Sunday, May 18, 2008
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Well, it's that time of year again.
The trees are blooming, the birds are singing, the sap is rising, and the minds of most Americans turn to thoughts of packing up the car, kenneling the pets (or getting a neighbor to come by and feed them), and getting away from it all for a few days. So, as we always do about this time every year, we bring you our guide to American's weirdest vacation destinations:
*Ramp festivals: I regret to say that, by this time of year, most of the South's Ramp Festivals have already taken place. But you can still make the one in Crossnore, N.C., on May 24 and 25.
What's a Ramp Festival, You may ask? It's where you go to eat a whole mess of ramps, silly. And what's a ramp? A ramp is a kind of wild onion, also known as the wild leek. They grow, according to Wikipedia, from South Carolina to Canada, and they've been a staple of the diet in Appalachia for hundreds of years.
The taste has been described as like a "garlicky onion," and there are all sorts of ways to prepare them Unfortunately, though, no matter how you fix them, there's one problem with ramps: They make you smell bad.
Now, it would seem to me that, if you were going to have a festival celebrating something like this, it would be to proclaim, "Thanks be to God that we have a modern food distribution network, so we no longer have to eat something that makes us smell like Satan's gym socks," but tradition is a powerful thing.
As for me, the only way I'm getting near one of these shindigs is to approach it from upwind.
*The Screaming Giant: If you've got a hankering to see a giant metal statue of a screaming bearded man trying to claw his way out of the earth, I'm afraid you're going to have to drive a little farther than you used to.
"The Awakening," a profoundly disturbing statue by sculptor J. Seward Johnson Jr., was originally placed in Washington's Hain's Point Park back in the Reagan years. Apparently the Park Service was never all that crazy about it. Go figure.
In February, a billionaire developer named Milton Peterson laid out 725,000 simoleons for the frantic colossus and moved it to his ritzy new development in National Harbor, Md., where it writhes in all its frozen, mute agony next to the marina and restaurants. Because, you know, there's nothing I want to see more while I'm scarfing down my crab-cakes than a titanic statue of a guy who looks like he's been buried alive. Rich people are weird.
*World's Largest Ball of Twine: It amazes me that, for all the years I've been doing this feature, I've never done a bit on the most classic of all roadside attractions: the world's largest ball of twine. Sisal twine, to be exact.
Well, wait no longer, and my apologies for the delay. It's in Cawker City, Kan. It weighs almost nine tons. It's not particularly interesting-looking. But it is an awful lot of twine.
* The Burger King Vampire Peacock Memorial: In June 2007, a real, live peacock wandered into the parking lot of a Burger King in Staten Island, N.Y., and was promptly beaten to death before a horrified crowd by an insane homeless man who announced he was killing a vampire.
Now, something that weird can't go without being memorialized in some way. So a retired shop teacher from Staten Island named Charles Johnson decided he'd carve a life-size peacock out of elm, decorate it with actual feathers from his own peacocks, haul it to New York from his new home in Virginia, and donate it to the Burger King.
And so he did, and there it sits, in the BK at the corner of Page Avenue and Amboy Road. You can see it to this day. Watch out for insane homeless guys. And the fish sandwich. That thing is nasty.
*The Martian Invasion Memorial: Remember when the Martians landed in 1938? The people of Grover's Mill, N.J., sure do, or at least they remember the hubbub caused by the Orson Welles radio hoax that convinced Americans that nasty Martians with heat rays had landed in their little corner of rural Jersey before being felled by the common cold.
So they've put up a plaque showing a pre-morbid-obesity Welles declaiming into a microphone while a terrified family cowers before the radio. Unfortunately, the water tower that local rubes blasted with shotguns after mistaking it for a Martian war machine has fallen to ruin.
OK, it may not sound like much, but what else are you going to do if you find yourself in Grover's Mill, N.J.?
Special question for blogreaders: Where's the weirdest place you've ever been on vacation?