Thursday, July 28, 2016

Asbury Park

Last weekend we had access to a rental car for the day and I immediately started running through a list of potential adventures to take outside the reach of public transportation. The official forecast for Saturday was "as hot as the inside of a dog's mouth," so we decided the only sane thing would be to head to a beach. I suggested Asbury Park for its beach and kitschy boardwalk, a winning combination for us—one nature lover and one lover of all things strange and rundown (*raises hand*). It was my first visit to the Jersey Shore, and despite recent shark sightings and the insanely oppressive heat, it ended up being a nearly perfect summer day trip.

I recently bought a bathing suit for the first time since I was a kid, and although I ended up horribly sunburnt in patches that make it look as if I'm permanently wearing a white (skin) bathing suit, I loved wearing it and was thrilled (through my terror) to be able to cool off in the ocean. I have my various reasons for completely avoiding swimsuits and water activities for a long stretch of my life, but maybe it's the fact that I give less and less fucks the older I get, but here's my sage advice: no one cares what you look like in a swimsuit.

I bought a suit that I loved, felt better in it than I ever thought possible, laid on a crowded beach and frolicked in the ocean and not one person gasped or pointed or stared. Part of me feels silly for letting my anxieties rule so many summers past, but it's nice to now have a whole new world of beach activities open to me. Although perhaps not as wide open as I would like—since my elation at finally feeling comfortable on the beach was cut short once I realized that my invisible ghost body needs to be shielded during all waking hours, and that spray sunscreen is no match for my virgin, translucent skin.

We scored free street parking, grabbed hot dogs and lemonade, lounged on the beach, cooled off in the inexplicably-freezing Atlantic, strolled along the boardwalk and had a drink at the Wonder Bar. We walked by the (now-closed) Asbury Lanes and I grumbled about the missing neon sign, but fell in love with the handpainted, script lettering.

With its abandoned buildings (some repurposed, some just a shell like the Casino) and old-timey beach vibe, Asbury Park felt a lot like New Jersey's version of Coney Island (in fact they even have very similar "funny face" icons). I can imagine how grand it must have been in its heyday, and I admire its scrappiness and ability to survive economic ups and downs, shifting tastes and devastating hurricanes.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Traders World

After visiting the field of giant corn cobs, and before treating ourselves to a cone (and a float) from The Cone, we were on the hunt for a Muffler Man. I had his location pinpointed on my map, but I had no idea that we were about to hit the roadside kitsch jackpot at the entrance to Traders World.

Traders World claims to be the "midwest's largest and most colorful flea market," and has been in Lebanon, Ohio for more than 30 years. It's pretty far south from where I grew up so I had never heard of it, despite my deep love of flea markets and roadside figurines. They have 16 buildings, 850 inside vendor spaces and 400 outdoor vendor spaces—sadly it was closed by the time we arrived, but it looked enormous.

Luckily, the grand entrance gates are flanked by not only the top-notch Muffler Man, but several other fiberglass animals and beautiful handpainted signs. I was so happy to be able to see yet another Muffler Man in person (my seventh!), and delighted beyond words to stumble upon all sorts of additional critters, who—despite the many signs—did not roar or bite once.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Rubber Bowl: Abandoned

When I knew I was going to have a few days in Ohio after our recent road trip, I started making a list of abandoned places that I wanted to try to creep on. Ohio has its fair share of abandoned places and I'm constantly mad at myself for not taking advantage of all the Midwest has to offer back when I lived there. I've been determined to make up for lost time, and top of my list was the Rubber Bowl. Built in 1940 as a football stadium for the University of Akron, the Rubber Bowl closed in 2008, and despite plans to renovate it, it currently sits vacant.

In addition to hosting football games, the Rubber Bowl was also a performance venue, hosting the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus as well as concerts by The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Simon & Garfunkel and Black Sabbath.

The stadium has a seating capacity of 35,202, and is right next to Derby Downs, home of the annual Soap Box Derby. In fact, the Soapbox Derby was happening at the exact same time we planned on creeping on the stadium, and we were almost deterred by the crowds. I'm so glad we had the courage to go ahead as planned anyway, because the stadium was an absolute post-apocalyptic dream.

We initially went into the interior of the stadium, which doesn't have much left in it except piles of bleachers and other debris. The stadium, striped of its bleachers down to the concrete feels more like the Roman Colosseum than a modern-day arena. It's crazy how big the stadium felt, probably even more so because we were the only ones there. The toilet rooms confused me (so close together!) until JMP pointed out that there were once stalls to separate them from one another (duh).

I'm definitely still a novice when it comes to exploring abandoned places, but I can't imagine finding a place much better than the Rubber Bowl. Abandoned spaces are fascinating to me because of contrasts—seeing a place that was once filled to the brim with people, now completely empty; man-made concrete and steel structures being reclaimed by nature, green crawling and sprouting from every crack. The Rubber Bowl is a perfect example of this, with its evergreen artificial turf looking game-day ready, while the rest of the stadium crumbles around it.