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'Passing Gas'

<i>Passing Gas</i> by Gary Gladstone (Ten Speed Press, 2003).
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<i>Passing Gas</i> by Gary Gladstone (Ten Speed Press, 2003).

Gary Gladstone has been to Mars, Purgatory and Hell, and he has the photographs to prove it. In a new book entitled Passing Gas: And Other Towns Along the American Highway, the award-winning photographer offers photos of more than 75 small towns across the United States with unusual names. NPR's Scott Simon spoke with Gladstone about his quirky quest to capture the people and places of small-town America.

The idea for the book, Gladstone says, came when he was speeding over a hill in New York state and saw a sign for the town of Surprise. Moments later, he spotted a state trooper by the side of the road, and the coincidence struck him as amusing.

"This started me thinking about town names," he says. "Do people really live in Panic [Pennsylvania] or Nuttsville [Virginia]?"

That incident, coupled with a desire to escape from the drudgery of corporate photography, sent Gladstone on a five-year journey across 40 states and more than 38,000 miles. Among the many amusing place names he encountered: Tightwad, Mo., Good Grief, Idaho, Rough and Ready, Pa., Sweetlips, Tenn., and of course, Gas, Kan. Still, Gladstone says the most interesting part of his journey lay not in the names of the towns he passed but in the people who inhabited them.

"I just met the sweetest people," Gladstone says. "I have fond memories of almost everybody, and I can still smell the grass in some of their front yards."

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