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Essay: Rest Areas

When I was a kid, our family vacations were often road trips to scenic destinations.  And since this was the 1950s, there were no clean, friendly “rest areas.” provided by the highway department.  Instead, when we needed a bathroom, we had to depend on random gas stations along our route.

These were not the bright, friendly convenience stores of today but just a couple of gas pumps and a little office where they might sell cigarettes, candy and cold pop.  Around the back was the bathroom, often grimy and foul-smelling.

My dad and brother didn’t seem to mind this so much, but my mother and I struggled to maintain our dignity and good humor.  Finally, we developed a simple rating system—and we each took turns going in first so we could warn the second person.

Our guidelines were simple:  don’t sit, don’t look, don’t breathe, don’t use.  Sometimes we had to make dad drive another fifty miles and hope for a better option.

It became a kind of game to select the worst bathroom between home and Niagara Falls or the Wisconsin Dells or Mackinaw City.  And even if we couldn’t breathe, we could laugh.

And years later, we were still laughing.  Strange, the memories that endure, the experiences that bind us together—for better, for worse, forever.