There are numerous great and spiritual pilgrimages that have lured travellers over the centuries. Journeys of self discovery and new beginnings. The Hajj to Mecca, the Char Dham in India, to the Camino de Santiago in Spain - all have captured the dreams of searching souls. I have just completed one such pilgrimage myself. My heart still glows anew, refreshed by the completion of the Crusade of Pheeism to Archie McPhee in Seattle, Washington.
The traditional point of departure begins in the small, but uninteresting, village of Mackinaw, Illinois. From there you journey north through Chicago and west through the plains. Nowadays pilgrims begin their trek from wide and varied locales all over the globe, but I wanted to experience the full emersion of what it was like for those first settlers who who crossed the badlands in covered Cutlass Supremes, lo those 40 plus years ago.
At the risk of making it sound as if this tale of hardship, intrigue, and eventual triumph is about me personally, I cannot do my due diligence to the commitment one must make to complete the crusade without telling my own story. I will attempt to downplay my own remarkable bravery and industriousness in making it through the travails that followed my decision and reduce my own heroism to appear as if any normal person could have succeeded as well as I.
It has been quoted that every great journey begins with a single step. Words of truth. I would, however, make one small addendum: "Every great journey begins with a single thought." This journey truly began for me in March of 2003 at the tender age of 37. My brother's sole desire for his birthday of that year was to possess his very own rubber chicken, with which he might hit himself upon the head whilst making boinging sounds. I thought this request would prove fairly simple to meet. Sadly, I was wrong. An exhaustive search of stores throughout my homeland proved fruitless. So I turned to the Internet. A terrifying and enigmatic world, the web felt foreign and foreboding, as it had only been around for a little more than half my life. Nevertheless, a quick search for rubber chickens for sale soon started me out upon a quest I didn't know I needed. For there I found it. Archie McPhee. A nirvana of, not only rubber chickens - which would probably simply be called the Rubber Chicken Emporium or, perhaps, The Rubber Chicken Stockade - but a magical world of all manner of mankind's basic essentials.
Archie McPhee symbolizes everything good and indescribable in the world. Things that you wouldn't know you couldn't live without unless you discover they exist. For example, I lived nearly 40 years incognizant of the fact that my life was truly meaningless because it did not include the company of an albino bowler action figure or a yodeling pickle. Further, it may seem inconceivable now, but there was once a time when I began my morning without the cleansing power of bacon flavored toothpaste.
Granted, these necessities can be obtained via their website, however, the full Archie McPhee experience reveals itself upon the journey. Only by trekking through the rugged and dangerous Badlands of South Dakota, passing under the foreboding gazes of four extremely large and stoic dead presidents, climbing the enigmatic and potato-sculpture-inspiring Devils Tower, and crossing the eerie pumice covered, otherworldly landscape of Craters of the Moon in Idaho. Each of these locations strange and mysterious enough they could have come from the mind of an employee of Archie McPhee. Each trial brings you ever closer to the Holy Grail. Well, symbolically. To the best of my knowledge the Holy Grail does not reside in Archie McPhee.
Not that I would be surprised to find out it did, however. They may not even know for sure. The amount of magical merchandise there is a bit overwhelming. After traversing untold mountain ranges and braving many a raging river - thank God for bridges and cars, that is all I have to say - across the vast Oregon wasteland, along the magnificent Columbia River, and to the sea. Finally, making my way into Washington I limped into Seattle (stubbed my toe getting out of the car) and found myself staring into enlightenment.
The very building itself spoke of a history shrouded in its enigmatic past and teeming with untold secrets. I had never felt such energy emanating from a place. And, keep in mind, I had just seen the SPAM Museum in Minnesota. Then I opened the door and stepped inside. Time stopped. It was all there. Everywhere you looked there was happiness. Happiness encapsulated in rubber - or some vinyl, rubber mimicking product - in the form of masks, happiness dopplegangers in the form of various historical figures and cat enthusiasts, happiness in book form, happiness for your car dashboard, and even happiness on a stick lollipops.
Unlike so many of the more famous cryptozoological creatures of myth and legend who are afraid to show their faces to a desperate public the legendary Wallingford Beast remains proudly on display in the middle of the finger hand puppets and wasabi flavored gum balls. You could argue the reason for this is the fact that the creature is not alive, however I find this to be a pitifully simple answer to a question that can - with a little ingenuity - be made much more complicated. Bigfoot remains ever present within the store as well, and in fact, came home with me in one of his more pine scented incantations.
Eventually, I was able to force myself to accept the fact that I could not remain in this place of mystical wonder forever. I hauled my future favorite possessions to the front counter to complete my quest, but Archie McPhee held one surprise back til the very end. For I was waited on by none other than Fuzz. Yes, my friends, he really does exist. Like Santa Claus or Nicholas Cage, Fuzz, I always assumed, was a mythical creature meant to frighten or enamor children. Yet here he was ringing up my purchases like a regular human being with a need for financial gain brought on by a penchant for dry martinis. I have since sought after the rare and precious discontinued gem that is the Fuzz action figure, but to no avail. I shant give up.
I walked outside, laden with my treasured relics and mementos from my journey's end. I had traveled over 2900 miles (got lost and meandered a few times) over harsh, unforgiving lands and through embarrassingly overpriced, lame tourist traps (looking at you Wall Drug, S Dakota). There were moments when I thought I could carry on no further (helpful tip: never flop for dramatic effect onto pumice stone), but I persevered. Pilgrimages are difficult for a reason. They are intended to push us to our limits and help us discover things about ourselves we never knew were there. Quests take us beyond our limitations and leave us better people with a new outlook on life and something intangible that we never had before. In the case of The Crusade of Pheeism, that intangible thing might just be the world's largest underpants. Dare to dream my friends. Dare to dream.
Crusade of Pheeism