Touring roadside America with Port O'Brien
America’s two-lane highways and winding backroads are dotted with weird monuments like the towering Muffler Men, the Cowlossus of Roads, and numerous balls of twine all reputed to be the world’s largest. Built to lure drivers off the highways and into smaller communities, these artifacts of the country’s mid-century travel boom have attracted generations of wanderers—including many indie bands—looking for inspiring oddities.
“They provide some excitement and break up the seemingly endless drives,” says Van Pierszalowski of the California indie act Port O’Brien, whose ramshackle songs prize a similarly homemade weirdness. “Instead of stopping at Starbucks or Taco Bell, we get a little bit of the local culture through these weird things.”
Touring behind their self-released studio album All We Could Do Was Sing¬ (and using the guidebook Roadside America to locate curiosities worth seeing), Port O’Brien has exited the interstate to visit many a strange attraction, including the following three:
Nitt Witt Ridge
In addition to Bubblegum Alley and the Madonna Inn, Pierszalowski’s native San Luis Obispo County is home to Nitt Witt Ridge, often called the poor man’s Hearst Castle. “This guy, whose nickname is Captain Tinkerpaw, used to work at the Hearst Castle dump, so he would take all the trash they were throwing out and put it all together.” The resulting junk-made house, where Port O’Brien occasionally play shows, has one of the best views in the area.
The band often treks through Bigfoot Country, which extends along Highway 1 through northern California and into Oregon. “Every ten miles there’s something about Bigfoot,” Pierszalowski says, noting especially the Bigfoot Statue that looms large in Willow Creek, California. “It’s amazing the way the whole stretch of communities can relate to the fact that there’s this creature in their midst.”
Just what is The Thing that inhabits Cochise, Arizona? “They have these billboards for a hundred miles. You finally get there, pay your one-dollar entrance fee, and there’s nothing there except some petrified wood and these weird things that people have made out of wood to look like aliens. It’s just so bizarre, but we’d been driving at that point for eighteen or twenty hours, so it was an amazing stop.”