Road trip!

Arguably the two most optimistic and exciting words ever spoken. You. Me. A full tank of gas and the open road. Toss in a few snacks and toss out the maps and off we go. That’s a recipe for summer fun, kids.

To paraphrase that traveling fool Jack Kerouac, all we need is a wheel in our hands and four on the road.

I’m a bit of a road trip junkie, which is why I’m so intrigued by colleague Kris Manty’s recent Antique Trader cover story on photographer John Margolies, who spent a good chunk of his life taking pictures of those wacky roadside attractions we’ve all seen – think giant roosters, whale-shaped car washes and mammoth pink elephants.

From 1969 to 2008, Margolies drove more than 100,000 miles capturing what most surely would be lost: the creative wonder of local merchants doing just about anything to get you off the road and into their fried-chicken joint, or bar or gas station, whatever. And if a pistol-packing shrimp wearing a cowboy hat gets your attention – how could it not? – then come on in and shake the dust off.

The fearsome Hodag, terror of the pine forests of northern Wisconsin, can be found in Rhinelander, Wisconsin -- if indeed you want to find a foul-smelling, fire-breathing, seven-foot-long beast.

The fearsome Hodag, terror of the pine forests of northern Wisconsin, can be found in Rhinelander, Wisconsin -- if indeed you want to find a foul-smelling, fire-breathing, seven-foot-long beast.

They were innocent times. They were also outlandish, playful and more than a little odd. Travel enough and you saw it all. Until you didn’t.

It’s mostly all gone now. Golden arches and homogenized corporate advertising have replaced Paul Bunyan and Babe, lumberjack royalty who coaxed us off the road for a piece of pie. I’m not saying the pie was better back then just because a giant Paul Bunyan and his big blue ox made me oddly curious and, come to think of it, hungry. ... I wonder if they have chocolate cream pie? And coffee. I bet their coffee is good. It has to be. Paul Bunyan liked his coffee. He and Babe would amble down the road if their coffee was lousy. ...OK, that’s exactly what I’m saying. It was better. The pie, the coffee, all of it. 

As a veteran of roadside dining, having worked one glorious teenage summer behind the counter in my hometown A&W Root Beer Stand, I know a little something about good eating. So pay attention. Rule No. 1: if a place has car hops, local girls with change makers belted to their hips that make ching-a-ling-ling sounds with each peppy step, and if those girls have smiles so warm and welcoming they melt your root beer float and you don’t even care, well, clearly, you go there as long as you can. Ignore all other rules. This place – this magical, long-gone world of corn dogs and onion rings and car hop crushes – you take with you long after it’s gone.

So yes, by all means, let’s hit the road. I know this place where we can eat.

 A& W Root Beer Stand car hops, with change makers and a ready smile, are sure to greet us on the road.

 A& W Root Beer Stand car hops, with change makers and a ready smile, are sure to greet us on the road.

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