Check your tires and your mirrors. You're about to hit the road in search of the Northeast's most exotic sights, the sort of oddities that hide out along secondary roads and in out-of-the-way towns.
Here, in no particular order, are New England's seven weirdest roadside landmarks -- at least one from each of the six states.
I've focused my picks on man-made monoliths that are enormous enough to make you grab for your camera and text message friends. As the gas station map used to say: "Happy motoring."
Though he looks like a giant street thug and sports an eerie smirk, no need to dial the cops over Bangor's Paul Bunyan statue downtown. Snap a picture instead. The sign for the 35-foot-high, 3,700-lb. figure brags that it's the world's largest statue of Paul Bunyan. Leaving aside the question of whether anyone else would bother to build a Bunyan monument, that's pretty impressive. And appropriate, too, since Bangor claims to be the birthplace of the legendary logger. Bunyan slings his ax over his shoulder and grabs onto a pike (which may serve the key purpose of keeping him upright in a storm). Donated to Bangor in 1959 for the town's 125th anniversary, the statue's fiberglass and steel frame is supposedly "hurricane-proof" -- able to withstand 110-m.p.h. winds. Oh, and of course ready to chop down hemlocks when needed. <em>Address: Bass Park, 519 Main St., Bangor, Me. Admission: Free. Phone: 207-947-0307. </em>
Though it prides itself on its billboard-free litterless highways, Vermont still has its share of the strange stuff. For example, during a dull day at the office ever wonder where you could find the world's tallest filing cabinet? It's in Burlington, Vt. But even more impressive than this is the roadside gorilla statue along U.S. Route 7 between Leicester and Salisbury, Vt. Nicknamed Queen Connie, she was constructed in 1987 out of reinforced cement. This must be a good material for giant statues because Connie's detail is superb, right down to her gorilla-vampire set of choppers. But Connie doesn't just stand there. Her left arm is stretched to the sky and, like a muscular waiter with a tray, she balances an actual VW Bug. How did the Bug get up there? How come the whole thing doesn't topple over? Don't they have windstorms in this part of Vermont? Connie and her set of wheels make for multiple Green Mountain mysteries. And some top notch photos, too. <em>Address: Pioneer Auto Sales, 2829 U.S. Route 7, Salisbury, Vt. Phone: 802-247-4242.</em>
Okay, so which is it? A place to get your Buick clean or Connecticut's answer to Disney World? You decide. Cromwell's Classic Auto Wash delivers the usual suds and chamois rubdowns. What's a bit different here -- okay, extremely different -- is the outdoor decor. The little station is overrun with big, strange statues including renditions of the Blues Brothers, a phone booth with Clark Kent changing into Superman, a giant Santa and a heck of a lot more. If you're the kind of person who enjoys miniature golf courses, but are more interested in the hazards than in making par, this is your place. Come to think of it, maybe some of these novelties were bought off the lot from mini-golf courses that had run into hard times. There happens to be a massive golf ball on site, so if you've got a giant club handy, you're set. <em>Address: 23 Shunpike Road, Cromwell, Ct. Phone: 860-632-1234.</em>
It may not rate as a big-time New England crossroads, but the 20,000 or so who call Gardner, Mass., home have their pride. Gardner, you see, has something the rest of us don't -- New England's tallest and widest chair. You say: It's way too big to sit in and (probably) uncomfortable. They say: Don't knock it until you've seen it. Gardner's first giant chair was hammered together about a century ago. The town replaced it twice with even bigger seats and when today's 20.5-foot-tall effort was finished in the 1970s it was, for a time, the world's biggest. And even though an Alabama chair has taken over the crown, Gardner's is still impressive with its ladder-back slats and reinforced seat. Not to mention the fact that, at 10 feet wide and nine feet deep, it's more accommodating than even the plushest La-Z-Boy. <em>Address: 130 Elm St., Gardner, Mass. The chair is in front of the Helen Mae Sauter School, between Bond and Cross Streets. </em>
Bugs are big in Rhode Island. Swampy East Bay and South County towns are thick with the real thing, but in the Ocean State itching and scratching aren't enough. For starters we've installed a giant, angry bee in North Kingstown sporting a sailor's cap and aiming a machine gun. The "Fighting Seabee" is a rendering of the mascot of the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion and stands guard over the state's Seabee Museum and Memorial Park. Thanks to the fertile imagination of sculptor Frank Iafrate, this may be the only bee you'll ever see with lips and teeth. Big teeth. And although he wears an aggressive snarl, this is a helpful insect: along with his gun, he's got a wrench in one tentacle hand and a hammer in another. Maybe he's not as dangerous as he looks. <em>Address: 21 Iafrate Way, North Kingstown, R.I. Phone: 401-294-7233.</em>
What's eight feet tall, weighs more than 1,700 pounds, has dark brown glossy skin and tastes like a Nestle's Crunch Bar? If you've stopped into Len Libby Candies in Scarborough, you know the answer. It's Lenny the Chocolate Moose. Thought to be the world's largest chocolate animal of any kind, Lenny was sculpted in 1997 by plastering melted milk chocolate over a chicken-wire frame. Q: Why doesn't Lenny melt? A: Len Libby's is also an ice cream parlor with a carefully monitored below-70-degree store environment. Q: Is it okay to break off pieces of Lenny just to take a taste? A: Absolutely not. <em>Address: 419 U.S. Route 1, Scarborough, Me. Admission: Free. Phone: 207-883-4897.</em>
Is tiny Warren the only U.S. town with an actual ballistic missile on display? Though cast-off space hardware isn't an unusual sight at military bases, the answer is a resounding yes. This white-and-red painted cone is a real Redstone rocket -- one of several types that NASA used to shoot up the earliest astronauts. People argue about its exact history, but according to locals I talked to, the rocket was installed here thanks to a former resident who lobbied NASA and the Pentagon until they donated the outdated missile. Last time I checked it wasn't fueled up, but just to be on the safe side it's best to light up your cigar on the other side of town. <em>Address: 112 Water St., Warren, N.H. The rocket is situated right in the town square. </em>
Peter Mandel is a travel writer, and an author of picture books for kids, including his newest about zoo animals passing on a very noisy sneeze: Zoo Ah-Choooo (Holiday House), and one about a construction worker who uses his belly on the job: Jackhammer Sam (Macmillan/Roaring Brook).