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Tom's Take: What's in a (Town's) Name?

06/29/2015 10:47AM, Published by David Norby, Categories: In Print


Illustration by David Norby © Style Media Group



Where are you headed on vacation this summer? Maybe a long road trip across this great land? Well, if you can, swing by and see what’s up in Johnson’s Bottom, or have a quiet conversation with someone in Yellville, or spend a night in Intercourse, which is just down the road from Blue Ball. 

For years on our radio show, my partners Pat, Julie and I have had a thing about strange place names. It all started when we heard of a lovely sounding provincial park in Canada called “Head-Smashed- In-Buffalo-Jump.” No need for delicate semantics on the rough plains of Alberta: It is a place with a large cliff where, in the old days, Indians would chase herds of buffalo off said cliff. 

We mentioned it on the air and soon, listeners were pitching in other strange place names, like the aforementioned Yellville, Arkansas, which is actually pretty soft-spoken: just over a thousand people and a lovely old courthouse. It’s not too far from Toad Suck, where if you time it right you can enjoy their annual “Toad Suck Daze.” If you like bass fishing, a trip to Flippin may make more sense since that’s where Ranger bass boats are made. Visit their flippin factory, and then find a flippin restaurant for some flippin food. On your way back, swing through Okay, Oklahoma, and spend the night in one of their okay hotels. 

We hear there are real people in Humansville, Missouri, and some smart folks in Brainy Boro, New Jersey. Folks in Stiffknee Knob, North Carolina, move a little slow. We’re not sure what you’ll find in Sweet Lips, Tennessee, but it might be worth it to find out. For truly titillating town names though, nobody beats Pennsylvania, starting with Intercourse, which, believe it or not, is in Amish Country—so are Climax, Virginville and, um, Blue Ball. But if those don’t do it for you, then perhaps you’d prefer Abstain, Massachusetts. 

There’s also a Blue Ball, Ohio, but it’s a drive; plan on a potty break in Pee Pee. Johnson’s Bottom is in Kentucky but you probably won’t want to stay long; we called directory assistance and they couldn’t find anything in Johnson’s Bottom. If that’s too far, maybe head north to Idaho and see what’s up in Athol. Or, even closer, grab your tackle box and catch some bottom fish in Plumas County’s Butt Valley Reservoir. In fact, California’s got some great weirdly named places: We all know Cool, Rough and Ready, Whiskeytown and Weed (where road signs are among the most stolen in the U.S.). You’ll also find Happy Campers in Happy Camp, which is on the way to Fort Dick, where people apparently like hanging out. Dunmovin is a good place to settle down. If you hate vowels, Zzyzx, in San Bernadino County, is your kind of place. And if you like country music, skip Tennessee: There’s a Nashville in El Dorado County. 

Not al l strangely named places sound compelling, though. Looking for action? You probably won’t find it in Boring, Oregon. Crapo, Maryland, sounds dumpy. And if you have dogs, stay away from Fleatown, Ohio. Feeling existential? Sort through your questions in Why, Arizona. Hungry? Try Good Food, Mississippi, or (mmm), Pie Town, New Mexico. You’re on your own in Forage, North Dakota, though. When AC/DC sang “Highway to Hell,” was it actually about a scheduled gig in Hell, Michigan? 

As a native Washingtonian, I suggest a trip to Humptulips, which, incidentally, is on the way to the Hoh Rain Forest. If you have time, you could push on to Pysht but don’t get upset, there isn’t much there. Make a point to visit Point No Point. The people of Concrete are rock solid. But alas, there are no Starbucks in Starbuck. 

And that’s just scratching the surface. There are literally hundreds of oddly named towns all across America, just waiting for you to pass through. Um, especially Johnson’s Bottom.

Catch Tom on the Pat and Tom Morning Show on New Country 105.1, e-mail him at tnvmailey@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @kncitom. 


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