Author To Speak At Library ...

Author Eric Dregni is no stranger to the unusual. He writes about topics that strike his fancy, such as Vespas, bowling, and the origin of the ice-rink clearing machine the Zamboni. But “The Impossible Road Trip: An Unforgettable Journey to Past and Present Roadside Attractions in All 50 States” might be his most intriguing yet. Dregni, who lives in Minnesota, will take a mini road trip to come to Southern California and speak at the Coronado Public Library, 640 Orange Avenue, on Friday, Jan. 15 at 11 a.m. to talk about his book and to sign copies.

Author Eric Dregni is no stranger to the unusual. He writes about topics that strike his fancy, such as Vespas, bowling, and the origin of the ice-rink clearing machine the Zamboni. But “The Impossible Road Trip: An Unforgettable Journey to Past and Present Roadside Attractions in All 50 States” might be his most intriguing yet.

Dregni, who lives in Minnesota, will take a mini road trip to come to Southern California and speak at the Coronado Public Library, 640 Orange Avenue, on Friday, Jan. 15 at 11 a.m. to talk about his book and to sign copies.

Chronicling nationwide landmarks such as neon-shrouded motels, tourist traps, bizarre roadside sculptures and other attractions, the book follows in the great tradition of the mid-century golden age of car travel. It’s illustrated by the work of architectural critic and photographer John Margolies (1940-2016) and includes specially commissioned infographic maps.

Dregni came up with the idea for the book after many road trips, when he’d see giant Paul Bunyan statues, or larger-than-life monuments of stuffed fish. But after living in Italy for five years, he realized that America’s roadside attractions “are uniquely American. [In Italy] there are big, grand statues, and here you see a giant turkey or something.” 

His original plan was to do a 50-states road trip, but because the country is so big, and most of the United States’ mid-century tourist attractions are off small highways rather than the interstates, he realized it was not in the cards. (Not to mention that he’s a full-time professor with three young kids). But in addition to having done many road trips over the years, he’d gathered enough photos, interviews, and research to make a book. 

Some of his favorite attractions are in the middle of nowhere. “Captain Kirk of Star Trek was born in a small town in Iowa,” Dregni said. “Riverside, a small town in Iowa, wrote to [Star Trek creator] Gene Roddenberry to ask if it could be the Future Birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk.” Roddenberry said yes and there’s now a sign outside the town proclaiming “Future Birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk, March 22, 2228.”

One of Dregni’s first roadside attraction sightings was the World’s Largest Ball of Twine. In second grade he saw it in a book and discovered it was in Darwin, Minnesota, not far from where he lived, so his family took him there. 

Dregni said the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, which is 11 feet tall, spurred a rivalry. “In Caulker, Kansas, a guy tried to surpass the one in Minnesota. His was a few inches short, then he had a heart attack and died.” He said there’s now a third ball of twine (in Texas) competing for the tallest. He also said Ripley’s Believe it or Not tried to buy the original Ball of Twine but the town said no, because that’s what it’s now known for. 

Dregni said one of his most memorable trips, to see the Future Birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk, was also memorable for his wife - and not in a good way. “We were in Iowa, it was 95 degrees, in a tiny Honda Civic with no air conditioning. My wife was pregnant, and the air smelled like pigs.”

Dregni has tips for those who might want to do their own Impossible Road Trip. “To do it justice, take a week, not just a few days,” he said, noting that the best sites are off small roads like Highway 61 and 66. 

“Some of these trips, it’s like why are were here, in the middle of nowhere, just to see a giant corncob?” He said. “But a lot of these sights disappear over the years. We need to preserve them!”

An assistant professor of English, journalism and Italian and Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota, Dregni is also the author of “Ads That Put America on Wheels,” “Scootermania!,” “The Life Vespa,” “Let’s Go Bowling!,” “Zamboni: The Coolest Machines on Ice,” “In Cod We Trust: In Search of the Norwegian Dream,” “Weird Minnesota,” and “Vikings in the Attic: In Search of Nordic America.” He’s currently working on a book about teaching his kids to speak Italian - by speaking with them solely in Italian.

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