Some travelers find truck-stop culture so foreign that upon entering, they reach for their passports.
I, on the other hand, grew up regarding a nearby truck stop as a highlight of my week. Neither of my pastor-parents felt like feeding five children after Sunday morning services, so — during that pre-McDonald’s era — they took us there for lunch.
We older siblings sat at the counter on fabulous red stools that twirled if our parents weren’t watching.
Seated nearby with toddlers, Mom and Dad occasionally missed a few tricks. However, misbehavior resulted in banishment to the station wagon, so we children didn’t try many.
We also would forfeit exploring a tabletop jukebox. We hoped other diners would spend their nickels and play our favorites. Occasionally, we approached the big jukebox, awestruck as it plopped, played and removed 45 rpm records as if by magic.
Truck stops have changed. Iowa 80, touted as the largest in the world, includes not only stores and eight restaurants, but a laundromat, library, business center and movie theater. Individual showers and a “dogomat,” where Fido also can get a bath, are available too. The kicker: Iowa 80 also boasts its own chiropractor and dentist.
If my childhood truck stop had featured a dentist, I might have stayed in the station wagon.
I also might have clung to the back seat if my parents had visited South of the Border in, of all places, South Carolina. Not that I wouldn’t have celebrated yummy Mexican food, piñatas, and other Hispanic delights. However, that truck stop also features a lagoon full of snakes, alligators and crocodiles. After riding with five kids hundreds of miles, Mom and Dad might have found the urge to unload us a little too tempting.
I gladly would have unbuckled to visit one truck stop in West Virginia, featuring art exhibits and theater. I’d gladly go there now. A plate-sized tenderloin sandwich and Shakespeare? Doesn’t get any better than that.
For some truck stop enthusiasts, abundant merchandise trumps even tenderloins. Where else can you find leopard-skin Bible covers or pink Harley-Davidson, metal-studded dog collars? Enough crossbows and knives to fight off an orc army from The Lord of the Rings should it invade the truck stop?
No other establishment boasts plaques with an animated, skeletal Big Mouth Billy Bass belting “Bad to the Bone.”
Even the most ardent devotees, however, admit many truck stop stores feature items they’d rather not explain to children and grandchildren.
Days ago, I reached for lip balm, only to discover it was labeled “Free-range Chicken Poop,” touted as Grandpa’s intensely organic cure for chapped lips.
At truck stops like that, I reach for my passport.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite find at a truck stop?