North American highways are a treasure trove of the random and wonderful. Washington State, for instance, is the land of the roadside, drive-thru coffee stand. Maybe this is something all of America has latched on to, but I can safely say it’s not something that Canadians have adopted and, therefore, it feels wonderfully odd to me.
But the oddities don’t stop at coffee kiosks, not even the one that’s a mini replica of a windmill. On our most recent trip to Leavenworth we also encountered the reptile zoo, which boasts not only an albino alligator but a two-headed turtle (!!!) and “the most extensive collection of reptiles in the pacific northwest.” I’d like to say we checked it out, but I scoffed at the entrance fee so I cannot confirm if it is, in fact, a gold mine of reptilian life forms.
Then there was the knife sharpening shop mid-way between Monroe, Washington and Leavenworth, tucked cozily into a brief break in the rock faces lining Highway 2. I wonder who its patrons are, who might desperately need to sharpen a knife as they are barreling down the highway towards or away from a Bavarian mountain village. There is no other civilization around this shop and it occurs to me the proprietor may have just thought “I sharpen knives and I suppose this is as good a place as any to do it.”
But clearly the biggest treasure we found on our highway journey, the reason for this very post, was the roadside fudgery. Similar to the knife sharpener, this little fudgery’s location defies the norms of society, which would imply that one is not likely to go for a drive down the highway nor to pull off the highway just for fudge. It is tucked into a highway pullout far enough outside of Leavenworth that its faint Bavarian stylings don’t quite make sense unless you’re familiar with the area. Its exterior and locale, however, are not the only perplexing elements of this roadside stop.
Inside, one discovers that fudge is just one of this shop’s offerings. There is a surprisingly robust assortment of hot sauces, horseradishes and mustards, many of which you can sample, because who doesn’t want to try before they buy when it comes to condiments? Never mind that the mix of products is overwhelming and illogical. Hot sauce and mustard, chocolate, taffy, dressings, sauces, salsas, and, yes, even my beloved fudge. This is the joy of the roadside fudge stand. It doesn’t have to make sense. You pull over expecting fudge and you get so much more.
And let’s talk fudge, because that is obviously the reason for my pulling over. I have no time for hot sauces and horseradish, although my boyfriend and my friend’s husband were excited enough to purchase some. I wanted the good stuff. I was promised fudge and there would be fudge. I was impressed with the selection of fudges, the number of which rivaled those found in my number one favourite fudgery in Banff. With so many to choose from, naturally it took me a solid five minutes to make my choices (butterfinger and vanilla praline chew*, if you must know).
And here is where my love for this little roadside fudgery grows even stronger. Because in making my selections and attempting to order, I encountered classic roadside point of interest service: a carefully crafted mix of indifference, mild disdain or perhaps merely an utter disinterest in those stopping by. The two clerks carried on their own conversation for a full two minutes before pausing to serve me fudge, the kind of conversation that has deep undertones of annoyance and bitterness about whomever they were discussing. Clearly someone had done them wrong.
Regardless of their backstory, I stood there unsupported and desperately wanting my fudge. It occurred to me that this is what the roadside fudgery, or any roadside attraction for that matter, is all about. These clerks know that we are a solid 15 minutes of driving from any other form of fudge. They have us. They also know that someone who stops on the highway for fudge is probably so deeply passionate about fudge that she is the type of person who cannot wait another 15 minutes even if it means putting up with shitty service (and, in my case, they are right).
They are successful because there will always be travelers lured in by the lone roadside attraction that is both strangely out of place yet perfectly positioned all at the same time. They know that within a certain percentage of the population there are some who desperately crave those places that defy all logic, that fulfill our need to find a hidden gem, that satisfy our desire to experience a little bit of the bizarre as we cruise down the highway. Thank you The Alps Candy, for filling that void on a lonely stretch of Highway 2.
*For those actually curious about the fudge itself, is was pretty good. The vanilla praline chew was the clear winner of the two I tried, but both were fairly tasty, though not quite up to par with my Banff fudgery. I also purchased a small bag of assorted taffy which I wouldn’t recommend unless you are looking to extract some of your molars.