MAD DOG: Tourist Attractions of the Future
They just don't make roadside attractions like they used to. I know people say that about everything from cars to movies to humor columns -- okay, maybe not humor columns -- but this one is definitely true. After all, when was the last time someone looked up from the morning newspaper and said, "Honey, I think we should blast a home out of the side of a huge rock so we can live in it."?Actually, it was in 1945, and Albert Christensen of Moab, Utah did just that. Well, sort of. The original idea was to carve out a pre-Flintstonian diner, which is what he and his wife did. Then, after it had been open a few years, they discovered just how much they enjoyed spending their life inside a rock and, noticing that they had lots of room to expand, blasted more of it out and ended up with a 5,000 square foot two-bedroom rancher.Now the Hole 'N The Rock is open for tourists, which is a good thing since it breaks up the boredom of seeing one magnificent National Park after the other as you travel through southern Utah. Face it, all that natural beauty can be a bit wearing after a while.But would anyone think of starting something like that today? Doubtful. Nowadays when people consider opening a tourist attraction they think more along the lines of, say, spending a few billion dollars to build another theme park. And who can blame them? Even Disneyland Paris, which was as well received as Napoleon at Waterloo, now outdraws Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower. Is it any wonder the French are thinking of changing the capital's name from Paris to Frogland?There are still plenty of small roadside attractions, though most places like the Mystery Spot, The Thing, and the Funny Farm have been around for ages. Since we're in the Meddlesome '90s, when someone does try to give us something new and interesting to see on our travels all they get for their vision and foresight is a hassle. A couple of years ago the Gopher Museum in Torrington, Alberta, Canada, managed to open despite a year-long campaign by animal rights activists to stop it. Sure there are 54 stuffed gophers mounted in 31 scenes depicting a day in the life of Torrington, but what's wrong with seeing dead gophers playing hockey, getting their hair done, fishing, and robbing a bank?Factory tours are another roadside adventure that's vanishing. You can still watch them making cheese in Tillamook, Oregon, and Jelly Bellies in California, but you can't see them make chocolate in Hershey or cereal in Battle Creek anymore. That's like going to Washington, DC and not being able to see the Hot Air Factory -- I mean, Congress -- in action.Kellogg's, for one, used to let people tour the factory and watch them sweep the cereal off the floor and into the boxes. Just kidding. Actually, they did that after the tourists left. But one day their lawyers decided that they shouldn't do it anymore since there were just too many potential liability problems, what with Tony the Tiger having mauled his fifteenth visitor in two years. Just kidding again. The truth is they really ate too many Frosted Flakes and went into sugar shock, but you know how P.R. people like to put a spin on things.So what Kellogg's did was follow the new trend, which is to start a museum. That's right, Kellogg's Cereal City USA was born. While you can't see them making cereal or get free ice cream with cereal topping at the end like you used to, they will let you pay $6.50 to see exhibits about the history of cereal, a display of Kellogg's advertising, have your picture put on a box of corn flakes (for an extra 10 bucks), and stand in awe before a simulated cereal production line. It's like a virtual factory tour without the bothersome computer monitor.This is only the beginning. Las Vegas, which already has the World of Coca-Cola -- whose sole tie to the city is that some people there actually mix the stuff with rum -- may soon be home to Wrestlingland USA's No-Holds-Barred Hotel, Casino and Neck Injury Museum.That's right, a few months ago the World Wrestling Federation bought the Debbie Reynolds Hotel and Casino from its namesake and, even though they haven't announced definite plans, it's a safe bet it will be exactly what you expect it to be. Just think about it: One day soon you may be able to have tag team room service, line up three Hulk Hogans on a slot machine to win, and play blackjack at a table where the game is preplotted so you know who will draw what cards in advance. Jesse Ventura must be steaming that it won't be in Minnesota.Meanwhile, in New York City, Harlem churches like the Memorial Baptist Church have turned into roadside attractions, playing host to Japanese tourists who have a strong death wish. Just kidding. Actually they're visiting the churches to take $30 crash courses in singing gospel music, something they reportedly have become interested in after seeing (True Fact alert!) the movie "Sister Act." Considering few of these Japanese tourists speak English, this is pretty much a form of religious karoake.And finally, it turns out that the English have a chance to start a tourist attraction that could rival all of these -- the underground, or subway as we Americans like to call it. It seems that when the subway tunnels were built 100 years ago, some mosquitoes moved in. Over the years they evolved from feeding on bird blood to that of humans. Experts say that mosquitoes on different subway lines actually have different characteristics!What a bonanza! They could rename the Piccadilly line the Darwin line. Passengers could be issued mosquito netting and flyswatters at the ticketing office. And they could change the name from the boring old underground to The Wonderful World of Bloodsuckers. But they'd better check before they do it, someone may already be using that name for tours of Wall Street.