My life is a seemingly endless (and profoundly enjoyed) series of roadside attractions. Inspired by basic personality and curiosity about people and books that nudge that “chance encounter wonderment” over the years — Jack Kerouac’s On The Road in all its incarnations including the recently published complete scroll, William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways, Tom Robbins’ Another Roadside Attraction. And books of observational respect such as Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans. Books of small-scale and large-scale decidedly human creations, of personal lives and private devotions, and business enterprises based on individual whim.
During a Phoenix area business trip this past week we visited for dinner a local business that serves up nostalgia and great food and fun images and kids and adults getting jazzed while sipping some of the greatest milk shakes I have ever sipped. http://www.joesfarmgrill.com/ And I immediately went to the “roadside attraction” part of my brain and library and experience.
Roadside attractions come in many shapes and sizes, and John Margolies seems to love them all. He spoke at the Grand Rapids Art Museum in 1981, on the occasion of an exhibit of his ‘roadside attraction’ photos and the release of one of his many picture books celebrating the byproducts of American car culture and wanderlust — The End of the Road. And I realized immediately that I shared this man’s humor about and respect for the instinct to create quirky and individual business establishments. Observe the theatre, respect it, and seek to know more.
I have gone on to see other exhibits of Margolies’s work, for example at the National Building Museum in Washington DC (See the USA: The Art of the American Travel Brochure) and have collected many of his fine publications over the years. The End of the Road inspired a late 1980s impish appreciation of one of its featured establishments on one of my cross-country drives — Bob’s Java Jive in Tacoma, Washington. I have visited or just appreciated through a car or train window tepee motels and orange-shaped concession stands and all the whimsy and individual passion that the wild American character generates and expresses in small businesses that once dotted the highways and byways, the blue highways of Least Heat Moon’s title. [For more on the wonders of Margolies’s brain, see his web site: http://www.johnmargolies.com/]
This recent work trip provided several reminders that roadside attractions can be inside or outside, images or objects, dreams or reality — “roadside attractions” can be chance encounters along the path of a day or the road of a trip or the journey of a lifetime. In this vein, at the end of several days of solid work in Arizona, killing time in the Phoenix airport yesterday, I came across a little exhibit in an art gallery space. An exhibit of the work of illustrator Chuck Jones who created Coyote and Roadrunner, Bugs Bunny, and more images that inform American culture than my feeble brain is able to capture. There were about 30 hand painted cells, pencil drafts, oils, and filmed tributes in this exhibit. [For more see http://blog.chuckjones.com/now_hare_this/2010/01/chuck-jones-an-animated-life-exhibit-opens-at-sky-harbor-airport-museum-.html] At the end of a trip of long productive days, I was reminded to take a moment and reflect, smile, even guffaw. At this roadside attraction, Bugs and Road Runner and Coyote, jointly and together, inspire awe and admiration. And a “beep beep”.