Disappearing American Landmarks: Roadside Rest Areas
December 11, 2013 1:32 PM   Subscribe

"...Rest stops are vanishing from the landscapes of America. All over the country, rest areas are losing the fight to commercial alternatives: drive-thrus at every exit and mega-sized travel centers offering car washes, wi-fi, grilled paninis and bladder-busting sized fountain drinks. They're on the chopping block for many states, their upkeep giving way with tight highway budgets. Louisiana has closed 24 of its 34 stops, Virginia, 18 of its 42; pretty much every state in the country has reduced its number of rest areas, or at least cut operating hours. And they're not just being closed, they're being demolished. "They're just toilets and tables" you might say. But if you take a closer look, you will see that they are much more. " (Via The Atlantic Cities, which includes an interview with the photographer, Ryann Ford)

The issues of limited budgets and decreasing usage that are leading states to close rest areas has been covered in the news for a few years, with area residents and long-haul truckers voicing their concerns. Some facilities are set to be demolished and replaced with truck-only parking, due to the cost of improving the facilities to meet EPA standards and to work with the recently passed Jason's Law that is intended to improve locations for truckers to stop.
posted by filthy light thief (110 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
In November I drove from Kansas City to Atlanta (by myself) and then Kansas City to Seattle (again, by myself). All of the interesting things to see are on public rest stops, especially in Oregon, Wyoming, and Utah and Washington. Whenever you see a public road sign for "Look out point" for the love of God stop and take a look.
posted by hellojed at 1:38 PM on December 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


Oddly I was driving past the rest area on I-35 near Gainesville, Texas last week and noticed one of the "old school" picnic tables had collapsed. Found it on Google Street. I'm kind of astounded that it's just been left like that for many months. Back in the 1970s or 1980s it probably would have been repaired the very same week.
posted by crapmatic at 1:42 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here in Connecticut, they were privatized a few years ago. Part of the deal was renovating them all, often from the ground up, and the state gets a share of the revenue.

So, they aren't closing them anytime soon.
posted by smackfu at 1:44 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


On my first trip cross country, I was unimpressed by the rest area bathrooms. More than a few had holes crudely hacked through the stall walls at waist level.

I thought, jeez, who wouldn't notice someone peeping at them through that?!
posted by codswallop at 1:47 PM on December 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


Such is life in the Rich Biff Tannen timeline. Get used to it.
posted by TrialByMedia at 1:49 PM on December 11, 2013 [32 favorites]


Whenever you see a public road sign for "Look out point" for the love of God stop and take a look.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! I drove past this little turn-out so many times, and when I finally trekked up the short hike to the view over the valley, and it was impressive (not my photo - I took a panorama, which I haven't posted online).
posted by filthy light thief at 1:51 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


We crisscrossed the country on car trips as kids and stopped in our fair share of the nation's rest stops. For a long time I felt really bad for the people of Ohio because they didn't have any real restaurants, just fast food restaurants. Not sure why I only felt this way about Ohio, as we stopped at similarly equipped rest stops in many other states, too.
posted by troika at 1:53 PM on December 11, 2013


I'm told Iowa's rest stops are nice.

But to use them, you have to spend more time in Iowa.

The main thing killing rest stops is that gas stations have bathrooms now - I can recall when they didn't used to - so, if I'm stopping to take a leak, I might as well tank, too.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:54 PM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


so quite a few years ago the drinking age used to be set by the state. being a resident of illinois me and my buddies would head north to wisconsin to buy beer for ourselves. because we were a bunch of losers and not all of us 18 we'd retire to a nearby rest area on route 12 to consume our beverages and smoke the night away. it was mostly deserted in the middle of rural area and perfect for our impromptu parties.

so one evening as we were drinking our beer (my particular choice that night was lowenbrau dark) and generally being teenage guys when a car driven by an older woman pulls into the lot. it clearly had a flat tire--the rubber was coming off and there might have been some rim damage. i suggest to my partymates that we might want to go over and change her tire, of which they agreed.

so the lot of us headed over to that poor woman's car. she looked up, in the middle of a rural rest area, to find five slightly drunk and stoned highschool hoodlums descending on her car. she freaked and wouldn't get out or even open the window all the way. despite her fear she did let us change her tire, which we did in a few minutes.

to this day i will never forget the look of sheer terror on that woman's face when we approached. alas, the rest area was closed a few years later.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 1:56 PM on December 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


Yet another part of gay culture being replaced by Grindr.
posted by Nelson at 1:57 PM on December 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


The one in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont just past the US/Canada border is so nice. Like, ski lodge nice. There's a roaring fire, rocking chairs, some taxidermy, free wifi, and free Green Mountain coffee. I almost felt guilty taking a pee there.
posted by Kitteh at 2:00 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I thought, jeez, who wouldn't notice someone peeping at them through that?!

I can't tell if this is naievete or next-level satire
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:02 PM on December 11, 2013 [13 favorites]


When I drove from Houston to visit family in Oklahoma at the beginning of November, I came across the Navarro County rest stops not quite all the way to Dallas, and was just blown away. Texas takes their rest stops SERIOUSLY.

"2 sets of Men's and Women's Restrooms, Interpretive Displays, Air-conditioned lobby and restrooms, Picnic Tables, Family/Assisted Restroom, Playground, Handicap Access, Storm Shelter"

Apparently it was rebuilt in 2011 and has NICE facilities, free wifi, desks for using laptops, etc. Quite a difference from some concrete picnic tables and a porta-potty.
posted by mrbill at 2:19 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


> There's a roaring fire, rocking chairs, some taxidermy, free wifi, and free Green Mountain coffee

Taxidermy! (That's a different Vermont rest stop, I admit. But it has the fire, too.) Attack slugs! Giant arborvitae! We take a lot of road trips in the summer, and stop at pretty much every rest stop and scenic overlook we pass. A trip that takes someone else three hours will probably take us most of the day, as we pull over for hikes and photos and views.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:20 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think back fondly on my drives home to Renton, Wash., from school in McMinnville, Ore. On I-5, there would be "safety breaks" at the rest stops, hosted by the Ladies' Auxiliary or something similar. They'd have coffee in styrofoam cups, cookies, donuts, and they sometimes didn't even have the temerity to charge you. Just put a little money in the can, please. I drove the diesel Rabbit flat out to get home as fast as I could, and if I made any stops, it would be at one of these. I haven't been back for several years, so I don't know if this type of thing still occurs.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 2:22 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


It does, computech_apolloniajames. You're supposed to donate, though -- it's a way for nonprofits to raise money.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:25 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hell, some of the rest stops in Arizona only have like half a roof, so you're doing your business in a stall under the open sky as god intended. As a man, I naturally enjoyed the opportunity to mark my territory in the primal but comfortable sense indoor plumbing indicates. The wife was far more perturbed to find herself with nothing but daylight overhead as she went about her business and even moreso when I started laughing.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:28 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Great! Just to get it out there that I always put money in the can. I may have been a student, but I always anted up for the ladies.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 2:30 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can't tell if this is naievete or next-level satire

Or perhaps an entry in the next installment of The Phillipe Times.
posted by indubitable at 2:36 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


A couple months ago we stopped to walk the dogs at one of the many so-so rest areas on Florida's I-75 and a nice elderly couple had laid out a huge lunch spread on a concrete picnic table. "That's old-fashioned," I thought. "We use rest areas but we don't actually picnic at them anymore like we did when I was a kid."

Then I noticed Pops was drinking a Smirnoff Ice, with a second standing by.

So many questions. Is he driving? Does he know they're not sodas?

(She was driving.)
posted by easement1 at 2:37 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gas stations may have bathrooms, but they don't generally like you sleeping in their parking lot. Truck stops are a flaming disaster for a car trying to get some rest, all flashing headlights and idling diesels, and the hope that some truck on his last thread doesn't just run over you.

At a certain point of fatigue the brain can no longer effectively keep eyes pointed in the right direction for long enough to drive, and the mind can no longer process the information coming from the eyes. So I've spent many an hour trying to get my head straight enough to drive on to a hotel, and a few inhospitable nights stayed until I was sure I could sleep no further.
posted by wotsac at 2:37 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Interesting to hear the stories of unfortunate restroom conditions in rest stops.

My experience on an open-ended months-long road trip a few years ago was the opposite: public rest stops seemed *vastly* more likely to be clean and well-maintained than gas station or fast-food restrooms.

Gas stations may have bathrooms, but they don't generally like you sleeping in their parking lot.

Yep.
posted by weston at 2:42 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I will always be grateful for rest stops.
posted by headnsouth at 2:45 PM on December 11, 2013


Because I always like to discuss it, I must note that there's only one flushing rest stop in the UP of Michigan. By the bridge, of course.
posted by mr. digits at 3:01 PM on December 11, 2013


What a wonderful week! I get to once again state my undying love and fascination with Iowa's incredible rest stops.

Seriously folks.

Iowa.

It has rest stops.

Beautiful rest stops.


If you ever need a good vacation to rest up, I-80 through Iowa is your place.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:03 PM on December 11, 2013 [21 favorites]


Oregon has lovely rest stops. Lots of bathroom stalls for women and nice pet area's.

Northern CA (HWY 101) rest stops scare me and I never stop at them. They always seem to have people who have run out of gas in the middle of no where. They panhandle for gas money but it always leaves me thinking, "how are they gonna get gas even with the money?". I just hold it till I get home.
posted by cairnoflore at 3:03 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pogo_Fuzzybutt I'm told Iowa's rest stops are nice.

I learned that from Metatalk:

I mean look at the rest stops.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:06 PM on December 3


Edit: Hi Lutoslawski!
posted by mlis at 3:04 PM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Years ago I was shocked, after a lifetime of very normal family trips using every potential rest area to save money by eating pre-packed home lunches and so on (many during an annual trip to the grands in Florida), that on a trip to Detroit marked by copious state-maintained rest areas, a friend of mine would only stop at a McDonald's halfway through and make a stealth facilities-only visit.

I'll be honest. I couldn't do it. I only went after I bought a two-cheeseburger meal.
posted by dhartung at 3:06 PM on December 11, 2013


My favorite rest area is on 93 in New Hampshire. In addition to the usual facilities, it includes a State Liquor Store. No kidding. Don't drink and drive, folks.
posted by Daily Alice at 3:08 PM on December 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


When they built Rte3 north of Rte 128 in MA, they made rest stops about every 2 miles all the way to NH (not that far, so there were maybe 5 on one side and 3 on the other side of the divided highway). These were just paved parking areas with no facilities at all. They were apparently popular with gay men wishing to express their affection for strangers. That activity was decidedly not popular with straight people who needed to visit the woods or nap, or who happened to live next to one of the rest areas. All of those rest areas are gone now, not just torn up and reseeded, but made inaccessible. I think they deleted the rest areas on Rte2, also.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:09 PM on December 11, 2013


New Hampshire State Liquor Store & Safety Rest Stop

hahahahahahaha wat
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:11 PM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


On an old state road not far from here there is a sign that says "ROADSIDE TABLE AHEAD" and sure enough, about a quarter mile on is a large concrete picnic table on a little pull-off area. I think there's a garbage can, too. I could swear I used to see those all over the place on road trips we took when I was a kid, but I hadn't seen one for years. And I'd completely forgotten about them until I drove past that one. Then I got all nostalgic for Little Hug juice, Carl Buddig cold-cut sandwiches and Fritos.

Tonight, if you're good, we'll find a motel with a pool. Now got back to your YES/NO book.
posted by jquinby at 3:14 PM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


weston: "public rest stops seemed *vastly* more likely to be clean and well-maintained than gas station or fast-food restrooms"

Gawd, yes. I've been to forty-three states, often on iron-butt drives. Party in New Hampshire this weekend? I'll be there! I live in St. Louis, Missouri - that's a 22 hour drive.

Consequently, I've spent a lot of time in rest stops. One of my techniques for making it across Kansas at night is to stop at every rest stop and pee, splash water on my face, and do 20 pushups. Luckily, Kansas is serious about its rest stops. Missouri, not so much - most of them have been closed by our idiot legislature.
posted by notsnot at 3:15 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Roadside tables and their ilk are in many out of the way places. But that isn't a freeway culture thing.
posted by wotsac at 3:15 PM on December 11, 2013


Oh and my favorite rest stop memory: stopping at a pit-toilet facility somewhere in the Badlands and noticing the WARNING: RATTLESNAKE HAZARD signs.
posted by jquinby at 3:16 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maybe I spent too long in Northern CA too because when someone says "rest stop" I hear "meth stop". As noted above its like stopping off briefly in a zombie movie. You couldn't pay me enough to sleep there alone. Or go into the bathrooms.
posted by fshgrl at 3:19 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't care how nice the rest stops are in Iowa, the state is a scenic black hole, and last I checked they enforced the speed limit more assiduously than their neighbors. One of the reasons I moved away from the Midwest is to reduce the chance that I will ever have to drive across Iowa again.

Also, Iowa is the gateway to Nebraska. I don't want to talk about Nebraska.
posted by wotsac at 3:23 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Virginia actually closed down all their rest stops entirely to save money a few years ago, and then had to find a face-saving way to open them up after the outrage. So now they're all sponsored by GEICO, which I have absolutely no problem with. The sponsor signs are small, and the rest areas are well kept up now. There are a few they didn't open again, but typically those were within an hour of another rest area. Heck, on 81 - they reopened some are only an hour (or less!) apart.

I love rest areas. Some states take the opportunity to add cool things to see, historical information, advantage of cool geographical features, warn you about snakes (I'm looking at you South Dakota) on little hiking trails, or inadvertantly set up jokes random drivers will make two years later (SC's extolling of hiking on a sign at a rest area gave a random gentleman from Florida and me a huge laugh during the "hiking the Appalachian Trail in Argentina" kerfluffle") . Some just give me things to complain about. But they're safe places to stop and stretch or change drivers or refill my water bottle (the terribleness of the water on tap in every Tennessee rest area inspired me to carry a jug of water for the purpose) or use the facilities without having to buy something (I can't just use a business for my uh, business, without patronizing the business.).
posted by julen at 3:23 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seriously folks.

Iowa.


I want that second rest stop to be my house!
posted by kiltedtaco at 3:28 PM on December 11, 2013


Lord, I don't want to live in Grover Norquist's America... The playgrounds are so depressing.
posted by gern at 3:30 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Seriously folks.

Iowa.


My personal favorite is the wind turbine themed rest stop.
posted by TrialByMedia at 3:35 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


In Maine a bunch of the rest stops have been closed but there isn't anything to replace them. I just want to pee.
posted by bile and syntax at 3:43 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah, vending machine food, "coffee," and disgusting bathrooms.

I always found the "attractions" at rest stops depressing. The North Carolina Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, for example. Seriously? We built this in a place that people mostly associate with being murdered and peeing? It's just another example of why the postwar American landscape is horrific.
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:56 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is one of the tragic tasteless realities that is new America. I just returned from a long trip to my Southern stomping grounds, and I will be god-fucking-damned if I ever attempt to use a toilet in a fast food hole for anchor dropping purposes, because the private sector does not do piss-splatter-free toilets without wads of shit-encrusted toilet paper clumped in stratospheric piles like rising underwater volcanoes creating new landmasses. When you entrust toilet cleaning to a line cook, you do not get toilet cleaning of quality or conviction.

Of course, the public ones aren't as good as, say, the ones I used to maintain with great pride in my most recent line of work, but they're serviceable and worthy for basic use, and, if I have to confront my great fear of the insistent public void, I know exactly which rest stops between Vermont and low country Georgia are the very most comfortable places in which to do so.

I also make careful note when I find unexpectedly lovely new ones, like when I was riding my motorcycle to synthesizer band camp in upstate New York last fall and found a fancy visitor center at the Delaware Water Gap complete with wonderful fixtures and a green roof with lounge areas.

On my recent trip, my luck held, and aside from an unexpected dust-up over color theory in a restroom, I was never stuck driving in that tense clench that constitutes the automotive pee-pee dance or the cold clammy panic of being on the agonizing verge of crapping one's pants. I did find, to my dismay, that while the key that I inexplicably hold to the restroom of an abandoned South Carolina Welcome Center at the edge of a swamp still works, the water has now been cut off and my once magical private bathroom in a palatial ruin on a deserted road is now closed to me forevermore. I am a lesser man, now.

I do not want this Randian nightmare being foisted on me. Not one bit.
posted by sonascope at 4:00 PM on December 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


are there any cruisy ones left??
posted by halekon at 4:09 PM on December 11, 2013


Mrs. OHSnap and I cross Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin a couple times a year to visit the in-laws. Wisconsin recently rebuilt a bunch of theirs on 39/90/94 from glorified pit-toilet outhouses to wondrous oases of calm and light.

None can beat the rest stops on the Ohio Turnpike though. I know you're paying for it in tolls, but man, those are nice rest stops.
posted by OHSnap at 4:16 PM on December 11, 2013


I did find, to my dismay, that while the key that I inexplicably hold to the restroom of an abandoned South Carolina Welcome Center at the edge of a swamp still works...

I wonder if other keys are out there. Some day you'll try that lock and find that the door opens into a busy Moroccan bazaar or windblown steppe.
posted by jquinby at 4:16 PM on December 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm surprised not to see this point made. There is a very simple way to make rest stops a money-maker rather than a drag on the states' economies: offer fast-food, coffee, etc. franchisees the opportunity to open stores there. It is done all across Canada, and it works.
posted by yclipse at 4:32 PM on December 11, 2013


I am not interested in seeing more Starbucks, Cinnabons, etc., on my next roadtrip.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:36 PM on December 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


If Louisiana is closing rest stops, it surely isn't in the face of obsolescence due to "Travel Centers" with wifi and panini presses.

Growing up, we used to keep track of the highway exits where there were no facilities despite the existence of a town a stone's throw from the road. Tickfaw is the one that comes to mind first -- it's right in the "I have to pee" sweet spot between our house and my Mississippi grandparents. I think the only gas station in town doesn't have a restroom, or at least it didn't circa a decade ago.

We also used to thrill at the posh rest areas in fancy rich states like Texas and Florida.
posted by Sara C. at 4:36 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't care how nice the rest stops are in Iowa, the state is a scenic black hole...

Is there a "Most inaccurate and ridiculous comment of the month" category in those December MetaFilter award thingies? Because that must be a frontrunner. Anyway, if you can't spot what's painfully obviously in front of you, then carry right on to another state...
posted by Wordshore at 4:39 PM on December 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


All of the interesting things to see are on public rest stops, especially in Oregon, Wyoming, and Utah and Washington.

The westbound rest stop on I-80 has the best view of the salt flats. You can see bright white, cracked salt. And the facilities are decent, too.

The state park is dirty, all full of tire tracks, and is crowded with people camping in trailers.

It is done all across Canada, and it works.

The Tim Hortons & Wendy's, where there is no line at Wendy's.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:40 PM on December 11, 2013


My experience on an open-ended months-long road trip a few years ago was the opposite: public rest stops seemed *vastly* more likely to be clean and well-maintained than gas station or fast-food restrooms.

That's been my experience as well. There was one super sketchy rest stop on I-5 either in Southern Oregon or Northern California that stands out in my memory -- the toilets were clean but the people weren't, and most of them seemed like they had taken up residence there, Living Dead-style.

And there were some dirty bathrooms in those for-profit "rest areas" off of the toll roads east of Illinois that were no fun to use, even for someone who can pee standing. Those places sometimes used to have the weirdest off-brand fast food places that you'd never heard of, too.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:44 PM on December 11, 2013


Rest stops are needed, but they are totally gross. It is a love hate thing I guess.
posted by johnjohn3 at 4:48 PM on December 11, 2013


I still do not understand why there are no rest stops along I-5 in California between Los Angeles and San Francisco. This is a rich people state, for chrissakes! Don't let Oregon and Washington show you up, California!
posted by Sara C. at 4:53 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I never stop at the travel plazas with every fast food franchise known to man unless it's an emergency (i.e. call o' nature, unwillingness to pay to get off the road and pay to get back on and not having eaten in 10 hours) because they don't feel like real rest areas to me. I'd rather get off the highway and find a little gem in a nearby town than eat the exact same reheated packaged meal I could get at home. That said, I always stop at Tamarack in West Virginia because the Greenbrier totally runs that little restaurant in the craft center and yum.

When I started doing long road trips in the past year, I was delighted to see how many rest areas had decent wifi, touristy information, giant heads of Abraham Lincoln (or spikes or tiny chapels filled with bees or radios playing old-timey local music or fabulous sculptures or placards that tell you about the area - history, geography, flora, fauna - you are driving through), grills, tables, playgrounds, dog runs, recycling bins, fabulous views of what many might consider odd and unusual landscapes, interesting landscaping ... and how many were clean and well maintained.

Of course I'm also someone who totally judges states by the quality of their rest areas/stops, so my perspective might be skewed.
posted by julen at 4:54 PM on December 11, 2013


Idaho has a rest stop smack in the middle of the Craters of The Moon. Iowa please.
posted by Brocktoon at 5:05 PM on December 11, 2013


I still do not understand why there are no rest stops along I-5 in California between Los Angeles and San Francisco. This is a rich people state, for chrissakes! Don't let Oregon and Washington show you up, California!

Because all right thinking people stop at Anderson's of course!!

More importantly- the other truck stop on I5 further south by the grapevine? where do the people who work there live??
posted by fshgrl at 5:06 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I still do not understand why there are no rest stops along I-5 in California between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Caltrans says there are five.
posted by RichardP at 5:09 PM on December 11, 2013


There was one super sketchy rest stop on I-5 either in Southern Oregon or Northern California that stands out in my memory

In Southern Oregon, the best rest stop late at night is the one sponsored by Seven Feathers Casino. I mean, it's clearly set up to direct you to the casino, and you always feel like you're going off the track, but it's clean, well-lit, loads of parking, and there seems to always be a security guard present.

Just don't get it confused with the "travel center" at the same exit.
posted by madajb at 5:14 PM on December 11, 2013


Rest stops have fascinated me since I learned of their existence as an adult. We didn't have any when I was a kid; I grew up in Colorado, and our most frequent trips were to Utah and sometimes Wyoming and New Mexico. There aren't any rest stops in these states at all, as far as I know. I always thought of rest stops as a midwestern thing, although recently I've discovered that they exist in places like California and Oregon as well.
posted by koeselitz at 5:14 PM on December 11, 2013


Also, Iowa is the gateway to Nebraska. I don't want to talk about Nebraska.

Well, see. Nebraska ain't bad. It's basically a tunnel with the promise of beautiful mountains and scenic vistas on one end....

And that island of terrible, Iowa, on the other.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:16 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


More importantly- the other truck stop on I5 further south by the grapevine? where do the people who work there live??

In the Ikea, where else?
posted by madajb at 5:20 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nebraska is like Kansas if Kansas was actually really cool. Lincoln is a neat town, and there's fun to be had in Omaha.
posted by koeselitz at 5:25 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would rather use a rest-stop than a gas station bathroom.

In 2003, I was traveling down to Florida by car with my family, and we had to stop in Macon, GA thanks to nature calling me especially loudly. We pulled into a Texaco gas station, and I charged out of the car to use the restroom only to find...

shit-smeared walls
flies everywhere
a cracked toilet seat
one-ply toilet paper
and

NO SOAP.

Topper? There was no lock on the inside-- I had to have my sister barricade the door just so that I could go.

I would rather take a Missouri rest stop over THAT.
posted by lineofsight at 5:26 PM on December 11, 2013


I'm surprised not to see this point made. There is a very simple way to make rest stops a money-maker rather than a drag on the states' economies: offer fast-food, coffee, etc. franchisees the opportunity to open stores there. It is done all across Canada, and it works.

They already do that in the Northeast Corridor. It's just that much of the midwest (and some of the South) is so desolate that even a Starbucks would be a losing bet.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:26 PM on December 11, 2013


I don't care how nice the rest stops are in Iowa, the state is a scenic black hole

I get so sick of everyone bagging on my home all the time. This is what my Iowa hometown looks like. This is where my family has had all its big summertime cookouts for the last 70+ years. It is one of the most beautiful city parks I have ever seen. It's on a cliff over the Mississippi and is filled with tons of WPA-built Prairie School architecture.
posted by TrialByMedia at 6:00 PM on December 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


One vague memory from my childhood is going to an elevated rest stop somewhere in the Midwest. A quick googling shows that Illinois has seven such, and one of those might be what I remember. I think I remember going to a McDonalds above the freeway. Haven't seen any others like it since.
posted by msbrauer at 6:07 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hear, hear. There's a fair number of Prairie School houses in Mason City, too. Not a thing wrong with Iowa.
posted by jquinby at 6:11 PM on December 11, 2013


free Green Mountain coffee

Wow, I vaguely remember back in the late 1990s that the rest stop on I-35 in southern Oklahoma (I think south of Pauls Valley) actually signposted free coffee on the exit sign. That got taken down sometime in the early 2000s. Such a shame, as it seems like having more alert drivers on the road would be a good thing.
posted by crapmatic at 6:47 PM on December 11, 2013


I get so sick of everyone bagging on my home all the time.

For the record, I like Iowa. Nice people, pretty towns.

But the roads across it are boring as hell, even with your cool rest stops.
Even US-20, which is a pleasant, rural, two-lane road in most of the rest of the country has been turned into a boring, straight-line, divided highway in Iowa.

In short, visit Iowa, it's pleasant.
Just don't drive across it.
posted by madajb at 6:50 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have been curious about non-American rest stops ever since I took a road trip in South Korea and encountered the rest area potato/pongjjak cabal. Every single rest stop had a guy selling disco pongjjak cassette tapes out of a van and a heap of potato deliciousness.

Are there rest stops in Russia? In Argentina? (Am just thinking of large nations) Other countries must have something similar, no? Are they also run by potato & music moguls?
posted by spamandkimchi at 6:52 PM on December 11, 2013


In short, visit Iowa, it's pleasant.
Just don't drive across it.


Your best bet is following The Great River Road from Dubuque to the Minnesota border.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:06 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


So your picture to prove Iowa is awesome is a bunch of nothing? Sorta proving the point here. (I kid, I kid).

Rest stops have fascinated me since I learned of their existence as an adult. We didn't have any when I was a kid; I grew up in Colorado, and our most frequent trips were to Utah and sometimes Wyoming and New Mexico.

Oh, there are some. They're interesting. One I stopped at was literally a portajohn resting precariously on the side of a mountain. Felt like you were pooping on the whole damn world. One I recall was a tiny little gas station on someone's land that was also the post office/obviously the only part of anything resembling a "town" that existed in that part of the country.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:24 PM on December 11, 2013


Somebody mentioned Rte. 2 in Mass. There's still at least one classic wood-paneled Ye Olde New Englande rest stop westbound in Leominster, where you can get free apples (because, hey, Leominster's main claim to fame, besides not being Fitchburg, is as the birthplace of Johnny Appleseed).
posted by adamg at 7:25 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Your best bet is following The Great River Road from Dubuque to the Minnesota border.

This is correct. The most interesting features of Iowa are within 10 miles of the border. It's all downhill after that. well, uphill. You gain in elevation as you bear west

If you want a scenic drive on your escape from Iowa, I recommend the Trans Wisconsin Adventure Trail. (GPX)

I didn't name it, but I have driven it. It's fun - helped some Amish kid herd his cows back through a broken fence. Fell asleep listening to loons cry. Nearly got stuck crossing a wash out on the Goodnuf Hollow Road. I highly recommend it.

If you dream of bigger adventures - the Trans America Trail is for you.

If you need a bigger challenge - the Shadow of the Rockies trail is incomplete. You could be the one to finish it....
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:29 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


sigh. It's not quite literally the case that I've stopped at every one of those rest stops in the Southwest, but several of them and others of their cousins. I hadn't thought about Monahans Sandhills State Park in years. Stopped there driving a rental truck on a cross-country move from Arizona to Virginia in order to stretch my legs and give the philodendron some sunlight. One becomes very grateful for the existence of a small corner of the universe that is at peace just off a highway of constant noise and motion.
posted by Creosote at 7:43 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


The State Liquor Store at the rest stops in New Hampshire are there so that folks from Massachusetts can sneak over the state line, stock up on cheap booze (taxes in New Hampshire are much lower than in Massachusetts) and then turn right around and go home. Since it's state run, New Hampshire keeps all the profit. They make serious bank on those things.

See also: fireworks (which are illegal to possess both in New Hampshire and in all adjacent states, but legal to sell and buy in New Hampshire as long as you take them out of the state within 24 hours. Wrap your head around that one.) and big packs of New Hampshire State Troopers sitting in speed traps on the northbound side of Route 3 coming up out of Boston, right on the state line.
posted by Scientist at 8:03 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, whenever I'm on a long road trip and I take a break in a rest stop, I make sure to take note of the bathroom fixtures. I have seen perhaps a dozen different species of urinal, hand dryer, etc at state rest stops that I've never encountered before or since.
posted by Scientist at 8:05 PM on December 11, 2013


I honestly don't see the logic in some of this. How much money can it possibly take to "maintain" a concrete picnic table and steel awning? And yet, to "save money," my state will spend money to go out and physically remove rest stops to the point of even pulling up all the pavement. I make regular road trips and my favorite rest area suffered this fate. It's now nothing but a blocked off highway exit with a little stub of pavement at the former entrance and exit. I've also been out of the middle of nowhere in the west where a state will go through the trouble of putting up wire fencing to make sure nobody can use the picnic table at the closed rest stop. This capitalist utopia kinda sucks sometimes.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:07 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, not getting the Iowa hate here. One of the few places that I might, miiight, consider living in the Midwest is Iowa City. Western Iowa gets a little boring from the highway, but it's not unpleasant. Certainly on the positive side of a line that on the other side includes such Midwestern hellholes as the environs of Gary, IN, Garden City, KS, and most of Illinois outside of Chicago. At least Iowa is a great state to actually drive in - not too much traffic, decent drivers.
posted by eviemath at 8:08 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Iowa's rest stops are amazing. This one is a few miles from where I grew up. And don't knock Iowa's scenery, just because you have never strayed from an interstate. There are plenty of lovely views to be had and even the occasional pocket of special nature time. I now live in AK with it's nonstop scenery but I still find Iowa very charming.
posted by Foam Pants at 8:13 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I'm on the road I look for the major truck stops - Flying J, TA and Love's. They're extremely dependable in terms of facilities and quality. Taking chances on little rest stops leads to disappointment for the most part. Source: touring musician.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:43 PM on December 11, 2013


I'm pretty sure the "Iowa hate" posts are jokes relating to a recent argument on, I think, the grey. If you don't like them, I recommend flagging them. I have done, for a couple of them.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 9:48 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


The other thing about the New Hampshire State Line Liquor Store is that Massachusetts periodically has plainclothes police take down Massachusetts license plate numbers in the parking lot, so when they cross the Mass border with more than one gallon of liquor in the car, the police waiting just over the border can give them a ticket.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 9:49 PM on December 11, 2013


The other thing about the New Hampshire State Line Liquor Store is that Massachusetts periodically has plainclothes police take down Massachusetts license plate numbers in the parking lot, so when they cross the Mass border with more than one gallon of liquor in the car, the police waiting just over the border can give them a ticket.

What happens if you have stashed the liquor in your trunk and refrain from consenting to searches?
posted by Juffo-Wup at 9:50 PM on December 11, 2013


Since it's state run, New Hampshire keeps all the profit. They make serious bank on those things.

People may not remember back in the hippie days when the drinking age was actually 18 in NH and 21 in MA but I certainly do.

I love the fancy Vermont rest areas because they have good wifi and good coffee. There is even one in my town but it is not one of the fancier ones (anyone driving by Exit four on Route 89, please look me up) and they keep trying to replace it with some public/private monstrosity but it never gets past the planning commission.

I've driven back and forth across the country dozens of times and slept in rest areas in probably as many states as there are that allow them, in cars and vans and VW buses and RVs. They're a nice place to use a clean bathroom, have a picnic, stretch your legs, see some terrific stuff, check a map, charge your phone. My favorite one may have been the one with this dazzling restroom in Texas. It's one of the things that gives you a real vibe about the differences in state politics, the way they treat their rest stops.

I am also here to give shoutouts to both Iowa and Kansas.
posted by jessamyn at 9:59 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I still do not understand why there are no rest stops along I-5 in California between Los Angeles and San Francisco. This is a rich people state, for chrissakes! Don't let Oregon and Washington show you up, California!

I just want to know why the "Welcome Center" on I-8 is in San Diego? I mean seriously, who's entering California from the west. Meanwhile I'm listening to the World War Z audiobook and driving across the Imperial Valley, I need a break and a free road map.

Second place WTF goes to the I-40 welcome center in Amarillo, TX but at least you can actually approach it from two different directions. So it kind of makes sense as a cost saving measure.

On the plus side, on I-10E in New Mexico, at the rest area outside Las Cruces is this wonderful sculpture. More rest areas need genuinely interesting sculpture you can walk your dog around.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:23 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Huh. My experience is a whole hell of a lot more I-95 than any other interstate system, and found that rest stops evolve gradually as one travels farther north along that corridor. SC, NC and VA were barely modern bathrooms and a couple of vending machines and were closed at sunset. MD, PA and DE were at least fully indoors, open all night, and had hot food (and now are being renovated one by one are are getting kinda swank.) By MA through RI, they're like freakin' shopping malls in comparison.
posted by desuetude at 10:55 PM on December 11, 2013


msbrauer: were you thinking of the Lake Forest Oasis?
posted by professor plum with a rope at 3:23 AM on December 12, 2013


Most of Illinois outside Chicago is fantastic. Ask Eyebrows; she'll tell you.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 3:26 AM on December 12, 2013


Never driven across the US, but rest stops in Australia follow the same model in the original post photos, a modest toilet with parking and a couple of tables nearby in the most scenic spot.
We don't seem to be closing them down, but they are often taken under the wing of service clubs like Lions or Rotary who put a bit of effort in to beautify them.
Local rural government maintains the basic infrastructure and empties the garbage cans and cleans the toilets.
In the last decade there has been the emergence of "Stop, Revive, Survive" stops where a local rest stop will be taken over by local volunteers, often from the aforementioned service groups, to give out free coffee to encourage drivers doing long trips to take a refreshment/alertness break. These aren't an every day thing, just holiday weekends or other prime vacation driving times.
I think the government pays to coordinate the "Stop Revive, Survive" program centrally, with sponsors like nescafe supplying goods in kind, and the volunteers usually collecting an optional donation for their local cause.
It's a real win-win for all concerned, and only in this thread have I recognised what a tremendous piece of government/citizenry cooperation it is.
posted by bystander at 3:53 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The best way to get across Iowa is to ride your bike across.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:36 AM on December 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


LastOfHisKind: I honestly don't see the logic in some of this. How much money can it possibly take to "maintain" a concrete picnic table and steel awning? And yet, to "save money," my state will spend money to go out and physically remove rest stops to the point of even pulling up all the pavement.

I can't speak to the exact discussions, but I'm guessing they go something like this: maintenance of facilities costs [x] per year, and maintenance is required as dilapidated facilities are a liability of up to [y] per year. If any facilities feature more than shade structures and tables, add in the annual cost for electricity, water and wastewater and the costs to keep such amenities functioning.

Compare all that to the one-time cost of removing the whole damned thing, at [z] per facility.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:07 AM on December 12, 2013


I would posit a simple rule regarding the cleanliness of toilet facilities anywhere in the US, and possibly in the rest of the world:

• If there is no custodial staff employed solely for the purpose of keeping the fixtures and facilities clean, the bathroom will eventually arrive at a state of unchanging filth sufficient to induce post traumatic stress disorder.

This is because most people involved in multiple pursuits in a workplace (a) are, like most people, completely ignorant of the basic concepts of how to actually clean things and spaces and keep things and spaces clean, and (b) firmly believe themselves to be above such vulgar pursuits as cleaning and excretory functions and show their disdain by loudly doing the most half-assed job imaginable.


Note: This rule inexplicably (or explicably, if you're familiar with the facility) does not apply to the large public (by privately-owned) restrooms at South of the Border that are situated close to the main neon sign and the round novelty leather emporium, which are staffed 24 hours a day and yet are so thoroughly vile that each stall should be required to post a suicide hotline number for the benefit of any sensitive and hapless traveler forced into the nightmarish task of attempting to empty his or her bowels in one of those muck-spattered vortices of gehenna.
posted by sonascope at 7:12 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah paying people to do jobs is expensive especially if they have to drive forever to get there. I had a neighbor who was the maintenance guy at the Veterans Memorial and Rest Stop that is a few towns south of here (nicer than it sounds) and it was actually a decently paying job. So you have to keep the place clean, heated, lit, decently safe, plowed if you are in a winter place, leak free, have to keep the trash emptied, the vandalism down, the wifi working, the vending machines unviolated, the vermin out, etc. They have had a few here that have closed and not only are they closed they have noisemakers that go off randomly to try to deter people and animals from moving into them. Most of the ones around New England have a person who staffs them who is different from the maintenance people. And they're public which means that, like the library or other public facilities, there is public liability if things happen (slip on ice, attacked by squirrels) so there is a sort of warrant of habitability.

I remember driving on the Great Ocean Road from Adelaide to Melbourne and being amazed at how different the rest stops were, just conceptualized totally differently (as bystander said) as far as what was available to drivers and it sort of highlighted how different car culture is in the US from Australia.
posted by jessamyn at 7:19 AM on December 12, 2013


jquinby: Oh and my favorite rest stop memory: stopping at a pit-toilet facility somewhere in the Badlands and noticing the WARNING: RATTLESNAKE HAZARD signs.

I recently saw this similar sign, not at a pit toilet facility, but a pretty decent set-up along I-25. I have been told that a number of the facilities in New Mexico are run by contracted entities, so the level of care and the amenities vary from site to site. For example, this is the only place I've seen the option to note that you did or did not "find this rest area satisfactory to fulfill your needs".

If you'd like to see and know more about rest areas in the US, Rest Area History.org might be what you want (linked previously in a disappearing rest area post). It's not as in-depth as I thought it might be, and the formatting is pleasantly archaic, which adds to its over-all charm.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:25 AM on December 12, 2013


I've had this idea for a cross country road-trip that I think could potentially be a lot of fun: drive from coast to coast, using the still-in-beta Google Navigation system on my phone, but tell it that I'm walking, so that it routes me like a pedestrian. I'm pretty sure the trip would take me weeks to finish, and that I would see both really really beautiful places and really really desolate ones. About the only thing that gives me pause is the certainty that most of that hypothetical pedestrian-by-car route will lack rest stops.
posted by Ipsifendus at 8:53 AM on December 12, 2013


Hah. I remember when I lived in Virginia and they closed most of the rest stops down. I too felt very much like, how much could they take to maintain, really? Then I moved to NC and realized that Virginia actually does something with their rest stops. Here in North Carolina you are lucky to get a dusty soda machine that dispenses the wrong bottle, and a toilet that hasn't seen cleaner in ever.

My favorite travel stop has got to be the one on the Maryland/Delaware/kind of PA/kind of NJ border. Like a little city!
posted by chainsofreedom at 9:05 AM on December 12, 2013


When I was a kid, my family would drive from Dallas, Texas to visit my grandparents in Des Moines, Iowa pretty much every Christmas. A big highlight was crossing the state line into Oklahoma (or, as my brother and I saw it, "The North") and stopping at a rest stop to play in the first snow we'd seen all year: usually just a light dusting but sometimes it was enough to make snowballs and maybe a foot-tall snowman.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 11:21 AM on December 12, 2013


Speaking of welcome centers, I have to give love to the one on I-65 in northern Alabama, which has a Saturn 1B rocket.
posted by Gelatin at 11:21 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


computech_apolloniajames: "Great! Just to get it out there that I always put money in the can. I may have been a student, but I always anted up for the ladies."

You're supposed to donate in the tip jar. If you throw it in the can...
posted by IAmBroom at 12:49 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


A lot of the rest areas in PA, NJ, DE and Canada are run by HMS Host. They also do airport concessions.
posted by interplanetjanet at 12:50 PM on December 12, 2013


Wordshore: "I don't care how nice the rest stops are in Iowa, the state is a scenic black hole...

Is there a "Most inaccurate and ridiculous comment of the month" category in those December MetaFilter award thingies? Because that must be a frontrunner. Anyway, if you can't spot what's painfully obviously in front of you, then carry right on to another state...
"

It is remotely possible that wotsac is tired of looking at corn fields. Improbable, perhaps, but I just thought I'd throw that out there.


koeselitz: "Lincoln is a neat town, and there's fun to be had in Omaha."

Until 10pm on Sundays, when all public venues are shut down by blue laws, because: Jezus! - or has Nebraska finally done away with those?

Seriously: if your locale dictates BY LAW when I am allowed to buy a hamburger, you are not living in this century.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:56 PM on December 12, 2013


There are a lot of places in the US with blue laws, roughly half of the US states. Nebraska is not among them. In the state that you live, car dealerships are closed on Sundays. Not quite a hamburger, but still....
posted by jessamyn at 1:03 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most inaccurate and ridiculous comment of the month

I humbly accept my nomination. But this being an internet message board, I do suspect that there are other, far more worthy candidates.
posted by wotsac at 8:38 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


jessamyn: "There are a lot of places in the US with blue laws, roughly half of the US states. Nebraska is not among them. "

Maybe so, but I said "locale", not state. When I was last in Omaha, not a single restaurant was open after 10 on a Sunday. Not a Wendy's. Not a McDonald's.

Maybe no one in the entire city gets hungry after dark on Sundays. I dunno.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:27 PM on December 13, 2013


Maybe so, but I said "locale", not state. When I was last in Omaha, not a single restaurant was open after 10 on a Sunday. Not a Wendy's. Not a McDonald's.

It was a few years ago but the last time I was there my friend took me to an all night place. Article reviewing Omaha's 24 hour options, for example. Maybe it was the neighborhood you were in?
posted by Dip Flash at 4:03 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nah, I asked all around - hotel clerk, gas station attendant, etc.

That 24-hour option probably didn't exist when I was last there. It was a few years ago. Glad to know it's gotten more civilized.

Now, if someone can just solve that pesky problem of not being able to buy a car after 10pm on Sundays in Pennsylvania...
posted by IAmBroom at 9:44 AM on December 15, 2013


I've driven across the country nine times over the years and my favorite rest stop is still the one that's close to me on the I-5 between Los Angeles and San Diego. Great view and incredibly convenient bathroom.
posted by quartzcity at 10:14 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


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