo of Mount Rushmore ever

Wandering in to the adjoining museum, a classical rendition of A Fanfare For The Common Man played over the PA system at a volume slightly too loud to be ignored. Here we were educated about the origins of Mount Rushmore in laborious detail.

‘Historian Doane Robinson conceived the idea for Mount Rushmore in 1923 as a way to promote tourism in South Dakota…’ said a sign. ‘Robinson originally wanted it to feature Western heroes like Lewis and Clark, Red Cloud and Buffalo Bill Cody – but sculptor Gutzon Borglum decided it should feature the likenesses of four US presidents instead…’

There was great majesty implied in every description of Mount Rushmore from this point onwards. It was democracy in sculpture form, not just the faces of four presidents carved in to a mountainside. It was the embodiment of freedom.

Not dictators

Shoehorned in to the narrative were completely irrelevant episodes from American history. Neither the sculpture, the people that made the sculpture and/or the presidents depicted in the sculpture had any actual involvement in World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Rock & Roll or the Miracle On Ice… but it didn’t matter. These things and Mount Rushmore were portrayed as being one and the same.

We headed back outside for the much hyped ‘Lighting Ceremony.’ It was now dark, Mount Rushmore itself was barely visible, and on a stage between us and the rock face was a line up of US ex-military personnel.

Very dark Mount Rushmore

“My name is Sergeant Taylor Cunningham, and I served in the United States Marine Corps,” said one. He received a round of applause that back in Britain would only be worthy of a goal scored at a cup final.

Sergeant Taylor Cunningham reeled off his military achievements, which largely revolved around programming and telecommunications in Afghanistan. He received a second round of applause louder than the first.

Next in line was a Lieutenant that’d done a brief stint in the kitchens in Iraq. The audience whooped and hollered yet again, and the cycle continued until there were no more military personnel left.

Mount Rushmore lit up

When it was time to light the mountain, a solemn, lonely trumpet echoed through the valley. I was expecting swivelling lasers, a bit of Jean Michel Jarre and some dry ice. Instead, a simple, static, pure white light faded up on the presidents’ faces.

And that was it. People all around were in tears.

 

Why It Would Never Work In Britain…

I would love to be a fly on the wall in the council meeting that got to decide exactly which area of stunning natural beauty should be desecrated in order to build a British version of Mount Rushmore.

Who would we have on it? Not politicians because British people hate politicians… except Winston Churchill… we all like Winston Churchill… Who else? What about Pippa Middleton’s arse? Perfect! And a chicken tikka masala? Bingo! Errrr…. Meerkats? Job done.

Silliness aside, Mount Rushmore is without doubt the ultimate roadside attraction.

Comparing one of America’s most treasured national monuments to a giant ball of popcorn or a mouldy slab of bacon is deeply offensive to American sensibilities, of course – but hear me out…

1) Like the big ball of popcorn, Mount Rushmore is mainly impressive just because of its size. The four presidents – George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt – are all featured in statues and sculptures at other locations in the USA.

Why are those statues and sculptures not equally revered as Mount Rushmore? Because they’re not the size of a mountainside, that’s why.

2) Like the ancient slab of bacon, Mount Rushmore trades off its ‘historic’ origins, despite having been built within living memory. The adjoining museum devotes more time to unrelated events from American history than it does the construction of the monument because it creates the impression that the site is a link to the past.

The international fame of Mount Rushmore is not due to the genius in its design, but because Americans love what little history they have.

3) Like the Field Of Dreams, Mount Rushmore has been built up in the American psyche to be a grandiose spectacle greater than the sum of its parts. Its original humble ambition as a way to boost the local economy through tourism somehow got warped.

Americans are proud of the achievements of their political leaders, their constitution, their military… but what the hell has any of that got to do with mountain sculpture?! Or South Dakota?!? The link between American ideology and the actual, physical reality of the Mount Rushmore site is perhaps its most baffling aspect.

4) And like the Mini White House, Mount Rushmore’s reverence of the political system makes it a roadside attraction that could only exist in America. For Americans, visiting Mount Rushmore is considered an act of patriotism in itself. To show appreciation for your country, you don’t have to know what your politicians stand for, you just have to part with $11 in car parking fees.

For us Brits, it is easy to sneer at America’s idiosyncrasies and the weird ways in which they manifest them. Before my girlfriend and I set off on our 8,062.6 mile road trip around the USA, we never thought that America’s roadside attractions would show off the best that the country has to offer…

Roadtrip sunset

We found out that the best way to enjoy America is to not worry about reaching a destination and instead just enjoy the journey. You learn more about America from the crap lining its roadsides than the places the roads go to.

noijnonijmpomokmpomop.