Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bad Route Road

I-94, Montana

Every few months or so, it seems the badly-named places of North America are dragged out from their various dark corners of the world and given a good airing in the papers. Car bombs, economic bailouts, and crooked politicians all make for a heavy slog through the newsprint, which may go a long way in explaining the presence of recurring fluffy features on Boring, Oregon or, as is the case with today's Guardian, plucky headlines that ask, "Anyone fancy a break in Asbestos, Canada?" (No, but thanks for asking.)

I will be the first to admit that I welcome a good chuckle at the expense of Hell, Michigan and Intercourse, Pennsylvania as much as the next person. A few place names in these features are old saws (Truth or Consequences, New Mexico) while others (Purgatory, Maine) delight anew. But no matter how many silly lists of oddball place names I've perused over the years, nothing beats the thrill of unexpectedly spotting one of these rare beasts out in the wild.

Take Bad Route Road, Exit 192 off I-94 in Montana. This ominous sign came into view through the cracked windshield of the Balthrop, Alabama tour van last summer on our month-long tour of the U.S. We were hauling out to the west coast from Fargo, North Dakota, recovering from our show the night before opening for the wonderful Josh Ritter, lulled by long stretches of road in Big Sky Country and driving through a steady grim drizzle. The first road sign whipped past at 75 m.p.h. There was a pause, then an uncertain voice from the front seat: "Did that just say Bad Route Road?" "Yep. I think it did."

Among the well-documented entries in the Ministry of Silly Names, I have yet to come across a list as bizarre as those in Bill Bryson's amusing Made in America, but in the meantime, here's the regurgitated list from today's G2 magazine, which brought me a few much-needed grins on the downtown number 2 train. The list came with the following promising headline: Some more holiday ideas: Other North American towns that might struggle to attract the tourist pound. I don't know about the tourist pound, but you can bet there's a whole lot of nudge-nudge wink-wink going on at the city limits of these towns:
Intercourse Pennsylvania
Boring Oregon
Dull Ohio
Ordinary Virginia
Spunky Puddle Ohio
Mosquitoville Vermont
Hell Michigan
Slaughterville Oklahoma
Tightwad Missouri
Roaches Illinois
Dildo Newfoundland
Crotch Lake Ontario
Bummerville California
Gas Kansas
Purgatory Maine
But enough laughter at the expense of my fellow countrymen and continent-folk. I'm off to sigh over more fetching photographs of Nick Clegg read the serious news of the world, and when I'm done with that task, I think I just might kick back with a beer from Fucking Austria.


Conan Drumm said...

You got to love those Nth American choices, made in - rather than translated into - the English language.

We have quite a few ourselves. Besides the oft-cited Muff (Donegal), Carnalway (Kildare), and Meanus (Limerick), there's Emo (Offaly) and Boho (Fermanagh) which is my favourite.

Radge said...

I've been known to pass through Newtwopothouse (Cork) on occasion.

Therese Cox said...

Conan - Yeah, I've been snickering at Emo petrol stations for years now. Didn't know they had a whole town.

Radge - That's a new one on me. The best I've ever done is Sixmilebridge.

Tobias Frere-Jones said...

Being a perpetual geek for data sets, I once downloaded the whole US Geological Survey name database and picked through it for fun. A few of the many highlights:

Tedious Creek, Maryland

Nadir, US Virgin Islands

Mistake Harbor, Maine

Seventysix, Missouri
(way better than Seventyfive!)

Static, Kentucky

Wolfscrape, North Carolina
(not sure what that would be, but I do know I don't want any)

Bird Airport Number Two, Idaho
(I thought birds manage all right without that sort of thing --?)

Jackie said...

some of this is quite hilarious.

Reminds me of my student who tried to be all symbolic in her research paper a few semesters ago: "Alicia Keys called the area she grew up Hell's Kitchen because her life was filled with childhood demons." My response: Great metaphor! But Hell's Kitchen is also literally a place in NYC.

Did I mention that I love our students? And this post. I loved this post, too.

Therese Cox said...

Tobias - Those are some great discoveries. I could easily see myself doing the same with the Statistically Improbable Phrases list you find on Amazon. Um... Bird Airport Number Two is indeed a head-scratcher. But it does remind me of that sign in Bushwick - maybe you've seen it - for a deli called Stop Banana #2. As for Wolfscrape, I'm going to steer clear.

Jackie - Ahh, I remember that story. Full points for trying, right? Off topic, but I'm remembering another student paper that made poetic the "giant yellow M" in Morningside Heights "where despondent kids go to be happy".

Ray Gunn said...

I'm howling over Tobias's contributions.

I've actually been to Hell, Michigan. It wasn't as bad as Dexter, which turned out to be quite sinister.

Why no love for Blue Ball, PA? Or Fart, VA?

Therese Cox said...

Ray - Yeah, I think the comments on this thread trump the Guardian's list... as I secretly hoped they would.

And of course, Nadir, US Virgin Islands brought to mind DFW's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.

P.S. Dexter/sinister gets a rimshot.

Anonymous said...

There is a rest area as well as a rarely open Montana weigh station at the Bad Route Road exit. I drive a semi and try to get there on my first night out. Don't always make it but I always get a laugh when I drive by.

The picture rock? Rest area back in North Dakota usually has a couple of buffalo hanging around the buildings, eating grass resting etc. I am not sure if they are really tame, but they for sure are not afraid of humans. The one had me trapped in the building until I got up the nerve to walk by him about 4 feet away. He didn't flinch, so I guess he won that one.