Where Did The Rest Stops Go?

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My Dad loved and I mean loved to travel and explore the states especially the lower coast-to-coast ones. Every school vacation off we would go. But don’t misunderstand this wasn’t a typical road trip. We moved. There was our 1953 light green Ford sedan, my dad’s 1949 Chevy pickup that pulled a 30 foot trailer with plywood sides and an army green canvas tarp pulled taught over everything we owned. Toward the end of school break we would settle in a house in one of the states from Florida to California.

My mom, sister, and two brothers and I traveled that route for many summers stopping at each attraction along the way and never missing the welcome rest stops in each state. We would read everything about the state’s history and all the attractions offered. My dad was a house painter so jobs were picked up everywhere along the journey. This was not a rich man’s vacation, not even close. But we survived and even had fun because of the roadside rest stops all along the highway. These were places you would finally get to go to the bathroom, run and play and eat your picnic lunch and ice cold cool-aide held in the big metal Coleman cooler. Dad more often than not took a little nap on the cool concrete picnic table bench covering his face with his hat or a newspaper and wake refreshed and ready to roll. My little brother and I would run, play checkers, jacks or anything else we found to entertain ourselves.

There was no worry that someone would rob you or you would get accosted in the restrooms or there would be drug deals in the parking lots. We were all travelers on a journey to different destinations. It was the place to get free water if your vehicle overheated or a helping hand from another traveler if you were broke down. You made friends for an hour or two knowing you would probably never see them again but you remember them in your stories along with the experiences and the sites that you encountered.

Now the rest stops are quietly disappearing. Budget cuts and people’s preference for fast food in place of picnics are causing these wonderful scenic places to fade away. Nowadays it’s about getting there fast as possible. Destination is the only goal. As the highway system expanded the off-ramps take you off the speeding interstate leading you directly to fast food and huge service stations. For years I did not notice that the road side rest stops were almost gone. Much like the phone booth and big blue neighborhood mailbox they just slid out of sight in the name of progress. But I have memories that weave into stories that come alive as I tell them to my grandchildren of the sights and sounds and smells and feel of the places we experienced that no book can match.

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