Thought you might like to know I recently bought a blue thing that’ll keep my sunglasses from sinking in the river…and a kazoo. These were not impulse items. Indeed, I had considered both for some time but never had the ambition to search among many stores, or online, for either. But I found them them mere yards apart at an old emporium in East Aurora, New York. It’s called Viddlers 5 and 10 with the subtitle, “you never know what you’ll find there.”
Let’s clear up something first. The 5 and the 10 do not mean nickel or dime. I found nothing there that costs pennies, but I suppose you could make the case that you do need at least 100 pennies to make a buck and most items there cost several of those.
Unlike the 5 and 10-cent stores I remember as a kid, Viddlers doesn’t have a tank of homeless goldfish for sale or a lunch counter serving up malts, BLTs or Bromo Seltzers.
What it does have is the luscious aroma of old wood-planked floors that squeak with every step, a million little tchochkes begging to collect dust in your home, lawn art, pots and pans, board games, paint, back scratchers, a billion types of candy and other sweets, books, magnets for your refrigerator with a picture of the store, (bought one of those too) and silly signs.
I love the one that says, “Unattended children will be given espresso and a free kitten.” No one actually buys them, but if you wanted to, Viddlers has ‘em for you.
How about a dopey hat that looks like a cheeseburger….or a bison? Might be a hit at the synagogue where every other guy just sports a little round yarmulke? I think bisons are kosher, no?
Then there’s the toothpick bird. Got something caught in your teeth? Touch the birdie the right way and it coughs up a handy toothpick. I can only hope Viddlers finds the floss flounder one day.
When visiting Viddlers it’s important to check out every one of its many rooms and every corner in each room because that’s where some of the best stuff is hiding, like a some odd sized pan or garden gargoyle.
I found my kazoo begging for attention on a lower shelf. It competed against two other kazoos, but I settled on mine because I liked the box and color. I wanted to try it out, as you would with any musical instrument, but I was told it’s not cool to slobber over something you may not decide to buy. So I took a chance and gambled two bucks it would mesh with my particular playing style.
The blue thing for my sunglasses was hanging near a bunch of toys, and not anywhere near sunglasses, which I’m not even sure Viddlers sells. I need this thing because I’m always afraid my sunglasses will fall off my head and into the drink when I’m kayaking or attempting to walk across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee. Now I can enter water with full confidence that no matter what unfortunate circumstances befall me, my sunglasses won’t sink.
Viddlers hasn’t always been called Viddlers. According to its website, “Robert S. Vidler, Sr. opened “The Fair Store” in the quaint village of East Aurora. Family legend has it that his mother-in-law complained of having to go all the way to Buffalo (16 miles distant) to buy a spool of thread – and Robert saw the opportunity for a new, local business.”
He changed the name to Viddlers 15 years later.
This was technically my second visit to Viddlers. My first didn’t last long. We intended to stop in on our way home to Michigan from my in-laws place in Rochester, N.Y. East Aurora, which is near Buffalo, is way off the route but my in-laws had enthusiastically recommended, so we took the detour. Hmm..plenty of parking in the back. Good start. Uh oh…door locked. It was Memorial Day. Sign informed us Viddlers not open on Memorial Day. Bad ending. So now it’s a year later and we avoided all holidays and tried again. This time there was still plenty of parking, but many of the spaces were taken…and the door was open.
We may go back to Viddlers again some day. I do like corn on the cob and ribs. I hope the toothpick bird is still available.
It was somewhere over Iowa that I started paying attention to the screen in front of me showing my flight’s location. At what point, I wondered, did we enter “flyover” territory–the fairly arrogant term East/West coasters use for the area of the country between the coasts you wouldn’t think of actually landing, and, golly, find something worthy of their sophistication to do.
So having several hours to kill before landing in San Francisco I started thinking about the nation’s midsection and what I might have missed had I always flown over, and never landed in it.
Permit me a fond recollection that dates back to 1974. I had never seen the Mississippi River, or any place actually, west of Buffalo. My wife had seen it all. I had a week off from my $1.85/hour radio DJ job in Fulton, NY. This would be our first vacation since our wedding in September, 1973 and I asked my wife if we could drive to the Mighty Mississippi and back in a week. She assured me we could.
We hit the road and in short order I got my first glimpse of Ohio and the great city of Cleveland. I had hair that reflected the times and my age and the clerk at the first motel we attempted to stay in promptly refused me on the grounds that I looked like a creep.
After finding a more open-minded hotelier we hit Columbus, Cincinnati, and Louisville in short order. No money or time to do much so we quickly drove around Churchill Downs wondering what it would be like to attend the Kentucky Derby. From there we crossed into Indiana and became hopelessly lost. Somehow we ended up in Tell City, IN, then Hawesville, KY. A strong wind across the flat farmlands promptly blew my side view mirror off our awesome white Rambler. Eventually we found our way and the great Gateway Arch poked its apex over the horizon, providing a prominent trailmarker to our destination, and feeling almost weepy at seeing the Mississippi at last as we crossed into St. Louis.
We again faced the challenge of finding lodging, only this time it was due to a long parade of “no vacancy” signs. A room was finally secured at a high rise in suburban Clayton where we dumped our things and headed back to town to catch a Cardinals game in what was then, the modern, total ’70’s circle, Busch Stadium. They were playing the hated Reds and we saw Pete Rose, whom 16 years later, would slam me into a wall when I asked him a tough question just before he was bounced from baseball.
As I mentioned, we had little money, so we took the first tour of the Budweiser brewery the next morning and slurped as much free swill as we could before moving on to Illinois where we made surgical strikes in Springfield to see Abe Lincoln’s grave and Chicago where we drove around the Loop and headed back east.
We noticed the Kelloggs factory in Battle Creek, MI was an easy detour off the Indiana Toll road and guessed, correctly, they’d give us free cereal. Sure enough, “Request Packs” was given to us after a fascinating tour watching Corn Flakes made by mashing corn grits to smithereens between two gigantic rollers.
Then it was the home stretch back to Oswego, NY where we lived, via Detroit, Canada and Niagara Falls, where we pulled up to parking space, looked over at the falling water and got back in the car because we had no coins for the parking meters.
After a lifetime, to that point, of being a fairly sheltered New Yorker who thought the western border of the U.S. was the Hudson River and nothing north of the Catskill Mountains matter, it was a geographic and cultural coming of age for me. From that day on, I appreciated what lay between the coasts, the marvel of the Rocky’s, the kindness of the people, the variety of the vittles, and the cornucopia of customs and routines. As a reporter I covered everything from natural disasters, plane crashes, trials, politics, crimes, sports, most times meeting people who opened my eyes to points of view, to courage, to mystery, to incredible sadness and misery, music, humor, triumph and joy.
Flyover country? Not at all. That IS the country.