Paul’s Roadside Road Trip 2009 (Part 1)

[Note: I wrote this piece for my Facebook friends a few years ago. After reading it, one of them said “I was giggling, laughing and snorting (with laughter, not drugs!) until I cried.” I think half the reason I started this new site was so I’d have somewhere other than Facebook to publish it.]

I had some sick days at work to use up, so I thought it’d be fun to plan a short road trip of the area’s local tourist traps and other oddities. I planned my trip using RoadsideAmerica.com, a website that collects accounts of places like “The World’s Largest Armpit” or “The Museum of Tiny Pebbles That Get Caught in Your Shoes.” I’ve had an affinity for such places ever since I saw the episode of Doug where Doug’s family visited, among other places, “The Bug Ranch,” which was just a small insect terrarium on a pedestal, with a cassette tape of a shouting cowboy playing in the background. I believe the lesson of the episode was to not be sucked in by tourist traps, but all I learned was how awesome they are.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I woke up at 6 a.m. today.

If you’re familiar with the way my family travels, you’re probably grinning right now. “Oh, would you look at that? He’s just like his father.” When my dad’s on vacation, he never wants the sun to get a head start on him. The truth is, though, that my sigfig Lizo had a 7 a.m. train to Maryland to catch, and I was her ride to the station. I didn’t leave for my little vacation until about 10 a.m., after napping, then playing videogames, and then, finally, actually packing for this trip.

My first destination was Timexpo, in Waterbury, CT, which could be accurately described as “the watch and clock museum.” This museum is one of the seven reasons my sigfig didn’t want to go on this trip with me, with the other six being “all the other boring places you’re going.” It was about a 40-minute drive from my apartment in New Haven, and it was located just off the highway and inside a shopping center, like it was a Home Depot or a Wal-Mart. Right next to the watch museum, inexplicably, was a gigantic Moai statue. I wouldn’t understand the connection until later.

A Moai statue kind of inexplicably placed outside of Timexpo, the time and watch museum in Waterbury, CT.

As I entered the museum, I was met with another Moai statue—this one wearing a felt tri-cornered pirate hat. Arrrr. The woman at the front desk assured me that this was, in fact, the watch museum, and not the Easter Island Swashbuckling Museum, as I’d been starting to suspect (and hope). I bought my ticket and walked to the elevator. As I was entering the elevator, I was stopped by a frazzled-looking woman with a roll of measuring tape. She asked if I could please help her to measure the elevator’s door. I obliged, and she thanked me and walked away. I’m not sure if she was an employee of the museum, or just an elevator enthusiast.

Timexpo offers the history of Timex, from its humble beginnings as the Waterbury Clock Company to the global corporation it is today. It also offers a glimpse into the future of time-telling: Watches on stickers? On fingernails? On eyeballs? (I’m not making this up.) In between these exhibits on the past and future of watches, there was also—prepare to…be confused—an exhibit on Thor Heyerdahl, who studied oceanic travel and possible contact among ancient civilizations, and entirely did not study watches or clocks. This was presented without any explanation—I went from an exhibit on Timex’s contributions to the war effort, to a small pool with plastic boats, showing how difficult it is to travel against currents, to a display of tiny watches that fit inside your ear and can read your mind. It was about as cohesive as a piece of gum that you’ve been chewing so long that it’s liquefied, and is now dribbling out the side of your mouth.

There were a number of exhibits in this museum I enjoyed, including:

– “The Mouse That Saved Timex,” which was about how, during the Great Depression, Timex was able to turn a corner and hire back many of its previously pink-slipped employees—at higher salaries and for more hours, no less—because of how well its Mickey Mouse watch sold.

– A barbershop clock whose face was entirely backwards, so that patrons could read the time through the barber’s mirror.

– Videos of the company’s “torture tests”: a popular ad campaign in which Timex workers attacked their watches with boat motors and horses to show how waterproof and durable they were. In the museum, these ads were shown on a period TV, which is either intentional and really neat, or unintentional and very, very cheap.

All during my visit ancient clocks were ticking at me from all directions—it was actually very terrifying, like the place was gonna blow at any second.

After picking up some “food” at the local mall (and a quick stop at Hot Topic, where the only thing that stopped me from buying a Super Mario Bros. 3 shirt was the fact that it was meant for little girls), I cruised for another 40 minutes to Hartford, CT: home of The Trash Museum. The Trash Museum is located in an actual recycling center, and it has a viewing platform on the second floor where you can observe Recycling in Action, by which I mean you can watch sad-looking people push empty soda bottles around a big, dingy warehouse. One man in particular, working the conveyor belts (where employees separate unrecyclables from the recyclables) stared directly at me, blankly, for several moments, before abruptly looking away, to return to his garbage.

A photo of some closed-caption footage of people working the recycling assembly line at the Trash Museum/recycling center.

After checking that out, I went back down to the museum proper and went on a super-fun scavenger hunt. Near the museum’s entrance is a “Temple of Trash” —basically a wide archway built out of newspapers, broken toys, rusty typewriters, and other garbage—and there’s a checklist of things for you to find in it. I’m proud to say that I found way more objects than the five year old who was doing the hunt at the same time. I played another game, too: a sort-the-plastics game, to teach kids the difference between recyclable and unrecyclable plastics. (Pro-tip: If it doesn’t have a “1” or a “2” stamped on the bottom of it, it’s not recyclable, at least in Connecticut.) I also viewed a model building built out of refuse and several exhibits of live compost, at which point most 24 year olds would’ve probably felt silly hanging out in this clearly-for-children museum without any actual children, but I was having a blast.

At one exhibit, I learned that you can’t recycle bottle caps or greeting cards (again, maybe just a Connecticut thing), but that you can recycle leaves. I assume that, after collecting them, the recycling plant staples them back onto trees. Some towns here apparently let residents rake all of their leaves into the middle of the street, where workers drive up with an enormous vacuum cleaner and take them to the recycling plant. Why aren’t there children’s DVDs all about that job, like there are for jobs like fireman and police officer? I’d watch that now.

After buying a pencil for my sigfig as a back-to-school gift (it’s made of recycled jeans!), I was off to South Deerfield, MA, about an hour away, to visit the world’s largest candle store. Note the lack of capitalization—apparently, Yankee Candle doesn’t promote its original, primary, and biggest store as The World’s Largest Candle Store, even though it is, according to no lesser a source than some random dude on RoadsideAmerica.com. The Yankee Candle location in South Deerfield is more like a mall than a store, with about a dozen store-sized sections featuring a variety of goods. Two rooms house all 160+ varieties of the company’s candles, each available in multiple sizes, and sorted by scent type (e.g., floral, food) and color. Another room offers ye olde general store goods, like hand-painted signs about how much men like fishing, and hand-made candy. One room consists entirely of Red Sox merchandise, and a few more are filled with children’s toys.

The world's largest's candle store's biggest mistake is that it didn't put this slogan on a t-shirt.

I came for the candles (and picked up two: “Sparkling Snow” and, I swear, “Greenhouse”), but what really drew me in was the store’s Christmas section. In this section, you walk through an entire village of little Christmas-themed buildings and figurines, with a toy train riding over your head, and bursts of fake snow falling every four minutes, which nearby small children were attempting to eat while I was there. You then pass into what could be the world’s largest Christmas store, divided into sections via the ornaments and other décor’s nation of origin. There are other themed areas, too, including one for the supremely creepy Snow Baby line of stupid knickknacks, and there is even, kinda randomly, a fake koi pond. I bought what is bound to become my new favorite tree ornament (surpassing even my “Santa Claus riding a freaking grizzly bear”): a pirate ship decked out with Christmas lights. It’s probably the most adorable pirate ship I’ve ever seen.

My other favorite part of the store was, like the entire Trash Museum, mostly for kids. In this section, you could make wax molds of your hands, paint some pre-made candles, and even create your own scents. I think the main reason adults have kids is so they can get away with doing things like this. As for me, I’d already picked out two candles anyway, and I thought my sigfig might start to wonder about me if I came home from my trip with an armload of candles.

Before leaving the world’s largest candle store (lowercase), I also picked up what was described as a “maple syrup cola.” It tasted well enough like its two chief ingredients, though the “cola” part tasted like Diet Coke that’s been sitting out for a while, and the “maple” part tasted, bizarrely, also entirely sugarless. It was foul, and this is coming from the World’s Biggest Fan (uppercase) of Pepsi Holiday Spice.

An animitronic jug band, inside the world's largest candle store.

The next stop on my list was over two hours away, and if I’d just driven straight there, it would have been closed by the time I’d arrived. I plugged its address into my GPS and started heading toward it, but I started looking for a motel after about an hour and a half. There wasn’t a single one anywhere. I searched for “accommodations” in my GPS, and plugged in the closest place that sounded habitable. The GPS responded by taking me to a run-down shack in the middle of an empty, weed-littered, lightless parking lot. I started toward the closest “motel” from there, but then turned around when the GPS directed me down a dirt road in the middle of the woods. I could just make out the ax murderers in the distance. I finally settled on the 1820 Room in Hillsborough, NH (New Hampshire? Seriously? When did I arrive in New Hampshire?) after spending a little over an hour looking for somewhere to sleep. So far, I’ve only found the one mosquito, so I think I’m set.

[Click here for Part 2!]

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2 comments

  1. That’s funny–my co-blogger and I almost went on a trip to see the giant Moai statue, and I went to the Trash Museum with a group of summer day campers some years back. The full-size trash dinosaur was pretty amazing, though it may have eaten one of the campers.

    1. Believe it or not, the one with a dinosaur is actually a different museum–that’s the GARBAGE MUSEUM! Yes, there’s both a trash and a garbage museum in Connecticut. Don’t ask me why.

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