Saturday, August 28, 2010

Off the Beaten Path

Sometimes you've got time. It may be that you're early for a meeting, and so you hole up with a cup of coffee and flip through the paper. Other times you get to the airport for a pickup and the plane is delayed, so you pull into the cell phone lot and listen to the radio. Or maybe you're meeting someone to head home together on the train and they're running late, so you meander through the stores at the station.
In my case I was on the road. Once I checked into my room, I drove out and found a little barbeque place for dinner. After some great peach cobbler, I started to head back to the hotel for the night. But as it was still light outside and I was in no rush to go sit in an empty room, I decided to wander back via local roads. So while my GPS kept urging me to turn onto the highway, I kept going straight, looking to see what I might see that was new and different off the beaten path.

It's getting harder to do that. Since most of my travels are to places that support a fair amount of people and business, it's hard to wind up anywhere that doesn't sport a Target and a Home Depot and a TGIFridays. That's especially the case if you draw a circle around the centrally located airports, hotels and restaurants that cater to road warriors like me. Not that most complain: after dealing with travel, or a long day at a remote location, often the kindest words one can read are "Easy on easy off."
But if you do wander you start to see the kind of local places or regional franchises that haven't yet broken onto the national scene. And that was indeed the case in this particular neighborhood a handful of miles from the end of Interstate 73 in North Carolina. And while this trip was to Greensboro, I've had the same experience outside of Houston and Detroit and Denver. There's a lot out there that's not quite ready for prime time, but has found a toehold that, at least for right now, doesn't look to be threatened anytime soon by WalMart.
For instance, one strip mall featured a place called "Any Lab Test Now!" Recently named the second-fastest growing franchise by Franchise Times, this medical establishment enables you to get... well... any lab test now. There are the obvious biggies, like tests for HIV and pregnancy. Employers can get drug and alcohol screens done on perspective employees. Or you can spend $49 and settle that argument right now by ordering up one their newest products, the "Infidelity DNA Test."

A little further down the block was "Dan's Fan City." Started in Clearwater, Florida back in 1979, Dan's has about 50 stores in the southeast. They have outdoor and indoor models, ones with lights and without, and versions with blades or with actually fans. They even carry the Uno, a fan with one blade which looks kind of like a boomerang twirling around on your ceiling.
"Sports Clips" is just what it sounds like: a haircut place with a sports theme aimed squarely at men. There you can get their signature service, the MVP Haircut, "a precision haircut followed by an invigorating scalp massage with Tea Tree shampoo, a Classic Steamed Towel, finishing with a relaxing upper neck and shoulder massage." The stylists are touted as being as up to date on NFL draft prospects as opposed to the travails of Jennifer Aniston. And just like an oil change place that offers to top off your wiper fluid between visits, they say, "come in between haircuts for your complimentary neck trims!"
By then it was getting dark, and so I had to pass on a few others. "Monkey Joe's" seemed to be an indoor inflatable playground for kids. "FETCH" offered the same service, sans the inflatable part, for your pets. "Goin' Postal" touted shipping and office support services, hopefully without the violence the name implied. And "Massage Heights" offers, well, you can figure it out.
It's true that when you're on the road, sometimes all you crave is a McDonald's. And if you need some office supplies, it's nice to know that you can drive 20 minutes in almost any direction and eventually hit a Staples. But if you're feeling a little adventurous, it's worth going right instead of left. Who knows? You might just come across Bud Murphy's Pizza. And if you do, make sure to order their Pirogie Pizza, topped with mashed potatoes, sautéed onions, mixed cheese and scallions. That'll give you something to remember.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves to just wander when he travels. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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