The modern American road trip may take on an individual flavor for each who experiences it, but the general template remains similar to what it always has been. Over-pack, over-pay, underestimate the travel time, and under-dress to look the part of a pure tourist.
Although the template is fairly uniform, you don’t have to go back too far to find that one aspect associated with road trips has begun to vanish. And I’m not just talking about the “which-way-do-you-fold-the-map” argument.
When I was nine years old, my family took a road trip to Florida. Fun trip, good memories, good times.
Fast forward to today–I just returned from a road trip to Florida and while the route seems much the same, one major deviation from the decades-old template is evident.
Nowadays, they’re just so…convenient!
Need a snack? Come on in! You can pump your gas at the same time.
Oh, and there’s a restroom.
In the building.
You don’t have to buy anything to use it, either!
You also most likely don’t have to do what we once had to do when we stopped for gasoline AND a restroom in a small town in the middle of nowhere…ASK FOR THE RESTROOM KEY. A KEY ATTACHED TO A HUBCAP OR OTHER EQUALLY CUMBERSOME AND HEAVY OBJECT.
You see, I remember visiting a lot of rest stops in Mississippi on that long trip to Florida when I was a kid. They were nice. I even remember getting a free soda at one. You’d take a few minutes to stretch and browse through local travel brochures, look around the parking lot at all of the assorted license plates while eating a snack from the family food stash, and get back in the car, buckling up for safety (I always made a big deal about that because they had signs every few miles about their seat belt laws…signs I never saw or noticed in Arkansas…and I was afraid we’d all be pulled over if I, as the sole nine-year-old, forgot to wear a seat belt…but I digress…). AND…the facilities always seemed to be in pretty good shape.
Contrast that with the country gas station–in ANY state–of yesteryear. It was expected that you stopped at a gas station for one thing: gasoline. Restrooms were secondary. Besides having to carry a key attached to a spare tire (the traveler’s hall pass), the restroom was usually on the far side of the building…the sunny side with no air conditioning…sweltering in the summer humidity. If you could manage to get the key to turn, you were usually greeted by a whole family of flies making their escape. Once the smell hit you, it wasn’t difficult to understand why even the flies couldn’t stand it.
If you really needed to go, though, your only choice was to hold your breath and deal with it.
Nowadays, most of the convenience stores have signs imploring you to let an attendant know if the restroom needs attention. (How convenient!)
Some of these old-school gas stations still exist, but they have largely been replaced along the interstates by giant travel centers with their one-stop shopping. Don’t get me wrong–I do miss full-service and the personal interactions. They were what they were…gas stations, and they served their purpose well.
This change to the template, though, is just one of the few changes in the subtle evolution of the modern American road trip.