In the purest sense of the word, a roadside attraction was something that would cause a motorist to pull off the road and spend money. Florida used to be full of these attractions, and they ranged from St. Augustine’s Fountain of Youth to gator wrestling in the Everglades to the Bluebird of Happiness in Vilano Beach.
Once the motorist was reeled in by a dazzling display of lights or by sensationalized billboard language, he’d be captive to cheap thrill and would easily spend his hard-won cash on entertainment or on merchandise. As air travel eclipsed driving and as the interstate bypassed smaller roads, the attractions fell into disrepair or vanished completely. There are very few examples of roadside attractions operating in Florida, and of those that still function, many are in dire financial straits. Where the state has taken over, the attraction limps along from year to year, always skirting closure and a dwindling number of visitors.
For personal purposes, I’ve expanded the definition of roadside attraction to include anything that is incongruous and is at odds with its setting. A prime example is the subsonic “light attack” A 7-A Corsair II that sits proudly outside an elementary school in High Springs. The jet was loaned to the school in 1995 by the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, and, according to a small bronze plaque, “its training mission (is) to inspire kids.”
I hope it has inspired kids to become aircraft designers instead of pilots for the war machine.
(NB: Roadside attractions are ripe for fictional treatments. Please enjoy a story from my favorite writer, Allan Gurganus. Click here for “My Heart Is a Snake Farm.”