For those of us Americans too lazy to renew our passports, a cross-country road trip offers a bevy of exceptional sights and adventures. But after you’ve explored all our natural wonders, been to all the big cities, and marveled at all the roadside curiosities, where are the most authentic cultural experiences to be found? Only in the most deeply ordinary of places...
Nowhere is more exceptionally average than Argyle, Ohio, where the hometown heroes are the benched athletes, the runner-ups, the un-notables. Other than playing home to the world’s largest lost and found and the nation’s only combination DMV/trattoria, the local mantra is being “good enough.”
From the minds of comedy writer and actor Bob Odenkirk (Mr. Show, Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad) and comedy writer Nate Odenkirk (The New Yorker, The Onion), Summer in Argyle brings this fictional hamlet to life through immersive audio. In the midst of planning Argyle’s biggest annual event (the Argyle Hotdog-Eating Contest), the show unravels the town’s greatest scandal—how its most revered substitute bowler met his untimely demise.
Bob and Nate—who penned the original 74-page draft of the series—both have personal connections to small towns. The patriarch grew up in Naperville, Illinois (“There’s so much of Naperville in Argyle”), and Nate spent a year at Ohio’s Oberlin College, in a town of 5,000 people.
“That experience got me thinking; the fantasy of a small-town community is kind of a farce. Rather than a harmonious little utopia, it’s really just a group of people living together,” says Nate. “I thought ‘let me make a town where people are banded together, united by their mediocrity.’ In a strange way, that felt like a dose of reality.”
In addition to the fun of working as a father-son team, the Odenkirks were encouraged to make things as weird as possible in this Audible Original. “Something that worked in our favor is that Audible really encouraged us to go off the deep-end comedically,” Bob says. “They told us ‘the farther you go, the better for us.’”
Just be mindful that the Argylians—with their tireless dedication to being the most “mid”—are reluctant to step into the spotlight. Bob tells us, “The town isn’t sure that they love us telling their story, with all the attention they’re getting. But if enough people visit, get the donut [from the town patisserie that serves a single donut a day] or watch the bowling demo [at the one-lane alley], maybe they’ll turn their eyes more favorably to the podcast.”
With that in mind, here are some of the imaginary yet can’t-miss Argylian hot-spots that are, in the quirky local convention, refreshingly lukewarm.
Claim to non-fame: Those horrified over inflation destroying the value of a penny will go nuts for this bargain barn, where you can purchase two-cent quantities of every item known to man—from toothpaste, to peanuts, and any other bric-à-brac you can think of.
Customer testimonial: “You can’t get better deals on miniscule amounts of items than at Johnson’s Two Cent Hut,” attests Nate.
Shocking factoids: According to Nate, the humble emporium has an upscale history. “In the 1800s, when two cents could buy so much more than today, it was actually a vast department store. But since then, it’s shrunk to a hut.” Additionally, the Two Cent Hut offers a generous veteran discount of a 2-cent credit on any purchase. Anyone with the last name “Veteran” is eligible for the deal.
Claim to non-fame: The two-for-one experience of Argyle starts at the combo washateria/exhibition hall. Launder an old sock or sauce-stained shirt as you enjoy a coin-operated animatronic show recounting the settlement of the town by the competent explorer Hutherford Hi-Hanson. Bound west for California, he made it as far as Argyle, proclaiming: “My foot is cramping; Ohio is close enough!”
Customer testimonials: “It’s a laundromat and a historical experience,” says Bob. “The tour is sort of for the locals, but the laundromat is for the tourists,” adds Nate.
Helpful forewarnings: This is the resting place of Argyle’s deepest darkest secret, which you can discover with a quarter. You’ll never have trouble finding an unused washing machine, but there are no dryers on the premises, so plan accordingly.
Claim to non-fame: All but one of the lanes in this full-size establishment have been replaced by bleachers, where spectators can wait their turn and watch other groups bowl.
Customer testimonials: “Anyone can go bowling with their friends. Sitting down and waiting for your turn; that’s what bowling is all about,” says Nate. Bob adds, “This is where you go on a Friday night. Use the vending machines, toilets, cheer, ignore the action, whatever! There will always be seats available.”
Helpful forewarning: Even if you don’t bowl, you’ll still need to rent shoes, per the management.
Claim to non-fame: The town’s fanciest restaurant had the longest lines in town, with only the wait times at the DMV coming anywhere close. It only made sense to combine the two. That way, you could stand in both queues at once.
Customer testimonials: “Don’t miss out on the chef’s special driving test,” urges Nate. “You gotta get the creamy steak suazé—a cut of meat that’s been infused with a creamy béchamel sauce—and the mushroom bisque.” Nate adds, “Yum, yum!”
Helpful forewarning: Try not to fill up on the bread.
Claim to non-fame: Argyle’s only dessert parlor, serving eight ice cream flavors and one donut a day. Not one type of donut; literally a single donut.
Customer testimonial: “The place is kind of a letdown. They open at 4 AM, and the donut is gone within minutes. You won’t get the donut experience unless you’re really committed,” describes Nate.
Shocking factoid: This full-service bakery has more than enough supplies and infrastructure to make unlimited donuts, but their integrity comes first. “They could easily make trays of donuts, but the sign came first,” Bob confirms. “Then they felt that they had to live by the rules of their sign.”
Claim to non-fame: Located in a former World War II hangar, the world’s largest lost and found acts as an observatory of rogue objects. As Nate tells us—“If you’ve lost a wedding ring, pilot goggles, or even some spinach, if you’ve lost anything at some point in your life, chances are it will end up at the Argyle lost and found.”
Customer testimonial: ”What better souvenir is there than something you’ve previously owned?” asks Nate.
Helpful forewarning: Don’t get too comfortable. As Bob tells us, getting lost in the lost and found is all too easy. “Only spend one day there, because people often get lost and have to spend the night. When they shut the doors for the evening, they’re shut for good.”
It’s Argyle or bust! But be wary: you might be so charmed by this unapologetically average community that you decide to stay a while. Congratulate yourself! You made it far enough.
Summer in Argyle is available now on Audible and wherever you get your podcasts.
Illustrations: Maddie Fischer.