Obscura Day

I spent last Saturday exploring catacombs and rummaging through 1920s morphine prescriptions…

You might say that was a pretty morbid way to spend a spring afternoon, but I was more happy than anything to finally take part in Obscura Day. Obscura Day is an annual event held by Atlas Obscura that gives you access to lots of strange, historical, sometimes abandoned attractions around the world. Think in terms of tours to abandoned theme parks, walks through Chernobyl ‘ghost cities’ or visits to hidden beaches. Just like my obsession with Roadside America, I like to follow Atlas Obscura when I want to explore lowkey spots your typical travel guide wouldn’t include, hence my visit to a gravesite and an oddities shop last weekend.

This year, WONDER COMMONS hosted an Obscura Day event at the Westminster Burying Ground and Catacombs in Baltimore, a place where you can find the gravesites of Edgar Allen Poe and James Calhoun, the first mayor of Baltimore. I’ve been to Poe’s gravesite before, but it was an entirely new experience getting to poke around the catacombs beneath the church and have a guide share quirky historical anecdotes on body snatching.

About a 15 minute drive away was a little shop of oddities known as Bazaar, a store that offers up skulls, taxidermy, vintage Ouija boards and bone jewelry for sale (if you’re into those kinds of things). The shop hosted a “Find The Mole Hand” game for Obscura Day, which sounds more gross than it actually is because trust me, you’d spend a couple hours in there if you stopped by. I showed up too late to claim one of the eight prizes handed out for finding the mole hand, but still ended up spending a good while just looking at black and white photographs and air plants.

Obscura Day only comes around every April, but there are always tons of Obscura events happening all over the U.S. Check out their website before going on your next vacation!


Mardi Gras World 

Here’s a fun little fact for you: Mardi Gras floats can cost almost a million bucks to make, which is crazy considering they make their debut only once a year. Oh, and in order to throw your beads off the side of one you’ve gotta be strapped into a harness, or else you’ll do a face plant like these guys.

During my birthday trip to NOLA, I popped in to Mardi Gras World, a Roadside America spot pretty much every local I ran into insisted was a “must see.” It’s a place where you’ll see a life-size Rosie the Riveter next to Donald Duck who lives across the aisle from a Greek goddess and Godzilla. The coolest part is you get to peek in on artists painting, cutting and drawing up the next year’s floats, and sometimes even repurposing old floats into new concepts.

Papermoon Diner

Image via Baltimore magazine.

Fact: anything covered in bacon tastes 738,492,154x better. Bacon chocolate, bacon pizza… And I know it’s incredibly unhealthy, but when I heard Papermoon Diner offers bacon milkshakes, I had to go get one.

Papermoon happens to be a Roadside America Maryland attraction, so it was like killing three birds with one stone: celebrating my sister’s 16th birthday, crossing another quirky spot off my list and cloggin’ up my arteries, not to mention Baltimore is such a kick ass city. The diner was exactly the type of technicolor madness I love surrounding myself with and the food even lived up to the hype, too, so I’m thinking I won some ‘nice big sister’ points with this one…

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Asheville Oddities

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Leave it to me to go on a weekend getaway to North Carolina and (1) accidentally show up to a cuckhold and (2) unknowingly end up on a conservative gun shop’s parade float. Here’s how it all went down:

When your best friend invites you down South for Memorial Day weekend and asks you to be on a parade float, you don’t say no to these things — especially when you learn you’ll be riding down the street on the back of a Vietnam War-era “duece and a half” military cargo truck. But imagine my surprise when I show up to the town’s Memorial Day festivities and BAM! out rolls the Goose Lake Gun Shop* banner. An hour later and we’re parading through town, a Holy Bible float with cheerleaders for Jesus in front, some Mountain Dew sippin’ Boy Scouts behind us and Civil War reenactors leading the charge. I think the liberal gal in me handled it pretty well — that is, until shouts of “Long live the Confederacy!” could be heard from the crowds, at which point the half-black girl in me was like, “OH NAH.” It’s probably just a Southern pride thing that I’ll never quite comprehend, but talk about having a moment where you really appreciate where you’re from!

Later that afternoon, my friend Rita and I are drove up to the mountains for a few days in Asheville to explore the Arts District; visit the Biltmore; and, of course, unintentionally end up at a cuckhold. If you take a quick peek at the Travels section of my blog menu bar, you’ll notice the Roadside America section. I thought I’d check out The Odditorium, a quirky dive bar in Asheville that is on Roadside America’s North Carolina list of attractions because of its freak shows and oddities. Our Uber driver pulled up the venue and what do we see? A sign about a cuckhold and two humans in neon wigs and leather assless chaps hopping out a truck.  I barely had a chance to peek around the place before our dad-like  driver gave us a, “I don’t think this is a place for you two ladies” and backed out the parking lot.

Instead, we spent the night guzzling down dranks at Ben’s Tune Up and Wicked Weed, which was a really good time, though now that I think of it, The Odditorium probably would’ve been an even more wildly crazy, fun night.

… All of these good moments in a state I’ve claimed to “hate” over the last seven years… I hate to admit when I’m wrong (mostly because I know Rita will be reading this), but North Carolina was a nice little surprise and I think I’ll be back soon!

*Gun shop name withheld for sake of best friend

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Offbeat vintage signs and quirky Americana have always caught my eye, which is why Cesar and I recently decided to start a Roadside America tour. We aren’t doing the tour exactly the way it was dreamed up: by loading a big camper with a pack of pals and hopping out every time we see a Paul Bunyan or South of the Border statue. It’s more of a weekend adventure, small trip kind of approach, but I don’t mind.

The first stop on our list was Randyland. Randyland is the most obnoxiously quirky and colorful thing I’ve ever seen. Splattered in murals, broken toys and neon, this place brings kitsch to the Mexican War Streets neighborhood of Pittsburgh’s Northside. I can imagine Randyland is constantly crawled over by tourists like me, but apparently it’s also still a favorite with locals, too.