Rounding the back side of Southern Oregon’s coastal Humbug Mountain on Highway 101, I felt my pulse rate rise and a tingle at the base of my spine. My inner six-year-old had just taken up residence.
“It’s right up there,” I burbled. “You’ll see.”
Our friend Elizabeth, plainly baffled, exchanged a look with my wife. “What will we see?” She asked.
Carolyn smirked. “American tacky at its very finest.”
I glared at her. “Just because you didn’t have anything like it where you grew up.” This earned me a shrug and a weak smile of perhaps apology.
The three of us were packed into the Prius, traveling to a writer’s conference in Gold Beach. Carolyn and Elizabeth would run writer’s workshops. I would sponge a free hotel room and meals. My golf clubs rattled in the back, brought in the wake of the promise of a rare sunny sixty degree February day at the beach.
As we nosed around the mountain, I set up the dramatic moment.
“Look, look!” I trumpeted. “Tadah!”
“Doesn’t something generally happen after a Tadah?” Elizabeth asked.
“Mike, it’s not there,” Carolyn said.
Sure enough, where there should have been a ginormous life-sized concrete Tyrannosaurus Rex anchoring the parking lot of one of Oregon’s oldest and most treasured roadside attractions, there stood . . . nothing.
I pulled to the shoulder and we gaped. At the spot I remembered housing a weather-worn sign announcing Prehistoric Gardens, the abundant Oregon rain forest seemed to have gone wild, obliterating any trace of the place. No gift shop waited to exchange parent-begged dollar bills for corn dogs, sno-cones, salt-water taffy and dinosaur pencil sharpeners and paperweights. No pathway zig-zagged through the trees, leading to the other concrete denizens of the-land-time-forgot. No gentle vegetation-nibbling Brontosaurus craned his long neck above the cypresses. No ridge-backed stegosaurus pawed the dirt of his imaginary battlefield. No leather-winged pterodactyl screeched overhead. Cal the cops, someone had shoplifted my childhood.
“Has it really been this long since we’ve been down here?” I asked Carolyn.
“Guess so, sweetie.” Sensing my mood, she added “Sorry.”
But what had they done with all of the massive cement creatures? Pulverized them into powder? Buried them in the jungle? Sold them at a yard sale? I fantasized buying the T-Rex and installing it in our side yard. That would have been awesome, at least until the-neighbors-from-hell got on the phone to the city. Who would they call? Animal control? Zoning enforcement? County mental health?
As I restarted the car and pointed us in the direction of Gold Beach, nostalgic gloom settled over me. I’d first had my picture taken in front of the concrete T-Rex, in it’s lizard-green incarnation, at the age of five or six. There are shots of me in junior high, high school and as a young married with my own six-year-old son. That time, the T-Rex had sported a coat of dark scarlet, probably obtained cheaply during two-for-one days at the local paint store. There’s a shot of Carolyn and me on our first tour of what she jokingly calls “Mike’s ancestral homeland.” But there would be no more snaps of Mike in front of the dinosaur, today or ever. I hoped it wasn’t an omen.
Another mile or two up the road, mired in my melancholy funk, I drove in mental cruise control. As we swept around a forested bend, Carolyn nudged me.
“Look, look!” she said, sounding like a kindergarten picture book.
“Oh. My. God.” Elizabeth chimed in.
“What are you—?” The sight of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, looming 30 feet high over the parking lot of Prehistoric Gardens changed my mood from nostalgic to puzzled.
“Did they move it? That must have been something to see.”
“I don’t think so, love. I think you . . .” She amended. “Both of us disremembered where it was.”
“I could have sworn—”
“Me, too, but there’s the evidence. Same funky gift shop. Same dinosaur, sandy brown with a white tummy this time. Pull in and Elizabeth can take your picture.”
We stopped, I posed and Elizabeth cell-phone-camera’d me communing with the dinosaur. Despite the fact my rubber tomahawk money was burning a hole in my pocket, I resisted a foray into the gift shop. Too cold for a sno-cone anyway.
The dusty attic of my memory is crammed with long car trips down two lane highways. That inner child lurks, hoping that around the next bend the next roadside attraction will present itself to delight and amuse me: Prehistoric Gardens, Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe, The Cadillac Ranch, The world’s largest ball of string: The Big Texan Steak House.
Do you have a favorite roadside attraction, either from your childhood or present day? Share.
Mike Nettleton, enjoying his retirement after a 40 plus year career in Broadcasting is the author of The Shotgun Kiss and co-author (with Carolyn J. Rose) of Drum Warrior, The Hard Karma Shuffle, The Crushed Velvet Miasma, Death at Devil’s Harbor and Deceit at Devil’s Harbor. He’s also involved in local theater productions, plays golf when the sun decides to shine and plays tournament poker. Website www.deadlyduomysteries.com/ Amazon