Literally, before our eyes, 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. For the past 53 years, rest stops have given us rest, relief, hospitality and nostalgia. They have been an oasis of green to walk your dog, have a picnic, study the map. For some, what was seen and read at rest stops could be all that was known of a region’s historical, archeological, geological, or cultural significance. Many people these days only know of rest stops as a blur from the car window. Many don’t know the historical significance of these quirky little roadside relics.
I aim to systematically document these places before they are gone forever. Fast-food restaurants have homogenized the nation’s highways to the point where every place looks like every other place. They are more than just a place providing service to the public, they represent uniqueness in a world headed toward commercialization. Rest areas connect travelers to local places in a way that fast food restaurants, gas stations and truck stops cannot. Interchange business, while also important to highway motorists, has become a homogenous collection of uniform structures that one encounters without significant variation in almost every part of the country. While rest areas were originally designed to provide only the basic amenities of parking, bathroom, and picnic table, developers soon found within them the opportunity to reconnect people with the places they were traveling though, to add some humanity back to interstate travel. We can all relate to rest stops and what they represent as social and architectural icons of Americana. To me though, they are disappearing waysides of memories, anticipation and mystery of what the next one down the road will look like, and lastly they are a relevant benchmark in an era of bygone leisure travel. This project is an ongoing road trip of discovery and appreciation for what these rest stops represent. My need to systematically document them before they are gone forever was the sole purpose of my project. I want to show how each rest stop is different and what it may have to offer, whether it is historical significance, charm, local color, or unique architecture. I hope to capture their spirit and give viewers an enlightened outlook towards these wonderful gems.