Saturday, October 06, 2007

Evolution of the Rest Stop

Today's post has nothing to do with any of my usual topics, but I'm in a group of bloggers and we were challenged to just blog about something we saw yesterday, so...

We drove down to Philadelphia yesterday on the PA Turnpike. We, of course stopped at one of the rest stops on the way there and it started me thinking.

When I was a little girl, for a few years, we lived in Columbus, OH while my father was in the Air Force. I vaguely remember a number of trips back and forth to visit family here in Central PA. One of the high points of the trip was driving through the long tunnels that were blasted through the mountains. Each family member in the car was told to make an animal noise so that the whole time we were inside the mountain, we were either crowing, mooing, barking, neighing or making some other bizarre animal noise. We must have sounded like the Brementown musicians! I'm not sure why this was done, probably to relieve the tension, because as an adult the tunnels creep me out!

The other thing that relieved the monotony of the drive was stopping at one of the rest stops along the highway. At that time, Howard Johnson's had the contract for the entire PA Turnpike. Their orange roofs and neon signs were such a cheerful sight, promising excitement to a 4 year old girl!

I don't remember much about the food, but I do remember that one time when we visited the bathrooms, there was something very different about the seats. Apparently the latest in modern hygiene was electronically cleaned seats. When the toilets were flushed, the seats raised up into a recess in the wall where they were disinfected by a vibrant blue light. I only remember that on one trip, but it definitely made a big impression.

Ho-Jo's ruled the PA Turnpike for a long time and we always knew exactly what to expoect, but as years passed, the rest stops changed. Suddenly we had choices! Sometimes there would be a MacDonald's or a Roy Rogers - it was quite exciting.

In the past 20 years or so, bit by bit, all the rest stops have been totally revamped. Each one is different, so you never know for sure what is available at each one. I imagine the American traveler expects more choices now than they did in the early days of the turnpike.

When we stopped yesterday, I was hopping to pick up a few soft pretzels, but then we noticed a Starbucks around the corner, so we also got some Danish to munch on along the way.

One rest stop on the way home offers a S'barros (Stuffed Pizza!), a Roy Rogers, a Cinnabon, a Starbucks and a new buffet style sandwich and salad place that just replaced the old Nathan's.

A couple of years ago, Tina and I drove out towards Chicago twice in one summer - this involved a lot of highways - and rest stops. I must say we enjoy them and were quite impressed by the various offerings in different states. But by the second return trip home, they had lost some of their charm!

Yup, they've come a long way, and I suppose the 4 year olds now are a lot more jaded than I was, but I bet they are every bit as happy as I was to get out of that car and check out the excitement of the rest stop.

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