Winding through the meandering path of Redwood National Park, flanked by the world’s tallest trees and a fine, misty beachside fog, we come to a clearing of a grassy field, a jammed parking lot, and the biggest f*#$#% statue of Paul Bunion and his trusty blue ox, Babe, either of us had ever seen.
This is the first of (probably) many abrupt roadside attraction stops. The looming wood carved mass of masculine fervor and an embarrassing amount of dark brown chest hair begged to be investigated further, a decision we’d soon find out to be one of the best we’ve yet to make a little more than a week into our voyage.
We got out of the car, grabbed the camera, and slowly walked in a steady flow of tourists, hippies, and small childeren who could only be described as in a fluctuating state of terror and amazement. As we approached the impressively large tall tale duo, we discovered exactly why those children were so frightened.
Paul Bunion was talking.
Jarring. Disturbing. Hilarious. Dubious. Confusing. Appalling. Genius.
These are just a few of the thoughts that passed through us as we realized somewhere very close to this spectacle was a man – probably drinking a hot toddy, smoking a cigarette, and watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island – commenting on those who dared approach Paul’s massive set of ass-kicking boots.
In real time.
This was some kind of National Park wizardry. And it absolutely baffled us.
As if the chest hair, the ox and the axe, the automated waving right hand, and the gritty mountain man smile weren’t enough, someone dedicated their nine to five posing as America’s favorite lumberjack for the amusement and exploitation of anyone who dared walk into his shadow.
I looked around and noticed a small window in the gable roof above the attraction’s gift shop. This must have been where this man spent his days, scanning among the crowds looking for the perfect mark for his surprisingly witty off-the-cuff observations.
This is the side of our country I was most excited about exploring before we set out: the weird, surreal, human, and utterly nonsensical side that proves there are some here who still have a sense of humor. I hope we stumble upon more of these tucked away little gems, and I hope there are even more people willing to throw themselves into the absurdity of roadside America.
Texas, I’m looking at you.