Eccentric America

Think different. More than just a list of weird kitschy roadside attractions, this enjoyable guidebook points you to odd festivals, off-beat environments, outsider art, bizarre endeavors and eccentric people in all 50 states. You can have a real adventure in the US by seeking out any of the 900 wacky national treasures covered in this fantastic guide. I found a whole bunch of incredible “never forget” destinations this way. May your travels be as creative as you are. (Someone please make an Eccentric Europe, or Mexico, Japan, etc.)

Alternatively, you can go to the website Roadside America. It’s not as complete, not as easy to browse, and not as eccentric (more of what you expect in roadside attractions), but it is free. Furthermore, it relies on tips from readers, so it is improving fast.

-- KK  

Roadside America

Eccentric America, 2nd Edition
Jan Friedman
2004, 336 pages
$8

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Led by a group alarmed by the increasing presence of surveillance cameras, the Surveillance Camera Outdoor Walking Tours cover most Manhattan neighborhoods, meeting Sundays, rain or shine, for the one-and-a-half-hour tours. The leaders, known as the Surveillance Camera Players, share a great deal of history on the subject as well as pointing out the technological capacities of the various types of cameras.

Surveillance Camera Outdoor Walking Tours (SCOWT) meet on Sundays at 2.00pm sharp in various neighborhoods. Check the website for details. Free.

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The Mega-sore-ass dinosaur machine crossing the Eel River and traveling to Ferndale in the Annual World Championship, Great Arcata to Ferndale Cross-Country Kinetic Sculpture Race*

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Sofas, chairs and bathtubs take to the slopes at Big Mountain Resort’s annual Furniture Races in Whitefish [MT]. All manner of furniture (very loosely defined) is firmly attached to skis, towed to the top of the slope, and then raced full-throttle down to the bottom. Competitors are judged by speed, ability to stop reasonably close to the finish line and on style. Winner gets a new piece of furniture.

Furniture Races, held annually in April in Whitefish, MT. Contact Big Mountain Ski and Summer Resort, PO Box 1400, Whitefish, MT 59937; 800 8582900.

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Talk about off the wall – you’ll be literally bouncing off padded ones at Flyaway Indoor Skydiving. Flapping around like a bird stuck in a silo, you’ll ‘fly’ in a vertical wind tunnel with updraft speeds up to 115mph. But first you need to attend flight school. Here you learn how to position your body for maximum uplift; practice the ‘tuck and roll’, which is how you exit the updraft safely; and learn the communication hand-signals. Then you’ll watch a lawyerly video explaining all the ways you could get hurt or killed (no-one ever has been); and sign your life away on the liability release form.

After that, it’s into your flight suit, knee and elbow pads, helmet, ear plugs and goggles. Then it’s into the wind tunnel with up to four of your soon-to-be best friends. Since your body isn’t likely to agree with your decision to leap into a void, your flight suit has handles so your trainer can pull you into and out of the maelstrom. The tunnel itself is a giant, padded, cylindrical tube with a turbine engine mounted into the floor.

Flyaway Indoor Skydiving, 200 Convention Center Dr, Las Vegas, NV 89109; 702 731 4768 or 877 545 8093. Open seven days a week. Hours are seasonal; phone for current times.

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The Indiana Shoe Tree has been featured in newspapers, and on television and radio, for most of the 35 years in which it has been collecting thousands of pairs of shoes and other footwear. Originally local folks shoed it just for fun, but now that it’s famous, people come from all over to tie their old laces together, then hurl their old shoes up into the white oak tree. Some people put their name and date on the soles before tossing them skyward. In winter you can truly see just how many shoes reside in the tree since there is no foliage to hide its contents.

Indiana Shoe Tree, located along County-1, 6 miles south of Milltown, IN. Contact Maxine Archibald, Maxine’s Market, 402 W Main St, Milltown, IN 47145; 812 633 4251

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Thirty thousand people show up to hunt rattlesnakes and then eat them at the annual Sweetwater Jaycee’s Rattlesnake Round-up and Cook-off. In the 40 years since the event was organized as a way to control the deadly snake population, more than 220,000 tons of rattlesnakes have ended up deep fried, barbecued, or otherwise recycled into less-threatening form. There are demonstrations of snake-handling, snake-milking and a Miss Snake Charmer Queen contest. The squeamish might want to sit this one out.

Rattlesnake Round-up and Cook-off, held annually in March in Sweetwater, TX. Contact: Rattlesnake Roundup, PO Box 416, Sweetwater, TX 79556; 915 235 5488 or 915 235 8938.

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North Carolina is home to the world’s largest chest of drawers

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The Kaatskill Kaleidoscope is the world’s largest, built inside a converted grain silo by member of the Brewster Society, a group of kaleidoscope craftsmen. To see the show, you lean back against padded boards equipped with new supports, then enjoy 15 minutes of inventive sound and imagery.

Kaatskill Kaleidoscope, Catskill Corners, Mt Tremper, Ulster County, NY; 914 688 5300. Open Sun-Thu 10.00am-5.00pm, Fri-Sat 10.00am-7.00pm.