Life in the Vast Lane

Proposing a rest-stop revolution

Maybe it's already started, but not here


What’s your favorite rest stop on Interstate 5?

Let me guess; you probably don’t have one.

In fact, unless you’re a long-haul trucker or commuter, you will never have a good reason––other than the obvious one (or two)––to actually stop at a rest stop.

In America, it’s all about getting there. The faster, the better. No points for failure. No points for stops.

Even those who dare to confront our goal-oriented society by recommending we “slow down,” “be in the ‘now,’” or simply “enjoy the process,” well, their sage advice is typically aimed at those on yoga mats or in Sufi circles, not on a cold seat in a public restroom just shy of exit 114.

But tension, stress and posture problems plague drivers on the road today more than ever. We grind on, bear down, and race, race, race. Seen as the cost of doing business for most commuters, little is done on the road to address sore backs, weary eyes, numb limbs and the accumulation of frayed nerves from staying alert in bad weather with or without combatting traffic.

Instead, these ailments are usually ignored until they manifest as serious problems––ironically––inhibiting our mobility. Thanks to a health care system that rewards bad behavior, these problems now fall into the hands, literally, of chiropractors, family physicians, massage therapists and the like.

Why not simply get out of the car and stretch more often?

Oh, I forgot. There’s no convenient public place to do this, except, at about 40 miles apart, one of those dreary rest stops.

Not as sad as a sani-can  

Unfortunately, rest stops, like libraries and post offices, exist to serve the public good. Being such a “bottom line” public good––forgive the pun––rest stops are typically built to be minimally functional and uniformly bland, not unlike Soviet housing in the 1950s.

If your destination is Disney World, it is highly unlikely your kids will be squealing for joy when their full bladders are rewarded with this repetitive, boring blueprint of a stop: trucks to the left; cars to the right; kiosk with big state map in the middle; newspaper bins full of self-serving, useless real estate publications disguised as travel guides; designated lawn for dogs; designated place to smoke; one designated urinal low enough for boys to reach; women’s bathroom designated by humanoid with a dress.       

Let’s face it, out here Muzak and heat are luxury items. So is toilet paper thicker than a moth’s wing.

And why must it be obtained from a Jarlsberg-sized cheese wheel, where for every inch it turns, your sheet is shortly torn. 

And the coffee? If it wasn’t being served by volunteers busking a very worthy cause, you would hardly consider it drinkable. Alas, it is late and rainy and something hot is better than nothing at all, so you take your styrofoam solution, fitting a dollar in the slitted lid of the Folgers can.

Two words: food court

Can we revive today’s interstate rest stop?

Certainly, and the first step is to stop regarding rest stops as bathroom breaks only.

Install covered pavilions with picnic tables and campground-style iron cooking grills (some stops already have variations on this theme).

How about a covered yoga and stretching pavilion? Press a button and audio speakers activate your choice of 5-, 15-, or 25-minute “releasing routines.”

Provide soft grass and shade trees for napping, necking and meditation.

Instead of useless fake travel tabloids, what about a city-by-city specific “Health & Travel Tips” booklet that delivers step-by-step illustrated exercise routines for both in and outside your automobile, and is supplemented by specific, not-on-the-web dining and lodging discounts at restaurants and motels in the next city down the road? If such a booklet actually delivered with integrity and intent, it would be soon seen as worth picking up. Now add word games, kids’ puzzles, a coloring page and horrendous, pun-filled riddles with which kids might torment their parents.

Instead of one lonely coffee-and-cookies station, how about a lively circle of canopies serving nonprofit food? You don’t think the smell of a hot taco, grilled sausage or kettle corn is going to go unnoticed by thousands of hungry, bored travelers passing by? Allow musicians to join the fray, playing for smiles and tips in hats. Encourage spontaneous dancing.

The biggest change of all would come by simply adding two words to every interstate direction sign: “Rest Stop, Food Court Next Right.”

Unnaturally driven

Though it is a private, not public, enterprise, a great example of out-of-the-box rest stop amenities is found at the Tioga Mobil Gas Mart and Whoa Nellie Deli, located between Mono Lake and the east entrance to Yosemite National Park.

The once little “gas station” is internationally famous now for its delicious gourmet food (including sushi) and live outdoor entertainment––yes, with dancing––in the evenings. An entire culture has sprung up here and is being repeated in other forward-thinking locations.

Try something different and your reward is pleasant results.

To sum up, I am not naive enough to believe we will roll out a rest stop revolution anytime soon.

What I hope to introduce, however, is the idea that we need a more “rest receptive” culture to help combat road rage, accidents, fatigue, stress and posture-related ailments due to the unnatural way we are both physically and culturally driven.

Mark Woytowich is a writer, photographer, video producer and author of "Where Waterfalls and Wild Things Are." He travels to support his addiction to adventure. Reach him at his website, or by email at  


5 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • Deskandchairs

    Unless such places you dream of are staffed around the clock, like your model Tioga Mobil, to keep the riff raff moving along, these rest stops will become dumps, like our cities. Government will never be able to fund such staffing. Only private enterprise, as your example proves, can achieve the necessary safety and quality.

    By the way, have you ever been to the first rest stop in California, just south of Oregon? That is my favorite.

    Wednesday, January 19 Report this

  • TX_Mojo

    My favorite rest stop is at Exit 16 - Ilani Casino

    Thursday, January 20 Report this

  • JulesJames

    Pennsylvania Turnpike rest stations -- gas, food court, local trinkets -- are currently better than ours. Of course, its at the cost of state-sanctioned monopoly. But when the various local volunteer groups are out serving bad coffee in styro cups as fundraisers, ours are the best in all the land! Organized through these volunteer fundraising systems, I could see shoulder massages, kickball games and dog obedience classes. Maybe even formal political debates with stove-top felt hats!

    Thursday, January 20 Report this

  • CharlesDavid

    The Randolph E. Collier rest area just south of the Orgon / California border along the Klamath River is a great rest area especially if you have a dog that needs exercise. Integrating electric vehicle charging, gas stations, food courts would make them more useful. If there was public transportation to and from them you could build tenements for the homeless and give them jobs cleaning the place and working the retail outlets. Two birds one stone.

    Thursday, January 20 Report this

  • clintrobbins54

    These are great ideas, and this column is very well-written. The comments about the column so far are excellent, too. But (and maybe you knew a "but" was coming), I can hear the private-enterprise, roadside restaurants and other businesses complaining. Loudly. How many customers will THEY lose?! And the fuel/convenience stores not far from the highways? Think of the rest stop cited just before you get to Federal Way, WA (when you're northbound on I-5). If they can get all the rest-stop stuff highlighted and suggested in this column, why should the medium-distance or long-distance-traveler even exit I-5 for the wonderful city of Federal Way? The mall? Yeah, right. Good luck fending off their very legitimate observations against the very good ideas that are advanced in this column here. (The column's dang-good point of making our highways safer is very well-taken, and maybe THAT makes my observations irrelevant.)

    Sunday, January 23 Report this