Big Funky Attractions along the Highway

The famous blue whale of Catoosa

We Boomer kids spent a lot of time on the road. In our family, my grandparents lived 400 miles to the north and to the south, so we usually traveled every year to see them. Additionally, we managed to take some great vacations. In 1967, we drove up to Montreal for Expo 67, coming back home through upstate New York, where I saw Niagra Falls. And the next year, we drove down to Miami, Florida.

Dad would get on the interstate and drive 70 miles an hour to get to the grandparents’ homes. But when we went on vacation, we would set out at a much more relaxed pace, stopping along the way to take pictures and check out big, funky roadside attractions. We never had reservations at hotels. Generally, towards the end of the day, we would pull in to a little motel with a vacancy sign turned on.

It was a great, relaxing way to travel.

The big objects were everywhere. A restaurant would put up a big tepee. A gas station would have a huge dinosaur. A motel would have a VW Bug on huge tires. And kids would eat it up.

Sometimes, an object would be so outrageous that my parents would have to stop and take a picture of me standing in front of it. That was good news for the restaurant owner, because we would usually go inside and get something to eat afterwards. Mission accomplished, in his book.

Giant Paul Bunyan statue, Tucson, Arizona

Giant Paul Bunyans were seen everywhere (and still are). They are known as “Muffler Men,” because so many of them are in proximity to muffler shops. Many more of them are holding giant tires. I’ll give you three guesses as to what sort of shop THEY are standing in front of.

Historic Route 66 still has many huge attractions along its route. Who hasn’t passed by the giant blue whale which is built on a former swimming pond in Catoosa, Oklahoma and wasn’t awed by its size and sheer blueness?

On that 1968 vacation, we took small highways all the way to Florida and up and down its length. We stayed in little motels in towns like St. Augustine, Daytona Beach and Cape Canaveral. If the beach was nice, we might stay a couple of days before moving on. Then, a giant alligator would beckon us to stop and see what was in the cage alongside the gas station (and fill up the car, of course).

The wonderful thing about these giant objects is that they are probably still sitting right where they were when you saw them as a child. They are usually made of long-lasting stuff like steel, concrete, or fiberglass. Even though the establishment that erected the giant arrow, cowboy, tyrannosaurus, or whatever might be long out of business, the big customer attractor still stands there, dutifully getting people’s attention.

So why not take a leisurely drive across the country and revisit the small towns you passed through as a child. Odds are that the giant Paul Bunyan you remember so well is still standing there next to a gas station that may or may not be open for business.

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