A Trip to the Funny Farm
Face it, a car trip isn't a car trip unless you stop every couple of miles to check out a roadside attraction. While some people's idea of a roadside attraction is a McDonald's with a playground or a bathroom without a sign that says "For customers only", I'm talking about real attractions here. You know, like the restaurant shaped like a 40-foot Mammy or the 60-foot pink and blue brontosaurus at the side of the road that roars, "Come see me and my friends. We won't eat you, we're vegans!" Hey, it's the 90's.You have to stop when you see these places. After all, these people have devoted their lives to creating a little fantasy world of prehistoric monsters, fairy tale characters, and nature's oddities, the least you can do is take a look. Besides, how else will you be able to buy the postcards that let your relatives know there's more to your vacation than a car full of edgy family members valiantly trying to all make it through the week alive?The heaviest concentration of roadside attractions in the country may very well be along the stretch of US Highway 101 that extends from Northern California through Southern Oregon. Maybe it's the fog and rain, or it might be the fact that there's hundreds of miles of enticing beach along the coast with water that's too cold to swim in, but the simple fact is once you hit the redwood forests there are more places to stop at than curves in the road. Well, almost.You can drive through giant redwoods without getting a ticket, though you have to buy one before you can do it. You can see hollowed out trees claiming to be the world's tallest rooms. There's even a cathedral of six redwoods growing from the same root which has been the site of innumerable marriage ceremonies. Okay, it's not Vegas, but the preacher's not an Elvis impersonator either. The fact is, they've probably done just about everything you can think of to a redwood tree short of opening a brothel in one, and I suspect that if I wasn't using a G-rated AAA tour map I would have seen it marked in huge red letters: "Home of the Big Redwoodie".The Trees of Mystery in Klamath, California sports a 49-foot Paul Bunyan and a well endowed Babe the Blue Ox out front. The Prehistoric Gardens in Port Orford, Oregon has oddly-colored dinosaurs hanging around one of the most incredible rain forests in the country. But if you go inland a bit you'll find a place I've been told to visit many times but had never actually come across: The Funny Farm.Located off Hwy. 97 between Bend and Redmond, Oregon, the Funny Farm is part second-hand store, part art installation, and part acid flashback. The brain stutter of Gene Carsey and Mike Craven, The Funny Farm started as an antique/junk store 15 years ago. It was their pet goat Lucyyou know, the one who lived in a pink 1954 Studebaker and ate dill picklesthat started attracting attention. The next thing you know they've put up a bed frame filled with planted flowers and the outline of a man lounging on it (the Flower Bed), a bowling ball garden (you can buy bowling ball seeds on the way out), a Yellow Brick Road which leads to Dorothy's house (complete with witch legs and ruby slippers jutting out from beneath it), and an Agitator Wall covered with painted washing machine agitators. Oh yeah, and picket signs propped in the corner in case you're in an agitating mood yourself.There's real art there too, like the statue of a three-legged bowler whose heads are the images of Gene and Mike in their younger days, the tire totem pole, and the electric kaleidoscope which continuously shows the Wizard of Oz in cascading psychedelic images. And let's not forget, there's all that stuff for sale, from oddball knickknacks in the main shop to antiques, junk, and old radios in the barn. Oh yeah, there's also the costume shop, which not only has vintage clothes, but features the Dead Halloween Mask Burial Grounds. How else to explain the masks of Rodney Dangerfield, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Spuds McKenzie, and the old hag labeled "Madonna in the year 2020"?Lest you think this isn't serious stuff, the Funny Farm has its educational side too. Where else will you ever get the chance to see what's inside a bowling ball? (Hint: It looked like plaster to me.) Maybe they should have stressed this learning aspect when the county supervisors tried to stop them from moving across the street when they were being displaced because of a road widening project. After getting 500 unsolicited letters supporting the Funny Farm, the county begrudgingly gave in, but to this day won't allow them to erect a sign on the highway.Life goes on at the Funny Farm, though always in a constantly changing form. They used to host a party every Saturday night for local gays and lesbians, but they stopped because it was getting to be a little too much. In order to pay for their Yellow Brick Road improvement project they now offer to put your name on a brick for five bucks. And in the spirit of Lucy the goat's ghost, they've now got Bear, a dog which sleeps on a sofa on the roof and, yes, eats hot dogs the tourists buy just for that purpose.It's all attitude, an attitude which is best summed up by one of the many printed sheets they hand out, this one explaining what we can learn from their fainting goats. Prominently displayed is a reminder that it's important in life to "kid around". No kidding.