• Benji Sills


Updated: Feb 26, 2020

Back in September, when it was still comfortable enough to travel by rental bike, we spent a mad evening pedaling around Pittsburgh and trying to see it all during our short stay. Of course, this was also long before we had any plans for a travel blog on the horizon and thus we wasted no time on quality photography, even when we visited one of Instagram’s most photographed locations: Randyland.

We parked our bikes nearby and wandered over, tapping our GPS to recalibrate, convinced we were being lead astray. This part of Pittsburgh seems far removed from any commercial tourist appeal. The buildings are squat and residential. The streets are dark and empty, save a few clusters of locals on stoops. Yet, after only a couple blocks of wandering, we turned the corner and found ourselves facing a fabulously eccentric corner building. Even in the darkness, we could see the building was radiating waves of color around the sides and into a fenced backyard. An appropriately cheery figure stood frozen in cardboard cutout, welcoming us to Randyland. This, we assumed, was Randy.

We weren’t sure if the welcome was going to be extended much further however. The security lights kept coming on and it was after dark, long after the supposed closing time for the exhibit. We also had no real sense of what this place was: an art museum? An interactive experience? A storage unit? Were reservations needed? We were on the verge of heading off when we noticed a second gate around the side. Flung wide, it seemed like this entrance to Randyland was very much open.

After a quick debate on whether or not we were trespassing, we decided it seemed welcoming enough and wandered in. Immediately we were overwhelmed by the sheer array of stuff. It was like a yard sale put into a centrifuge - items of all sorts were backed up against walls and fences, clambering for space high above us. The clutter was bright and joyful and included many interactive spaces. A large area of Randyland was filled with sand, atop which were buckets brimming with a perplexing array of toys. Paige and I emptied out a bucket of plastic animals and began to stage a photo with them. I wrapped a rubber snake around my neck and Paige pretended to kiss a large, hairy rat. She got carried away and accidentally planted her lips squarely on it’s snarling fangs, at which point she slowly lowered it back into the sand and backed away in shame.

Behind the sand pit is a welcome wall hung along the fence. It’s packed with over a hundred jolly signs, each greeting you in a different language. Apparently if you don’t see your language there, let Randy know and he’ll paint a new sign to add for you. Our perusal of the signs was cut short however by an ugly, blaring toot from the front gate. At first we thought perhaps a rogue cruise ship was pulling into Randyland, but when we looked up we saw an embarrassed couple holding a rusty trumpet. We bantered briefly with them about their musical prowess. They laughed heartily and then put the trumpet back on the ground. Before you judge Paige for kissing a toy rat, let us always remember the couple that had to shake soil off the mouthpiece before deciding to play an abandoned trumpet.

As we made our way out, we also noticed the gift shop. In a shocking show of blind trust, the store is left open and entirely unmanned. It operates on an honor system, with prices listed and a deposit box stationed out front. This is one among many of the constant reminders that Randy’s work has been so important in shaping a culture of love and acceptance in this little corner of Pittsburgh. Randyland is filled with too many other gems to recount - every corner is piled high with vibrant delights worth investigating. Make sure to stop by and explore! Just please don’t take a turn on the trumpet.

Randyland can be found at 1501 Arch St, Pittsburgh, PA 15212. Supposedly it is open daily from 10AM-6PM, but those hours seem to be more guidelines than rules.

Admission is free.

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