Welcome to Randyland!

Photo Randyland 1

The real Randy or a cardboard cutout? I’m still not sure.

Randy Gilson prides himself on celebrating the insignificant. Little did he know that when he purchased a dilapidated house in Pittsburgh for $10,000 at an auction back in 1995, it would become known as one of America’s most colorful public landmarks and among the most photographed places on Instagram.

Growing up in a broken home, poor and sometimes homeless, he ignored the taunting of others and focused on working to create something out of nothing, both with his life and with his surroundings. Randy says that his struggles became his strengths; “…I taught myself to repurpose, reuse and recycle…” As a young boy, he would rummage through the trash and recondition toys he found, to the delight of his five siblings at Christmas.

He’d love to sneak over to the yards of his elderly neighbors and mow their overgrown lawns. Distressed by the garbage and abandoned homes in his neighborhood, he later started the Old Allegheny Garden Society. He purchased whiskey barrels, filled them with flowers and placed them along the streets. Neighbors started volunteering to assist him and his dream of creating a peoplehood (his term for connecting people together for a common goal) took shape. Over time, 800 barrels, 50 vegetable gardens and eight parks spruced up the area.

He gave his newly purchased, ramshackle house the “Randy touch,” gathering bricks from homes in the area being torn down and believing in their energy, each with a story of the lives they housed. He lovingly positioned his collections of recycled objects around the yard and invited passersby to come in, chat and peruse at no charge.

Today, Randyland is a whimsical expression of pure joy. Colorful murals line the walls of the outdoor art space. The psychedelic staircase leads to nowhere and is decorated with bright colored metal chairs seemingly suspended in air. Mannequin heads sit on a table next to a pile of sand and toys. The worry box provides pen and paper and invites you to write down your concerns, then drop them in the box. Souvenirs are displayed on the honor system, requesting the purchaser to place the money in a nearby lock box. Seating areas welcome all to stay awhile, take in the assemblage of oddities that encircle them and read the uplifting visitor comments left on the bulletin board from all over the world.

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I’m guessing the telephone is for emergency situations?

On a lovely Saturday afternoon, my visit to Randyland was an eye-opening experience of wonder and delight. My love of anything quirky and my awe and reverence for anyone a bit eccentric merged into a feeling of pure bliss. As I left that haven of happiness, I had a big smile on my face and a spring in my step, hoping never to forget how one man had the ability to turn waste into wonder.

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Questioning the Quirky

Photo Questioning th Quirky

Designer toast for breakfast anyone?

Once in a while, I like to take the time to let my mind wander and wonder about all those little things that most pay no attention to. As guilty pleasures go, it’s also very cathartic; the cobwebs seem to disappear from the corners of my brain. It’s the equivalent of swishing mouthwash and that refreshing minty taste you’re left with. Here are my some of my most recent ponderings:

-Why do we sing “Rock a Bye Baby” to infants when we know perfectly well our soothing voices will soon croon the last stanza that inevitably leads to a 911 call?

-A popular new business has sprung up where you create a DIY project while enjoying cocktails. If I didn’t have any artistic ability before I entered, how will libations help my creations?

-Why do airline seats recline if reclining them can lead to airplane rage (similar to road rage, but without the foot pedals and steering wheel)?

-Has anyone actually been arrested for removing the tag off their mattress? If so, are they assigned to a special area of prison, along with the anglers who purchased the fish they entered in the bass fishing competition (a real thing)?

-Did Dr. Seuss have anything to do with the naming of Pflugerville, Texas? Every time I pass the sign for the exit on the highway, I smile to myself and wonder: are the Pflugers in Pflugerville all filled with glee to realize their town is a source of Seuss imagery?

-Does toast that pops out of a $650 Dolce and Gabbana toaster taste any better? Rumor has it that the toaster’s heating coils will not accept a slice of plain, white bread. Hurry to Neiman Marcus (aka “Needless Markup”) while supplies last and do plan to name drop: “…Sorry I’m late, but I had to polish my $650 Dolce and Gabbana toaster with mink oil…”

Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to take the road less traveled, stop and smell the roses, give your mind a well-deserved rest and not be too quick to disregard the quirky.