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The Quick 10: 10 Places I Demanded to Stop on my Road Trip

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Heeelloooo, _flossers! I'm back from my whirlwind road trip to Florida. I think we spent more time in the car than we did actually in the Sunshine State, but that's OK. I managed to get some good road trip stops in, so that's what I'm going to share with you today. I think my friend and my husband stopped letting me drive, because every time I did, the car would mysteriously find its way to exits with signs like "See the giant Superman!" They complain, but secretly they love me for it"¦ I think. Here are seven places I made them go and three that got slashed from the agenda.

williams1. Tennessee Williams' grave in St. Louis, Mo. People who _floss regularly already know that I have a weird fondness for cemeteries. I could easily take a cross-country trip and just stop at old graveyards with crumbling stones and obscure celebrities. I don't know if I could talk anyone into going with me, though, so I have to settle for squeezing in one or two here and there. On this trip, we visited the final resting place of Mr. Thomas Lanier Williams "“ better known as Tennessee. When I stopped to ask the cemetery office for a map to the Pulitzer Price-winning author's grave, the guy behind the counter gave me a knowing look and asked, "Writing a paper?" I'm nearly 10 years past high school at this point, so I was a bit amused by this. Anyway, after he died from choking to death on the lid of an eye drop bottle in 1983 (he put the cap in his mouth and tilted his head back to put the drops in his eye), Tennessee ended up at the Calvary Cemetery - against his wishes. He wanted to be buried at sea near the same place that one of his greatest influences, author Hart Crane, had allegedly killed himself. Poor Tennessee. This way, though, he's buried next to his sister Rose, whom he was very close to when they were alive. Mental health problems plagued her all of her life and she was the inspiration for Laura in Williams' The Glass Menagerie. In fact, her small stone next to his bears the inscription, "Blow out your candles, Laura." Tennessee isn't the only luminary to be buried in Calvary and the adjacent Bellefontaine Cemeteries "“ a tour around the historical boneyards would also turn up Sara Teasdale, Dred Scott, Kate Chopin, William S. Burroughs and William Tecumseh Sherman. Crap, I missed all of those? We're so going back. But we didn't have time to search too long, because we had to get to our next destination"¦

clark2. The Giant Superman in Metropolis, Ill. When DC Comics declared Metropolis the hometown of Superman on January 21, 1972, the real Metropolis wasted no time capitalizing on it. On June 9 of the same year, the Illinois State Legislature passed a resolution to legally give the town the "Hometown of Superman" nickname. Just a few references to the man in blue tights include a 30-foot statue, the Super Museum, and the Metropolis Planet newspaper, a take on the fictional Daily Planet from the comics. And, oh my God, in researching Metropolis, I just discovered that the Birdman of Alcatraz is buried in Metropolis. ARRRGH. I missed all kinds of cool graves on this trip! Oh, there's a backstory to why this was an important stop to make: in 2003, four of us decided to do Spring Break at Disney. Yeah. Most college kids hit up Cabo or San Padre; we were all over Disney World. On the way home from our time with the Mouse, my car broke down in Paducah, Kentucky (right next to Metropolis). After sitting at a mechanic/gas station/restaurant for an entire day only to be told that my car couldn't be fixed there, my friends and I were, um, not in the greatest of moods. Plus we had just been with each other for about seven days straight and we were probably all ready for a little space. So when a local helpfully said, "Why don't you borrow Eddie's truck and go into town to see the giant Superman?" the poor guy was met with four sets of eyeballs searing holes through his skull. I've been curious about giant Superman ever since, though, and now I can say I've finally experienced all of his glory.

tootsies3. Tootsie's Orchid Lounge in Nashville, Tenn. Tootsie's is one of the most historic honky-tonks in Nashville. We stopped because I have a friend in Nashville who kindly gave us room and board for the night; it just so happens that she also has all kinds of Nashville connections so we got to sit in the "World Famous" front window that people usually pay big bucks to sit in. Or maybe not. I don't really know how much it costs. Tootsie's was the local favorite of a bunch of country music veterans you might be familiar with: Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Mel Tillis, among them. In fact, according to Tootsie's web site, Willie Nelson was offered his first songwriting gig after performing onstage at Tootsie's.

safe4. Jack Daniel's Distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn. It's true "“ Moore County, where Lynchburg is located, is a dry county. So no free samples, friends. I think I got drunk anyway "“ there was a point on the tour where we got to smell the whiskey soaking in charcoal and our tour guide told us to stick our noses right down next to the barrel while he fanned the lid for us to smell. Now, I pretty much lack a sense of smell altogether, but let me tell you, I smelled this. It went up my nose and straight to the back of my throat where I could taste it. Whoo! Some other facts about Jasper Newton Daniel "“ he was only 5'2" and had size four feet. His feet were so tiny that when they built the life-sized statue of him for the distillery, the only part that wasn't to scale were his feet. His size fours wouldn't have supported the rest of the statue if they had left them the proper size. This picture to the left is the safe that killed my buddy Jack. This story is pretty legendary, but I'll repeat it just in case you haven't heard it. Mr. Daniel came to work one morning and tried to open his safe, but had forgotten the combination, which he was always doing. He kicked the safe in frustration, but since it was iron it didn't exactly yield to his foot. He broke his toe, which eventually resulted in infection and blood poisoning. It was the blood poisoning that eventually killed him.

surrender5. The "Unconditional Surrender" statue in Sarasota, Fl. You know the famous picture from Life magazine, and you probably know that it occurred on V-J Day in Times Square. For the geographically-challenged, that's Manhattan, not Sarasota. Even after reading about it, I'm still not entirely sure why it's in Sarasota. It was first erected in front of Marina Jack's on Highway 41 in 2005 but was dismantled in the spring of 2006. It wasn't gone for good, though "“ it popped up 2,500 miles away in San Diego. I would have liked to see that thing going down the highway on the back of a truck. Anyway, the good people of Sarasota raised the money to bring it back, if only on a temporary basis. To get it in Sarasota permanently will cost $750,000, which a non-profit group is working on raising. I guess time will tell if "Unconditional Surrender" will stay in Sarasota; for the meantime, I'm glad we got to see it. And for the record, if you look up her skirt, you don't actually see anything. Nice try, though.

ringling6. Cà d'Zan, the Ringling Mansion. Sort of. We drove by, anyway. Me: "I think that's it"¦ I've only ever seen it in cake, though." Everyone else in the car: ""¦" For the record, it was on one of those Food Network Challenges "“ the cake artists had to recreate a famous American Mansion out of candy and cake. Um. Anyway, the Ringling estate also includes Mabel Ringling's Rose Garden and the Ringling Museum of the American Circus. This is one of the primary reasons we didn't go in "“ there's no way I could deal with a bunch of clown memorabilia. But the architecture was gorgeous "“ even better than the white and milk chocolate rendition I saw on T.V. (Disclaimer: This is not my picture.)

peanut7. The World's Largest Peanut Monument in Ashburn, Ga. We actually passed this on the way down to Florida and said, "Hey, a giant peanut!" Then when I was looking for places to stop on the way home, I spotted this gem and decided to make an actual stop. In a nutshell: the giant peanut monument wasn't all it was cracked up to be. I'm sorry; I've made that joke about five times now and it makes me giggle every time I write it. Ashburn is nicknamed the Peanut Capital of the World, so I guess the monument is pretty self-explanatory.
And a couple that got cut from the itinerary:
8. Johnny Cash's grave in Hendersonville, Tenn. Boo. We were going to swing through Henderson on our way into Nashville on Wednesday night, but by the time we got there it was getting to be pretty late and the cemetery gates closed at dusk. But we might be going back sometime this summer anyway"¦ my husband thinks he needs a pair of cowboy boots now and wants to spend some time at Opryland. This is a guy who falls asleep listening to Slipknot, by the way.

9. The Whistle Stop Café in Juliette, Ga. Aww. Another casualty due to time. I don't see myself passing through Juliette any time soon, but if anyone has sampled the fried green tomatoes there, be sure to share with us in the comments.

10. Graceland! I was definitely a little bummed about this one, but we were passing through Memphis somewhere around 4 a.m. and didn't really want to wait around for five hours for Elvis to get out of bed and show us his digs. Because he's alive, you know. I was also interested in stopping in Holly Springs, Miss., to see Graceland Too. We could have had ourselves a whole Elvis-themed road trip back: we also passed through Tupelo, his hometown. Alas, it was not to be. At least not this trip.

I thank you all for your wonderful suggestions and hope to hit more of them up sometime this summer. The City Museum in St. Louis sounds pretty awesome, and that's not so bad of a road trip from where we are. I think we might have to make a long weekend out of it in the next few months.

Next up? Milwaukee and Chicago in a couple of weeks, and the L.A. area over Memorial Day. I'd love to hear your suggestions for stops, as always. Comment or hit me with a Tweet and let me know where I should force my friends and family to stop! You can also check out my blog for more Road Trip goodness such as the Mark Game.

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10 Regional Twists on Trick-or-Treating
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Walk around any given American neighborhood on the night of October 31, and you’ll likely hear choruses of "trick-or-treat" chiming through the area. The sing-songy phrase is synonymous with Halloween in some parts of the world, but it's not the only way kids get sweets from their neighbors this time of year. From the Philippines to the American Midwest, here are some regional door-to-door traditions you may not have heard of.


Rice cakes wrapped in leaves.

The earliest form of trick-or-treating on Halloween can be traced back to Europe in the Middle Ages. Kids would don costumes and go door-to-door offering prayers for dead relatives in exchange for snacks called "soul cakes." When the cake was eaten, tradition held that a soul was ferried from purgatory into heaven. Souling has disappeared from Ireland and the UK, but a version of it lives on halfway across the world in the Philippines. During All Saints Day on November 1, Filipino children taking part in Pangangaluluwa will visit local houses and sing hymns for alms. The songs often relate to souls in purgatory, and carolers will play the part of the souls by asking for prayers. Kids are sometimes given rice cakes called suman, a callback to the soul cakes from centuries past.


Raw dough.

Instead of trick-or-treating, kids in Portugal go door-to-door saying pão-por-deus ("bread for god") in exchange for goodies on All Saints Day. Some homeowners give out money or candy, while others offer actual baked goods.


Kids trick-or-treating.

If they're not calling out "trick-or-treat" on their neighbors’ doorsteps on Halloween night, you may hear children in western Canada saying "Halloween apples!" The phrase is left over from a time when apples were a common Halloween treat and giving out loose items on the holiday wasn't considered taboo.


The Dutch wait several days after Halloween to do their own take on trick-or-treating. On the night of November 11, St. Martin's Day, children in the Netherlands take to the streets with their homemade lanterns in hand. These lanterns were traditionally carved from beets or turnips, but today they’re most commonly made from paper. And the kids who partake don’t get away with shouting a few words at each home they visit—they’re expected to sing songs to receive their sugary rewards.


Guy Fawkes Night celebration.

Peter Trimming, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Guy Fawkes Night is seen by some as the English Protestants’ answer to the Catholic holidays associated with Halloween, so it makes sense that it has its own spin on trick-or-treating. November 5 marks the day of Guy Fawkes’s failed assassination attempt on King James as part of the Gunpowder Plot. To celebrate the occasion, children will tour the neighborhood asking for "a penny for the guy." Sometimes they’ll carry pictures of the would-be-assassin which are burned in the bonfires lit later at night.


Kids knocking on a door in costume.

If kids in the St. Louis area hope to go home with a full bag of candy on Halloween, they must be willing to tickle some funny bones. Saying "tricks-for-treats" followed by a joke replaces the classic trick-or-treat mantra in this Midwestern city. There’s no criteria for the quality or the subject of the joke, but spooky material (What’s a skeleton’s favorite instrument? The trombone!) earns brownie points.


Sugar skulls with decoration.

While Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is completely separate from Halloween, the two holidays share a few things in common. Mexicans celebrate the day by dressing up, eating sweet treats, and in some parts of the country, going house-to-house. Children knocking on doors will say "me da para mi calaverita" or "give me money for my little skull," a reference to the decorated sugar skulls sold in markets at this time of year.


Kids dressed up for Halloween.

Trick-or-treaters like to keep things simple in the Canadian province of Quebec. In place of the alliterative exclamation, they shout “Halloween!” at each home they visit. Adults local to the area might remember saying "la charité s’il-vous-plaît "(French for “charity, please”) when going door-to-door on Halloween, but this saying has largely fallen out of fashion.


Little girl trick-or-treating.

Halloween is only just beginning to gain popularity in Germany. Where it is celebrated, the holiday looks a lot like it does in America, but Germans have managed to inject some local character into their version of trick-or-treat. In exchange for candy, kids sometimes sing out "süß oder saures"—or "sweet and sour" in English.


Kids dressed up for Halloween.
Rubí Flórez, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kids in Colombia anticipate dressing up and prowling the streets on Halloween just as much as kids do in the States. There are a few significant variations on the annual tradition: Instead of visiting private residencies, they're more likely to ask for candy from store owners and the security guards of apartment buildings. And instead of saying trick-or-treat, they recite this Spanish rhyme:

Triqui triqui Halloween
Quiero dulces para mí
Si no hay dulces para mí
Se le crece la naríz

In short, it means that if the grownups don't give the kids the candy they're asking for, their noses will grow. Tricky, tricky indeed

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Mill Creek Entertainment
Hey, Vern: It's the Ernest P. Worrell Story
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Mill Creek Entertainment

In her review of the 1991 children’s comedy Ernest Scared Stupid, The Washington Post film critic Rita Kempley described the titular character, the dim-witted but well-meaning Ernest P. Worrell, as “the global village idiot.” As portrayed by Kentucky native Jim Varney, Ernest was in the middle of a 10-film franchise that would see him mistakenly incarcerated (Ernest Goes to Jail), enlisting in the military (Ernest in the Army), substituting for an injured Santa (Ernest Saves Christmas), and returning to formal education in order to receive his high school diploma (Ernest Goes to School).

Unlike slapstick contemporaries Yahoo Serious and Pauly Shore, Varney took a far more unusual route to film stardom. With advertising executive John Cherry III, Varney originated the Ernest character in a series of regional television commercials. By one estimate, Ernest appeared in over 6000 spots, hawking everything from ice cream to used cars. They grew so popular that the pitchman had a 20,000-member fan club before his first movie, 1987’s Ernest Goes to Camp, was even released.

Varney and Ernest became synonymous, so much so that the actor would dread going on dates for fear Ernest fans would approach him; he sometimes wore disguises to discourage recognition. Though he could recite Shakespeare on a whim, Varney was rarely afforded the opportunity to expand his resume beyond the denim-jacketed character. It was for this reason that Varney, though grateful for Ernest’s popularity, would sometimes describe his notoriety as a “mixed blessing,” one that would come to a poignant end foreshadowed by one of his earliest commercials.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1949, Varney spent his youth being reprimanded by teachers who thought his interest in theater shouldn’t replace attention paid to math or science. Varney disagreed, leaving high school just two weeks shy of graduation (he returned in the fall for his diploma) to head for New York with $65 in cash and a plan to perform.

The off-Broadway plays Varney appeared in were not lucrative, and he began to bounce back and forth between Kentucky and California, driving a truck when times were lean and appearing in TV shows like Petticoat Junction when his luck improved. During one of his sabbaticals from Hollywood, he met Cherry, who cast him as an aggressive military instructor named Sergeant Glory in an ad for a car dealer in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 1981, Varney was asked back to film a new spot for Cherry, this one for a dilapidated amusement park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that Cherry considered so unimpressive he didn’t want to show it on camera. Instead, he created the character of Ernest P. Worrell, a fast-talking, often imbecilic local who is constantly harassing his neighbor Vern. (“Know what I mean, Vern?” became Ernest’s catchphrase.)

The spot was a hit, and soon Varney and Cherry were being asked to film spots for Purity Dairies, pizza parlors, convenience stores, and other local businesses. In the spots, Ernest would usually look into the camera—the audience shared Vern’s point of view—and endorse whatever business had enlisted his services, usually stopping only when Vern devised a way to get him out of sight.

Although the Purity commercials initially drew complaints—the wide-angle lens created a looming Ernest that scared some children—his fame grew, and Varney became a rarity in the ad business: a mascot without a permanent corporate home. He and Cherry would film up to 26 spots in a day, all targeted for a specific region of the country. In some areas, people would call television stations asking when the next Ernest spot was due to air. A Fairfax, Virginia Toyota dealership saw a 50 percent spike in sales after Varney began appearing in ads.

Logging thousands of spots in hundreds of markets, Varney once said that if they had all been national, he and Cherry would have been wealthy beyond belief. But local spots had local budgets, and the occasions where Ernest was recruited for a major campaign were sometimes prohibited by exclusivity contracts: He and Cherry had to turn down Chevrolet due to agreements with local, competing car dealers.

Still, Varney made enough to buy a 10-acre home in Kentucky, expressing satisfaction with the reception of the Ernest character and happily agreeing to a four-picture deal with Disney’s Touchstone Pictures for a series of Ernest features. Released on a near-constant basis between 1987 and 1998, the films were modest hits (Ernest Goes to Camp made $28 million) before Cherry—who directed several of them—and Varney decided to strike out on their own, settling into a direct-to-video distribution model.

“It's like Oz, and the Wizard ain't home," Varney told the Sun Sentinel in 1985, anticipating his desire for autonomy. “Hollywood is a place where everything begins but nothing originates. It's this big bunch of egos slamming into each other.”

Varney was sometimes reticent to admit he had ambitions beyond Ernest, believing his love of Shakespeare and desire to perform Hamlet would be perceived as the cliched story of a clown longing to be serious. He appeared in 1994’s The Beverly Hillbillies and as the voice of Slinky Dog in 1995’s Toy Story. But Ernest would continue to be his trademark.

The movies continued through 1998, at which point Varney noticed a nagging cough. It turned out to be lung cancer. As Ernest, Varney had filmed an anti-smoking public service announcement in the 1980s. In his private life, he was a chain smoker. He succumbed to cancer in 2000 at the age of 50, halting a series of planned Ernest projects that included Ernest Goes to Space and Ernest and the Voodoo Curse.

Varney may never have gotten an opportunity to perform in a wider variety of roles, but he did receive some acknowledgment for the one he had mastered. In 1989, Varney took home an Emmy for Outstanding Performer in a children’s series, a CBS Saturday morning show titled Hey, Vern: It’s Ernest!

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in 1991, “because it's as hard to escape from it as it is to get into it.''


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