Weirdness is getting harder to find these days.
Between marketers, sitcom characters and wacky dickheads in shirts that say things about ninjas and bacon, genuinely odd stuff is difficult to come by. So I was extremely excited to hear about Jurassic Restaurant, a (presumably) unofficial Jurassic Park-themed Taiwanese restaurant in Industry, California.
Weird shit used to be everywhere. If Tod Browning's Freaks is to be believed, it used to be that you could barely open your door without tripping over some undiscovered weirdo.
But then lunacy got gentrified and oddness became mainstream, co-opted by Phoebe from Friends and printed on trucker caps to be sold at Hot Topic (over 600 locations nationwide).
American entertainment became about gawking at weirdos. TV shows centered around women who eat couches or get plastic surgery to look like celebrities became the norm. The guy with a 300-pound scrotum (RIP) got an agent.
Marketers and advertisers got their claws in. Weirdness, once a pursuit for outsiders, is now cooked up by teams of market researchers, to be regurgitated by the Old Spice Guy or the Compare the Market meerkat.
Sites like Atlas Obscura, Time Out and Roadside America popped up, blowing the lid off any remaining unknown weirdness left in the world. Now it's impossible to visit a "hidden gem" without being surrounded by other curiosity seekers Instagramming pics of themselves in official merchandise purchased from the suddenly savvy owners.
Gawking at weird stuff has become something you can do with your grandparents. Entire families are taking wholesome road trips to Salvation Mountain or the House on the Rock. People have started running paid urban exploration tours of Detroit, and Hamburger Mary's has opened a restaurant near Disneyworld.
Sure, there are people who will argue that the world is still full of weird. But they're just easily fooled. Weird is now something studied and branded and accepted by those who're willing to take things at face value.
For instance, multiple people in Los Angeles told me about a "super weird" clown-themed strip club that had a salad bar. I, apparently, HAD to go there! But when I did visit, every patron was under 30 and wearing a plaid shirt. The strippers danced to Radiohead and had tattoos of designs you usually see on cups sold at Urban Outfitters. Everyone present seemed pleased with themselves for being so Out There.
It's become important to be cynical when it comes to odd things. Nothing can be accepted at face value. Now when we see something like Dumb Starbucks, our first question is no longer "What the fuck is this?!" – it's, "What the fuck is this viral marketing for?!"
Which is what makes something as purely eccentric as Jurassic Restaurant a real treat.
The restaurant is located in a strip mall surrounded by strip malls. Its full name, according to the sign, is Jurassic Restaurant Full Line Tin. Which, to me at least, means nothing.
The thing that makes Jurassic Restaurant so bizarre (beyond the fact that it hasn't been sued for copyright infringement in the eight years it's been open) is its arbitrary interpretation of the Jurassic Park theme. It was as though the owners listed what they wanted to achieve with their restaurant's interior, then ran it through Google Translate into Mandarin and back again.
You enter the restaurant through large wooden gates, and there are huge model dinosaurs dotted around. Which, yeah, is very much like the films.
But that's where the similarities end. On display around the joint there are Burger King kids meal Rugrats toys, Chinese lanterns, Halloween decorations, miniature pumpkins, neon beer signs and a stage with an unintelligible word written across it in graffiti writing. (I think it said "LHESNOW"?)
Electing not to use the score of the movie, the music piped in to the eating area was the same five hip-hop tracks played on repeat. Chris Brown complained that "these hos aint loyal" at least 50 times over the course of my meal.
Nothing made sense. It was perfect.
The waitresses were, naturally, dressed in Native American ensembles and accessorised with chokers that spelled out their names, Uggs and a utility belt emblazoned with a pink triangle. (Possibly a reference to the Nazi concentration camp badge issued to homosexuals?)
According to a slideshow that was playing on a large fake iPhone attached to the wall, the waitresses also sometimes dress as sexy Rainbow Brites in flip-flops.
I asked my waitress if they had anything vegan, but she was unfamiliar with the concept.
I don't mean that she didn't know the word. She was genuinely unable to wrap her head around the concept of eating food that contained neither meat nor dairy. As I explained veganism to her, she made a face filled with so much confusion and shock I may as well have just dumped a bucket of ice water over her head.
After what felt like an hour, she seemed to grasp what I was talking about, and assured me the chef would make me something vegan.
When she brought my food out, it was buried beneath a mountain of fried egg. "The chef said that it needs to have either pork or egg for taste," she told me. To be in Los Angeles and find somewhere that not only has no vegan menu items, but had never even encountered veganism before was a truly wonderful experience.
On the second attempt, she brought out something that was, seemingly, vegan:
It was completely fine. More "completely fine" than any other meal I've ever eaten in my life.
If forced to describe what it tasted like, the most accurate adjective I can conjure is "food". A semi-salty, sorta-savoury, perfectly-consumable pile of beige carbs and MSG. I ate four mouthfuls and was full.
But really, who cares what the food tastes like? You don't go to a copyright-violating Taiwanese Jurassic Park restaurant to enjoy good eats. You go to post Facebook pictures of yourself with giant fiberglass dinosaurs and Native American waitresses.
So go, enjoy the last beautiful, unspoiled oasis of weirdness in a major global city. At least until some jerk from a major website comes along and writes a blog post about it and the whole place fills up with assholes.