Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Roadside Attractions

"The works of a person that builds,
begin immediately to decay;
while those of him who plants
begin directly to improve."
William Shenstone, ‘Unconnected Thoughts on Gardening’ (1764)

Speaking of the glories man builds, driving through the optimistically named Inland Empire the other day, we encountered a billboard that proudly advertised “the Largest AM/PM in the World!” at an upcoming rest stop. Proving what, exactly? Why, the particularly American phenomenon that pride in a particular thing doesn’t necessarily signify the intrinsic worth of said thing. Although in fairness, the restrooms were sparkling clean, if somewhat overdosed in a room freshener that smelled like a cross between unmade Jell-O and the lobby of an overpopulated convalescent home.

The Japanese lady is admiring the water lilies from the bridge. You take your inspiration where it comes, driving through Southern California where the process of growth and decay seems to be speeded up. It’s not like the good old days.

The AM/PM billboard recalled a long-ago road trip from Salt Lake City, Utah to Washington DC, through the barren Midwest mega-farms. Roadside attractions were manufactured by the locals, we reckoned, in an effort to lure drivers into spending a few bucks on coffee, gas, or admission to contrived attractions - like a “zoo” for two retired circus elephants and an anorexic coyote. Across the corn fields of Kansas, we kept seeing signs advertising roadside attractions like “the world’s largest prairie dog” and Daniel Boon’s burial place. We saw so many of the latter, that we became convinced that poor Daniel was disinterred and moved regularly to give small town truck stops a point of interest sufficient to induce travelers to stop. For us, it simply made us put the pedal to the metal in an effort to outrun Daniel’s restless ghost. The World’s Largest Prairie Dog turned out to be a crude concrete statue standing approximately two stories tall, painted in that brownish-pink color that paint stores produce by mixing all the leftover paint together in one barrel. Sadly, as with most works of men, the World's Largest Prairie Dog will never last. We never did find out where Daniel rested finally in peace, and that still disturbs my dreams.

The other night, we went out to dinner at a recently opened chi-chi restaurant decorated in a style that reminds me of nothing so much as the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Gleaming faintly threatening brushed stainless steel appliances in the restroom, gauzy curtains with gleaming gossamer threads separating booths, curly metal and ceramic low voltage light fixtures that look like a nightmare that even Salvador Dali would wake screaming from. The martinis were good, but the entertainment was priceless: it was prom night at the two local high schools located equidistant from the restaurant, across the country club golf course in one direction, and the shopping mall in the other. These are upscale schools, the kind where the parents buy their daughters convertible Mini-coopers or PT Cruisers for their sixteenth birthday, and where big hair has never gone out of style. The dress code this year was sequined gowns and ill-fitting rented tuxes.

We observed a table of pampered, overdressed girls with professional makeup suitable for an Academy Award ceremony; another table of cheer- leaders, each matched perfectly with a color-coded jock; and notably, a party of two dignified young men unaccompanied by young ladies – further evidence that the anti-gay marriage vote in California was an aberration that will ultimately be undone.

So of course, the minute a swarm of young ladies headed to the restroom, I couldn’t resist. The girl talk in the restrooms was deeply superficial: Do my bra straps show? Your manicure is gorgeous and I love the way the green tip color matches your sequins! Do you believe what his mother said about her own prehistoric prom when his father was taking our pictures? Such self-conscious beauty. As the Japanese lady admires the flowers, she is unaware of the giant alligator on the rock behind her. Danger lurks everywhere.

Meanwhile, back in the back yard, I am at that stage when I wait for the garden to blossom into its full potential – beseeching the seeds to germinate, reminding the hop vines to twine counter-clockwise, smelling the pure white roses which I’d never wanted in the first place but have come to love for their lovely flowers as well as their deadly thorns which I refuse to remove, despite the rose’s overreach of a garden path. Walking through my garden is much like driving through the Inland Empire: you take your chances looking for points of interest. Sometimes you could be attacked by a rose bush, but sometimes you get local prom night. I’m thinking of making a miniature billboard to tuck beneath the thorny rose and warn the rabbits as they forage at night amid the windy mossy ways: World’s Biggest Rose Thorns Ahead.


walk2write said...

Encountering rose thorns seems much more appealing than watching the next generation of burbies congratulate each other on being masters and mistresses of the empire. Poor Daniel! Whatever grave he's in, he must surely be tangled up in that winding sheet, having rolled over so many times. Blazed a trail so the burbies could build without ceasing!

Helen said...

Wonderful journey. Thanks for taking us along. I'm reminded of our honeymoon weekend in Niagara Falls (why not!), where a billboard invited my husband and I to: Witness the World's Largest Crucifixion. Somehow we resisted.

Shady Gardener said...

And what color would you paint these thorns, if you actually created them? ;-) Do you and the Japanese lady travel together?