The thing people don’t realize is that you can’t just see “the world’s biggest ball of twine.” Because there are a lot of them. There’s the widest ball of twine. The largest plastic ball of twine. The heaviest ball of twine. The biggest ball of twine spun by a town. Et cetera.
While traveling the country I decide to see the world’s largest ball of twine spun by one man, which also happens to be the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota, and the inspiration for the Weird Al song by the same name.
The town of Darwin is about as bustling as you might expect for the sort of town that would advertise possession of a large ball of twine. There’s a sign on the main road pointing over to where the ball of twine sits, enshrined in its own personal glass gazebo. I park my car on the opposite side of the street and walk over to take a picture. The glass reflects the sky and it’s hard to get a good shot. It’s hard to see the thing at all, and I end up pressing my face against the walls just to get a good look.
Surrounding me and the mighty ball are several items that ensure the spot I’m standing in will appear quaint to anyone who passes through. There’s a small yellow house that has been converted into a souvenir shop. There’s a pair of railroad crossing signs, adorably removed from their natural habitat and masquerading as yard art. There’s a large, painted mailbox which holds the guest book, and a sign to indicate whether or not the “Pictorial Museum” is open. Only one side of the sign believes the shop to be open though, the other side is quite convinced that it is not. There’s an American flag in the yard, and the whole scene stands in the shadow of the Darwin water tower. It is one of the most American things I’ve seen my whole trip.
I pull at the knob of the museum and gift shop to confirm that the more pessimistic side of Shrodieger’s Sign was correct. I’m about to leave when I see a 30-year-old man pull up in his car and start walking towards the magnificent ball and its mighty fortress. I assume he must be a fellow traveler, and I stick around in hopes of watching someone admire the ball that I have come to know so well.
The man takes a casual gander at the twine, but his face is filled more with satisfaction than awe. He asks me if I’d like him to take my picture in front of the ball, but I decline. The reflections will ruin it, I tell him. He asks where I’m from, and I say Seattle. I ask where he’s from, and he says Darwin. He’s a local. He stands there for a minute, then walks up to the museum to confirm that it’s closed. He stands and stares at the ball, saying nothing.
I get back in my car and start to ready my things for the next leg of my trip. I see the man get back in his car and drive away. He wasn’t there for the ball, he was there for me. I honestly believe he just wanted to make sure no tourist went through town without getting every big-ball-of-twine-photo she desired. The town of Darwin really wants to be liked.
Back before I left on my trip, I was recounting to my friend Joe how many people had given me flack for not driving through Austin, Texas. “No!” he exclaimed. “You’re not on the ‘Austin’ tour of America. You’re on the Oregon Vortex / Big Ball of Twine Tour.”
Yes, I am. This is exactly what I came here to see.