Tuesday, June 26, 2007


[At the urging of a good friend, I've been persuaded to re-create this post.]

Doing my part to assure both the continued solvency of Iberia Airlines and the continued tenacity of global warming, I stuffed a disintegrating passport into my back pocket and--for the second time in three weeks--returned to Chicago.

What can I say? I have to get my "Malcolm in the Middle" fix somehow.

But watching television in a language that I can actually understand wasn't my goal for this trip. At least, it wasn't my main goal.

No...I had a more important mission. Specifically, to taste, savor, digest--and hopefully not regurgitate--as much midwestern US kitsch as would be humanly (if not humanely) possible.

Mission accomplished! As you'll soon see.

And, so...with that background in mind, I am pleased to present to my long-suffering, oft-neglected readers...SAL'S KITSCH-O-LICIOUS TOUR '07.

But first, a little something to put us all in the mood!


I knew that my Kitsch-o-licious Tour would be a smashing success, and I knew it before I even left Madrid.

How so? Because as I walked down the airplane aisle in search of seat 27D, I noticed that my seatmate was a slumping, disshevelled dude who looked like the fruit of a coital coupling between Will Ferrell and Hellboy.

I gingerly lowered myself into the seat--hoping not to disturb him. And also hoping that the undercover air marshals were both nearby and fully-caffeinated.

But as it turned out, I had nothing to fear. My seatmate wasn't Satan's spawn. He was this man:

Santa Fe artist and documentary film-maker Adam Jonas Horowitz.

And what makes Adam great? Well, Adam is the artist that created this:

Fridgehenge (aka, Stonefridge)!

Perhaps you've heard of it. About a decade ago, Adam swaggered over to a Santa Fe landfill and built a Stonehenge reproduction made entirely of discarded refrigerators.

Loved and hated in equal parts, Fridgehenge has been the subject of a decade-long battle of wills between Adam and the artists community vs. Santa Fe's Sanitation Department and other humorless tight-asses.

Adam was the most fascinating seatmate I've had. He chatted half the flight away, talking about the documentary that he is filming for PBS (currently in the editing stage, it's about US weapons testing in the Marshall Islands)...talking about why he looked as frightening as he did (he had been partying in Morocco and hadn't slept for three days)...and making an omnious prediction.

His prediction was that Santa Fe officials would take advantage of his extended absence by whacking Fridgehenge once and for all--and then, blaming it on the weather.

Well, guess what? HERE'S what.


We all were introduced to Smokin' Jac's BBQ Shack in THIS post.

Remember? Smokin' Jac is the man that car-jacked the Partridge Family, stole their bus, sawed the ass off of it and bolted a smoker the size of Pennsylvania to its floorboard.

He then finds a cozy-looking parking lot, parks the bus, fires-up the smoker and slings Q to passers-by until his inventory is depleted or the local health inspector leaps from the bushes--whichever occurs first.

With the aid of a local intermediary, I made contact with Smokin' Jac a week earlier...and he confirmed that he would be peddlin' Q throughout the entire weekend of my visit.

Well...Smokin' Jac was either a liar, or narcoleptic, or had just completed a course in Spanish Business Practices.

Why? Because when I arrived at his bus--licking my chops and pining for a little "rib tips, chix and ore"--the only thing smoking was a well-tattooed woman in a tube top standing in the adjoining parking lot.

Still, a legend is a legend--even if that legend was lying dead in a ditch at that very moment. So I decided that I should, at least, seize the opportunity for an impromptu photo-op in front of the legend's arsenal.


My mourning at the loss of Smokin' Jac didn't last long. In fact, it lasted only long enough for me to turn my head to the right.

That's when I saw a sight that cranked the kitsch-o-meter up another notch. Doggie Drive-thru!

I'm sure you'll agree that there are few things as dangerous as driving around with a hungry dog in the backseat of your Toyota Prius. What if he tries to eat your head at 65 mph?

But the good citizens of this sleepy midwestern town need not worry about Bowser's rolling blood lust. That's because Doggie Drive-thru sells a wide assortment of baked-goods to sate your famished pooch. And best of all, you can buy them without leaving the air-conditioned comfort of your car or--God forbid--making use of those archaic, outdated appendages that medical experts refer to as "legs."

Doggie Drive-thru even sells "holistic food." It says so right on the shack. That's good, because you never know when the aforementioned Bowser might have a taste for Free-range Alpo or gluten-free Milk Bone Dog Biscuits.

And for those of you wondering...MSG will be withheld upon request.


Lunker's is a sporting goods superstore. It's definition of "sport," however, is rather narrow--being limited only to those in which wildlife flesh is pierced with hooks or projectiles.

Lunker's is enormous. It is as big as that government warehouse in the last scene of "Raiders of the Lost Ark"--only much more well-stocked. Who would've thunk that garter belts come in camouflage?!

Hidden in various nooks and crannies of the store are glass pens holding a wide array of fierce beasts. In one corner, there is a live adult alligator. In another is a tank full of piranhas. And in another is...oh my God!...that well-tattooed woman in the tube top!

But there were two aspects of Lunker's that really got my juices a-flowin'.

One was this:

That's right! An 8,000 lbs. fiberglass large-mouthed bass smashing through a brick wall. Believe me, folks...this picture doesn't do it justice. Let's sit silently for a moment and bathe in the understated brilliance of this elegant masterpiece.

[Solemn pause.]

I wonder how many midwestern husbands have caught a frying pan to the skull for a firing-off a pearl of wit like, "Look, hon! His mouth is almost as big as yours! Yuk, yuk...THUNNNNNNNG!!!"

The other was this:

The Angler's Inn! A totally kitsch-o-licious restaurant located smack-dab in the middle of Lunker's.

It's decor is...let's just say, "eclectic." Imagine an "Ernest Hemingway meets Nanook of the North meets Mr. Roarke from Fantasy Island" motif.

The entire ceiling is packed with hanging Christmas lights, to give the joint a "dining al fresco under the stars" feel. But then, those Christmas lights are peppered with tiki dolls. And on a far wall is a stuffed moose head.

Each booth has its own fish tank. A different type of fish in each tank. Below the fish tank of my booth was an autographed picture of a barely-pubescent Cassius Clay.

Let me tell you about the food. Which, I should mention, wasn't half bad.

The Angler's Inn has a menu that offers....well, just about everything. I had the buffalo burger. I almost chose the elk burger, but the waitress wouldn't commit as to its gaminess. I'm told that the ostrich burger tastes just like ostrich.

It also offers frog legs...perch...walleye...blue gill...alligator.

But it doesn't stop there! The Angler's Inn serves Mexican food. And Greek gyros. And Italian beef. And sushi.


The Angler's Inn's signature dish is "Boom Boom Shrimp"--although I decided against this specialty because I feared that "Boom Boom" referred to its morning-after effect on the human colon.

So...by now you're probably thinking, "Fridgehenge, Smokin' Jac, Doggie Drive-thru and Lunker's. There's no way that Sal can top that."

Well, guess what? I can!


Check it out! There are guys out there who spend their free time suping-up lawn mowers and racing them on weekends. And there are guys like me who pay money to watch them.

Now, I know what you're thinking. "Jeez! What could be more boring than watching a bunch of middle-aged men sputter around a track on a lawn mower?"

Oh...how wrong you are. Because these are not just lawn mowers. They're MODIFIED lawn mowers. As one of the drivers proudly told me in the pits, "These babies can hit 40 mph on the straight-aways."

40 mph, my friends! This ain't your father's lawn mower.

Just check-out the looks of intense concentration on the drivers' faces. Or...maybe it's not concentration. Maybe it's the Boom Boom Shrimp.

I am tempted to poke fun at this "sport," but I won't. And I won't for two reasons.

First, this group of racers--and everyone else sitting in the bleachers--were about the friendliest, most genuine people you'd ever meet. It's ironic, because you'd expect a modified lawn mower race to be precisely the type of venue where you'd be beaten and left for dead just for something like...oh, I dunno...having the only car in the parking lot that was made in Japan.

But nothing of the sort! I'd bring my daughter to the races without hesitation.

The second reason for not mocking it is that...well, to be honest...I really got into it. It was damn exciting, and a helluva lotta fun.

My new-found love for this sport notwithstanding, I won't deny the fact that modified lawn mower racing is, more or less, the Holy Grail of kitsch.

Thank God that I could be a part of it, and God bless America!

But that's not all! The races had yet-another surprise in store. A pot luck lunch!

For $4 dollars a head, it was all you could eat. $3 a head if you brought a dish to pass. Pictured above is what I ate. A hot dog, a hamburger, a Ramen noodle salad, some black beans and corn taco salad, and...as promised...Hamburger Helper Stroganoff.

Bocuse certainly wouldn't approve, but it did taste kinda like stroganoff.

Not pictured above (because I inhaled it in the blink of an eye) is dessert: Rice Crispy Treats, and some magically--not to mention, surprisingly--delicious Lucky Charms Treats.


Let this post be a lesson to all you pretentious foreigners who claim that the US has no culture.

The US has tons of culture! But finding that culture is a bit like finding slugs before a rainstorm. You sometimes need to turn-over rocks and poke-around in places where you might not normally care to poke.

Hey! How about song? One that really captures the essence of Sal's Kitsch-o-licious Tour '07!

Yawl come back now, ya hear?


At 3:53 AM, Blogger Headless Blogger said...


Do you know which famous musicians did the Malcolm theme song?

Kitsch? We spell that c-u-l-t-u-r-e where I come from.

I'll be picking up my daughter at O'Hare this weekend. Listen for the page "Mr. Detragralia, Mr. Sal Detragralia, please pick up the red courtesy phone." The minivan to the Dells will be waiting out front.


At 4:43 AM, Anonymous Good Friend said...

This post was the true piece de resistance.

Thank you.

At 5:16 AM, Blogger tatiana said...

I LOVED this post! Especially Charo singing the *Love Boat* theme. Priceless. They just do not make television like this anymore. I remember the days when we would watch Fantasy Island and chase it down with an episode of the Love Boat. Mom would tunr off the TV when *inapporpriate* scenes, like the Captains daughter (her name escapes me) was kissing that boy under water in the lido deck pool... Ahh, I so wanted to be her...was her name Vicki???

Good times.

Glad you had fun on your kitsch-o-licous tour. I agree..... heel hath no fury like some good ole' Americana culture...

At 9:48 AM, Blogger christina said...

Wheee! I knew you wouldn't leave us all in suspense. I'll be back later to read this in detail.

At 8:47 PM, Blogger CanadianSwiss said...

Wow! So many comments I'd like to add. Let me "digest" the whole thing.

Thanks for "re-posting" and going through all the trouble, but I know you just had to do it ;) Now, I'm really hungry

At 12:31 AM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Colin: Don't worry, dude. We'll meet sooner or later. And to answer your question, They Might Be Giants.

Tatiana: Without The Love Boat, Charo and a lot of other C-list actors would've starved. It was funny watching that clip. The sets didn't seem nearly so cheesy when I was ten. BTW...did you watch the entire video clip? If not, then you should. There are some interesting special effects toward the end.

Christina and C-Swiss: Yeah...it's a bit much for one sitting, isn't it?

Good Friend: Aw, shucks. I'd do anything for a good friend.

At 1:06 AM, Blogger Trac said...

Wow! - How cool is Fridgehenge??
Oooops! - I didn't quite mean that!?

Great post Sal!

Any post that ends with a bit of Slim is def OK by me! :O)

At 8:26 AM, Blogger tinakala said...

I wanted to say something sarcastic, but I won`t. Because the description was kinda sweet and I don`t want to ruin the moment. And good going, Sal, for re-writing this post!

At 8:41 AM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...


Just as I was required to re-write the post, you are REQUIRED to say something sarcastic.

Don't be shy. My writing may be sweet, but that doesn't mean that my head wasn't full of sarcastic thoughts.

At 4:51 PM, Blogger Angie said...

Kitsch? Next time you're stateside, look me up and I'll show you *real* kitsch. :)

At 10:02 AM, Blogger The Big Finn said...

Sal - I'm going to have to stop and take some pictures the next time I drive from Chicago to my parents' house in Ontario because there is some great kitsch between Green Bay and the Canadian border...

We're talkin' random Paul Bunyan statues, giant fiberglass chickens on the side of the road, etc....

At 12:17 PM, Blogger christina said...

Alrighty, I've read through this post five times, digested all the little tidbits and now feel qualified to comment.

WOW! This is great, you've outdone yourself! So much kitsch all in one place. And quality kitsch too. I'll definitely have to show this to my better half since it's always been a dream of his to drive through the U.S. and have experiences such as these ones. "The American Way of Life" and all that. I think he would have especially enjoyed the large-mouthed bass and the lawnmower races. Right up his alley.

Call it kitsch or call it culture, life just ain't not fun without it, right?

Is it awful that I still know all the words to the Love Boat theme? Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Saturday Night Live were standard weekend entertainment back then. BTW, I have a cousin in Califonia who had his 15 minutes of fame by once playing a taxi driver on Love Boat.

Cuchi cuchi!!

At 5:12 PM, Blogger Chiko & Jon said...

We're emjoying your blog and added a link to it on our new page. Please come check us out:



Post a Comment

<< Home