Long before the tabloid freak show of Jerry Springer or whatever trash washed up on that Jersey Shore, one had to actually “go out” to find the oddities of American life. You had to take to the highways and back roads of this sprawling country and be on the lookout for screamingly gaudy roadside billboards with their outrageous claims: SHOCKINGLY REAL! STRANGE, BUT TRUE! And my favorite: FOUND ALIVE! (So it’s dead now, right?)
Roadside Americana has always been a mixed bag of snakes, snake charmers and snake oil salesmen. We know that disappointment always looms around the corner, especially after we paid our admission with the loose change found beneath the cushions of our car seat. Yet Americans love to be disappointed because, well we love to complain. Seriously, if we were ever truly satisfied what would be the point of ever speaking again?
Is not the story about BAD service/food/weather told 10x more often than the GOOD? Just try to take one day complimenting the joys of life to your friends, family, co-workers… and by late evening they’ll have forced an intervention on your sappy-happy ass. Clearly, something’s wrong with you.
Regardless how contrived or preposterous, we love to be taken if for no other reason than to acquire a major gripe and grumble. Barnum discovered this and re-invented modern day advertising as we know it.
Was Coca-Cola ever “the real thing?” And “real” compared to what? The unreal, surreal? Not even an “Un-Cola” could explain that away.
No, the fake and the faux and the false fabrications are exactly what we’re all about. Whether we’ve dressed up a cemetery to milk the bones of old gunslingers, or recreated a drive-thru dinosaur diner, or discovered the long lost legacy of Mermaids, or better yet, a Merman… we’re never disappointed in being disappointed.
Now little is left of such places. Invariably the old-timers that ran these fabulous gaffs are gone… along with their decrepit exhibits. It’s tough to make a living these days working with the taxidermied or stuffed.
Unless, of course, it’s foie gras.
Photo Postcard: Merman on Exhibition at Alligator Farm, Hot Springs, Arkansas