Essay by Lynda La Rocca
Roadside attractions – August 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine
Although the Burma Shave signs that entertained and enlightened travelers cruising the nation’s highways have gone the way of the Edsel, modern motorists need not despair.
The wacky road sign is alive and well. Informal research conducted by my husband Steve and me during a recent 3,800-mile round trip from the Colorado high country to the New Jersey shore (accompanied by our puppy Twink and box turtle SunSpot, but that’s another story), confirms that this dinosaur of the advertising age continues to lure tourists off the interstates for a glimpse of an oddity or the acquisition of a yard-long pecan log.
We spotted the first memorable marker in Pennsylvania, where an appeal to “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco” indicated that some corners of the universe remain untouched by cigar chic.
In Indiana, a large green and white sign announced the proximity of the “Bayliss State Ditch.” I craned my neck for a better view of what must undoubtedly be an engineering marvel. It proved to be–a ditch. And a dry one at that.
A billboard for an Illinois diner displayed a dessert of gargantuan proportions accompanied by the explanation “Foot-Hi Pies.” How, we wondered, do you fit a foot of pie into the average human mouth? Are “to-go” orders packed in shipping crates?
Missouri is the home of “Itchy’s Stop ‘n Scratch Flea Market,” a name certainly as appealing as the accompanying illustration of a customer clawing madly at himself. Our puppy would have been happy to stop ‘n scratch awhile, but we outvoted her.
A place called Wright City advertises its Elvis Museum with a sign that cleverly fails to specify, Elvis who? Caveat emptor. For all we know, this shrine could be dedicated to a namesake former mayor.
A set of gleaming choppers with perky pink gums accompanied by the words “Dentures in 1 Day” was a fitting introduction to Kansas, king of the zany road signs. (Note to state tourism officials: Someone ought to erect a sign to that effect.)
“See the Six-Legged Calf,” one billboard urged. “World’s Largest Prairie Dog,” another announced. Not to be outdone by freaks of nature, a third promised a look at “the Largest Barn in Kansas.”
My favorite, though, was the billboard that proclaimed “Vasectomies Reversed.” Thankfully, there was no illustration.
A close second was the assertion that “1 Kansas farmer feeds 101 people & you.” Is “you” some kind of Wheat State code for … alien life forms … O.J. Simpson … Newt Gingrich? Am I getting warm, or just being redundant?
I’m happy to report that Biblical scholars no longer need debate the existence and location of the Garden of Eden. I found it. It has its own exit off I-70. There’s even a McDonald’s.
A site on Colorado’s eastern plains boasts a tower from which one can “See Six States.” (I bet they also throw in the Garden of Eden on weekends.) Personally, I can’t think of anything I’d rather see after spending days driving through these states than–the same states from a different angle.
It’s not on an interstate, but for me nothing beats the welcome sign of my current residence, 10,152-foot-high Leadville, which justifiably describes itself as: “On Top of It All.” Don’t many of us wish we could say the same?
When she’s not on the road, Lynda La Rocca lives and writes in Leadville.