Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rest Areas

Chesapeake House Travel Plaza, 6/26/09 (Photo by Rob "Don't Call Me Ansel" Adams)
I've been seeing some news from the road world about Connecticut improving their highway rest areas.  I have to admit that there's a part of me that wonders: why?

The Greenwich Time has an article from Neil Vigdor about the construction to be done on the Merritt Parkways' stops.  Those rest areas have a few gas pumps and a small convenience store.  Once completed, the renovations will add more pumps, a Dunkin Donuts, and a Subway.

But again, why?

I mean - I know why.  Dollar signs, etc.  But I wonder about the modern-day rest area/service area.  It was only about a year or two ago that Virginia was shutting down some of their rest areas (and I don't mean the kind with stores and restaurants).  Yet in Delaware, they have opened a large, brand-new, state of the art one (I haven't checked that one out yet).

No doubt service areas in Connecticut leave a lot to be desired.  Many years ago (I'm talking back in the 60's and 70's), the stops on I-95 (Connecticut Turnpike) were slices of heaven that included Howard Johnson's (waaahoo!), with gas pumps and free maps!  Then they were all replaced with McDonald's and other fanciful food by the end of the 1980's.  Many service areas (not just in Connecticut) have become stale brand-name stops.

To me, they became dispensable when the Connecticut Turnpike removed their tolls. Therefore, stopping at the exit to find more options and cheaper prices was more acceptable, as opposed to paying a toll to get off the highway.

I think they make more sense on the New Jersey Turnpike, New York State Thruway, Pennsylvania Turnpike, Mass Pike and so on. Those prey on ones laziness - not having to deal with the tolls, so they lock you into stopping, paying higher rates for food and fuel, and giving you a restroom. Some also have other conveniences as well. All good, I guess.

Let me just add though that somne of these stops can also be, er, unattractive and sketchy.  The Bedford rest area on I-684 here in New York gives me the chills.  I stopped there twice and that was enough.  Understand though that places like that are generally not staffed all the time.

Also, to be clear, this is not to say that I don't stop at service areas and rest areas.  The Cheasapeake House on Interstate 95 in Maryland (where I took the picture above) has been a frequent stop for my family since the it opened in 1975.  To this day, I use it as a stopping point (if I haven't already stopped by then).  It's right around the 3:30 mark in any drive on my way to Baltimore, Washington, Richmond and points south.  It, and others, gives me a chance to stretch, use the facilities and, in the case of Chesapeake House, load up on maps and such (at least until Maryland closed the tourist info center in 2010, according to this Wikipedia page).  That being said, I generally don't buy anything there.  I'm smart enough to know that services are a few miles away (although not all service areas are that close to "civilization").

The larger service areas are a money-making operation, and it's all good, I suppose, and no harm.

I guess I just found myself wondering if they're really worth it in this day and age of the GPS, SmartPhones and so on.

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