Make no buns about it.
“Moon Amtrak” – the annual event at which hundreds of people bare their bottoms in a row beside a chain link fence,eager to greet the passengers in more than two dozen sold-out Amtrak trains – is the “wackiest event to ever have originated in a bar,” writes travel author Janet Friedman.
The free “moon show” has been a Laguna Niguel,Calif.,tradition on the second Saturday of July since 1979,according to a Web site about the event. It is one of countless quirky destinations for those whose response to another Disneyland or Grand Canyon vacation is,“Been there,done that.”
The Orange County event is just a dot on the map of the “heights of eccentricity” scattered across America,part of the second edition of Friedman's “Eccentric America” to be released in May.
More than a third of states offer fewer than 10 eccentric sites. California and Florida rank highest,boasting at least 50 sites each.
Friedman reported that the Los Angeles Coroner's Office sells souvenirs branded with “the coroner's name,along with a cute body-outline logo,” and Key West,Fla.,is home to “The Chicken Store,” which sells “everything chicken,except,that is,for the dozen or so live ones peck-peck-pecking around the merchandise.”
“I'm just blown away by the quality of the eccentricities this country has to offer,” Friedman said. “What I look for are genuine eccentricities,where there's a story,a heart,a soul – a peculiar pursuit behind it.”
Indeed,travelers could make an entire tour of the “peculiar pursuit” of large balls of rubber bands,barbed wire or twine.
Cawker City,Kan.,(pop. 521,according to the 2000 U.S. Census) claims the “world's largest ball of twine.”
The ball weighs almost 9 tons,would be more than 7 million feet long unraveled and since 1953 has multiplied in size by about six times.
Cawker City competes with Darwin,Minn.,for the glory of the “world's largest ball of twine.” Darwin's also weighs about 9 tons,but twine ball aficionados know that Darwin's was the work of a single farmer,not the entire community,as is the case in Cawker City.
Travelers can easily locate the twine on the south side of the highway through Cawker City because,as the town's Web site points out, “after all,this is a small town and a big ball of twine.”
Everyone's invited to take part in the annual twine-winding on the third Friday of August and for Saturday's picnic and parade.
This is just one destination-event promoted by 24 communities along Highway 24, where travelers can see the “real” western Kansas,said Joan Nothern,president of the Solomon Valley Highway 24 Heritage Alliance and a resident of Glasco,Kan.
Get back on the highway and travel west to Studley,Kan.,to explore the Cottonwood Ranch,a “historic English sheep ranch,” Nothern suggested.
“The things are here,but you have to come and explore and discover,” Nothern said. “You're not told in advance what you're going to experience.”
But she does offer one recommendation.
“Plan ahead to have gas,” Nothern said. “Not all towns have gas stations.”
Sara Vos of Wyandotte,Mich.,pumped $400 worth of gas into her 1998 Volkswagen Bug during a month-long tour of the United States and Canada last July,she said.
Vos,19,said she and two friends stayed with family,friends,an ex-boyfriend,people they knew from chatting online or had met at music shows,and,on one occasion,“a friend of a friend of a friend.”
“I think a month was a good amount of time,but we could have taken two,” said Vos,a freshman at the University of Michigan who met the locals in a subway station in Atlanta,on Rock Beach in Bar Harbor,Maine,and at Lorenzo's Pizza in Philadelphia,a joint she said used to be the favorite of Will Smith's while he starred on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
“We all wanted to go back to just about every city we went to,” Vos said.
“In New Orleans,there were Mardi Gras beads everywhere,hanging from the trees,on the ground,” Vos said. “It was like the city was built on Mardi Gras beads. There were parts of beads sticking out of the ground. A lot of them were like really,really old,probably 100 years or so.”
America's quirkiness can seem endless. Just ask anyone who's ever visited the Martian Landing Site in Grovers Mill,N.J.; the Mormon Handcart Visitors’ Center near Alcova,Wyo.; Yogi Bear Graveyard in Halifax,N.C.; or the Red Light Museum of Prostitution in Virginia City,N.V.
Each destination is featured among “4,000 pages of interstate adventure” at http://www.roadsideamerica.com/.