There's a county in Florida that's so proud of its eccentric native herbivorous marine mammal, they named the county after it. We're talking about Manatee County, incorporating the city of Bradenton and smaller towns of Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach, Longboat Key, Holmes Beach and Palmetto. One of the main drags in Bradenton is called, appropriately enough, Manatee Avenue and on it and other streets in town you'll see a plethora of businesses and places that proudly use Manatee in their names. We love this and like to take the names literally, as if Manatee Dental is where a manatee goes to get his teeth cleaned and Manatee Termite is the exterminator of choice for sea cows everywhere.
Kudos to you, Manatee County, for picking such a lovable and kooky creature for your namesake. Below is a gallery of some of the local signs that amuse the eccentric traveler along the way:
I'm guessing manatees prefer Whirpool
The main drag through Bradenton
This manatee's teeth (manateeth) light up at night. Just thought you should know that.
If you look closely you'll see a manatee in a recliner. Just thought you should know that, too.
You might think Manatee High School's sports mascot would be the, oh, I don't know, manatee, but they're the Hurricanes because, let's face it, manatees just aren't that intimidating.
We're guessing if you want books about manatees, they got 'em
Bradenton has a manatee celebrity named Snooty at the local aquarium, which I'm sure we'll blog about in the future, and there will be another lousy "Oh the humanity" joke, I guarantee.
A throng of spectators take in the sponge documentary.
And then the dioramas await...
On to the gift shop!
Don't care for sponges? Abalonie to you!
We're suckers for any place that has a suffix of "orama" in its title and there's a real lulu in the warm and friendly Florida gulf coast community of Tarpon Springs. Spongeorama was created in 1968 and boasts of its "world famous Spongeorama museum" that pays tribute to the industry and the Greeks who immigrated to America to create better lives for themselves working in it. They offer a free, yes free, movie and entrance to the museum. There are actually two movies: a yellowed 1980s-looking infomercial about the different types of natural sponges for sale in the gift shop, and a 1950s-looking documentary about sponge diving that will remind baby boomers of the movies shown on rainy days after lunch in elementary school when you couldn't be let outside for recess. The crowds of bargain-savvy documentary-loving tourists populate the benches in the multi-media center (or back room next to the gift shop) and sit in awe at nature's marvel of endoskeletal, biomineralized, soon-to-be kitchen implements. After that, a tour of the museum's dioramas is not to be missed, with their late-60s mannequins, high school science fair-style reproductions of historical events, and windows that look like they haven't been cleaned since Lyndon Johnson was president. Then it's on to the glory of the gift shop, where you can buy a fabulous array of natural local sponges as well as other Florida keepsakes, all at a 10% discount now that you're a Spongeorama-deemed "expert" in the world of sponges.
Places like this are a dream come true for us, reminding us of our childhoods and the earnest efforts of people devoted to a subject others might consider mundane or unworthy. We would love to go back again and again to soak up the atmosphere.
Not only does Liquor Oasis of Bradenton, Florida have a delightfully retro sign, they have a marquee that looks like they were taking dictation from one of their tipsier clientele. Foster Brooks could not have said it better (*BURP*).
Route 301, running from Deleware to Florida, is one of those old highways that has been around forever and used to be the main way of getting from point A to point B. Then along came the interstate, with its fast-moving uninterrupted lanes and easy-on, easy-off exit ramps. Old 301 is still around and has parts that are thriving quite well, thank you very much, but there are also good chunks of it that have seen better days, with its abandoned motels and dilapidated old signs of places once prosperous but now left to rot along the roadside. These are the stretches we like the most and we had a nice, but all too brief, drive along the part of it from South Carolina down to the Sunshine State. The dreary weather seem very apt. And rock on, Dr. Doug Stein...17,000 vasectomies is quite a record, no matter how you slice it.
This blog is devoted to old fashioned American roadside attractions... the wonderfully big, bizarre, crazy, wacky, quirky, weird, funny, unique and mundane sites you see travelling cross-country by car in the USA, where getting there really is all the fun!