Sunday, July 03, 2011

Your Annual Summer Vacation Guide

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Another summer is upon us with a vengeance, complete with the eyeball-melting heat and humidity we Southerners all know and love.

On the bright side, summertime is vacation time. And vacation time means time once again for our annual compendium of wild, wonderful and wacky tourist attractions.

For the tourist who's always had a fascination with James Bond or Jason Bourne, there's the International Spy Museum, located in Washington, D.C. There are exhibits on espionage throughout history, including displays of real spy gear and lectures about true-to-life spies.

At least they claim to be true. You never know. If they're into complete realism, they'll be lying to you. For a couple of hundred bucks, you can even sign the kids up for the museum's "Spy in Training" program, which includes, among other things, a two-week summer camp in which the budding spooks learn about "fingerprinting, handwriting analysis and cryptography," while "meeting real former spies and running missions in some of the city's most prominent attractions."

Of course, if the kids are nabbed by Homeland Security, the museum will deny all knowledge of their actions. That's how the game's played.

I was astounded to learn that the great state of Connecticut has not one, but two museums devoted to garbage.

The Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority runs two "award-winning" museums, one in Hartford and one in Stratford, with "unique exhibits and programs on the many challenges and solutions of waste management." Additionally, "each museum has a viewing area where visitors can observe the working regional recycling center." Wheeeee!

As if that weren't spine-tingling enough, the site in Stratford features "Trashasaurus," a giant dinosaur figure made of exactly one ton of refuse, supposedly about the amount each person throws away every year.

I guarantee you, if you take the kids to this attraction, they'll talk about it for years. I can't guarantee they'll talk about it with anything other than complete outrage and disbelief that you dragged them to a trash pile in the middle of summer, but they'll surely talk about it. You better hurry, though; due to budget cuts, the museums may have to close their doors, and Trashasaurus will be as extinct as his non-rubbishy brethren.

As I've mentioned in earlier columns, I fear robots. So I was reluctant at first to recommend RoboWorld, an exhibit at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum that advertises itself as "an exhibition so exciting it'll fry your motherboard."

But when I read the description of how kids can shoot basket against Hoops, "a basketball-shooting industrial arm," play air hockey against a robot, discover how robots can read facial expressions, and "explore the future of robots in this one-of-a-kind robotics experience," I realized that this is the perfect opportunity.

Our children do need to learn these things, because they will most likely be the ones fighting those soulless mechanical demons for possession of the planet. Know your enemy and all that. Just be sure to sit the kids down afterward and explain to them that while Andy, the robot guide at the exhibit, may look friendly and cuddly, someday he and billions just like him will attempt to exterminate them and everyone they love. They'll thank you for it later.

"But Dusty," you say. "All of this cultural and educational stuff is fine, but what about what we really want to hear from you? No, not your rendition of 'Free Bird.' What about your guide to the nation's freakishly large objects?"

Fear not, dear friends. Hear now the story of the 20 Foot Rabbit of Gainesville, Georgia.

In the latter half of the 20th century, Gainesville began billing itself as "Poultry Capital of the World." They even erected a pillar to commemorate it, sort of like Nelson's column in London, if Admiral Nelson had been a barnyard fowl.

This didn't sit too well with the town's older residents, who recalled that the place used to be known as "Rabbittown," due to a number of ranches in the area where farmers raised herds of the critters for food. (The din at branding time must have been horrific). Thus, they erected a 20-foot rabbit statue, with, according to, "the soft lines and awkward alert pose of a chocolate Easter bunny."

But don't try to take a bite out of it. It appears to be made of concrete.

Wherever you go this summer, I wish you cool breezes and safe travels.

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