Recently, I read a news article saying that rest areas may soon become obsolete, because states don't have the money to continue funding them. So I began photographing them in imagination of how they may one day be seen by future generations -- as ghosts of our collective past. It is my way of paying tribute to these manmade oases that have become beloved landmarks of my own life.
Over the past year in particular, I have spent a great deal of time in rest areas. I am grateful for them all. They feel like one of the few places left in America that act as Great Equalizers. Everyone -- no matter their race, color, shape, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or financial bracket -- has to stop to pee or stretch their legs on a road trip. As a result, I have had some delightful interactions with a huge cross section of the world at our nation's rest areas. I have met people who live on the road in their beat-up cars, retirees in their monolithic motorhomes heading from one longterm parking spot to another, families from across the globe picnicking and playing together, and lots of people like me, who just need to let themselves and their dogs out for a bit.
I have been just as grateful for an old deserted rest area that provided vending machines for water and potato chips on a long night drive through West Virginia, as I was for the brand new modern rest area yesterday in Louisiana with lush walking trails and modern facilities to rival any boutique hotel. Rest areas help remind me that travel isn't only about movement. It is about stopping and being present to exactly where we are. As I wander through each state's rest areas -- from the folksy Texas oil derricks to the Tara-themed faux mansions of the South to the Madmen-era picnic tables further north, I remind myself to rest right where I am, and to be grateful for wherever that is, whatever the weather (inside or out).
But mostly rest areas remains a sweet link between my childhood road trips and the ongoing journey of intentional homeless on which I now find myself -- their mostly Eisenhower-era architecture a visual reminder of how, when and why I first fell in love with the great expanse of this country that can only be seen and discovered on our highways and back roads.
Already so much of what people now call the Flyover States has been abandoned or boarded up as people have left for urban centers on the coasts. In some states, one day in the not-too-distant future, we may find ourselves zipping past boarded-over rest areas that will come to seem like a relic of our generation. But until that happens, I plan to pay grateful visits to these iconic locales dotting our nation's highways.
Yes, change comes. It is a process of life. But I for one hope that at least few rest areas will remain, so that people from all walks of life can continue to find themselves face to face in humble recognition that we are all here on this planet together . . .on the same journey.