So a couple of weekends ago, I took a long ass van ride down to Southern California, a place I swore I'd never go again. I have a lot of irrational judgments against the area, from LA to Palm Springs- my experiences have been pretty wretched, and frankly a good portion of the road from Northern CA to Southern CA smells like cow shit. I had a throat that felt like it was full of ants and I was going to ArcadeExpo in Banning, a small, quiet town in the middle of nowhere.
I had played some pinball before with my girlfriend J, but I was never a big arcade gamer growing up. Computer games, sure. Board games, no problem, but arcades weren't really part of my social life. My friends were more interested in art and fashion for the most part. I enjoyed text based adventure games, but I didn't really go out and play games with other people so much. So for me, I wasn't sure what I'd get out of a convention heavy on pinball and arcade cabinets. My attention span is a bit short for spending a bunch of time examining each machine.
Turns out J had a plan to follow me around and interview me on my thoughts after playing a bunch of different machines, like what drew me to them, how I think I did, etc. It was fun- I enjoyed the art, and the cacophony of music, and all the flashy lights- but eventually I was ready to go back to my laptop for Civilization V or Long Live the Queen.
But it was only day one.
The next day I decided I needed to find some sort of weird roadside attraction, and I found an amazing one in the Cabazon Dinosaurs.
Originally created to draw attention to a man's little roadside restaurant, it's now owned by creationists and is a haphazard, desert-worn collection of sad looking dinosaurs, a scattering of snakes, tortoises, giant frogs, and other creatures that don't belong. I paid for everyone to get in because it was my idea, and we shuffled around looking at the heads of raptors on the wides of wild west looking shacks.
It was all very strange, but not very creationist-y. That is, until we found our way inside the T-Rex, wherein lay posters declaring that it was QUITE POSSIBLE that dinosaurs still roamed the earth and cited Doctor Who as a reliable source of facts. We gaped at the declarations that dinosaurs and humans walked the earth together 6000 years ago, and tried not to laugh too loudly in front of other people who seemed to be taking all this seriously.
The signs promised robotic dinosaurs and we didn't find any until we went in the gift shop. I was even startled by one, a groaning triceratops that was apparently being hunted by a medieval knight (?!?!?). The teenage boy who was at the ticket counter/gift shop register seemed completely nonplussed by the entire ordeal. I suspected this was one of the better jobs in the area.
I plugged in my phone inside the T-Rex so I could charge it and send into the world the dirty photos I made J take of me (because I'm a pervert and it was a great opportunity as long as no one caught us). Of course I immediately sent a photo of me flashing my boobs in front of a raptor to my boss because how often does one get to do that at a creationist museum? They, at least, laughed- my other partners, N and P, were apathetic about my exploits. It takes a lot to impress them, and, tbh, I send out a lot of photos of my boobs.
The other notable thing about this whole trip is how, when you leave the Bay Area, everything seems to be fried and either covered in sugar or cheese. Maybe ranch, for variety. But it's a salty fatty meaty wonderland and it was definitely making me a bit sickly. That plus my sore throat laid me in bed most of the day Saturday, lying in the hotel room, groaning a bit to myself and flopping around. Coming back involved rather a lot of salad eating. I became very passionate about my kale intake after this trip.
What I learned, though, was that while pinball can only hold my attention for a couple of hours, roadside attractions are kind of amazing and I want to visit a lot more. They've been my thing for a while and I desperately want to run away for a couple of weeks to visit some of the more obscure attractions in the US. I'd love the chance to ask the curators their stories, maybe even on video, to save these things as they're quickly disappearing and falling apart.
I think perhaps my interest in pinball, and roadside Americana, is related to my current obsession with wholesomeness and playing around with that trope in myself. It's so new and strange to me that it's fun to explore. Many people wouldn't drive for days to visit the world's largest ball of twine but that is one of my life goals, because to me, Americana and these roadside wonders/horrors are tribute to the hustle of the everyday American in a way that I find remarkable. For many people, their collection or their giant chair or whatever is something that puts much needed money in the bank- not much, but enough. Many of the towns housing these things are on the verge of becoming ghost towns. I want to remind people that they don't have to go to another country to have an adventure, that we have plenty amazing and strange right here at home.
I was expecting to write a lot more about pinball but instead I find myself musing on how much I love road trips. I look forward to visiting some new places this year, even if they're just strange cult bunkers in the East Bay.