“This is now an established part of American travel,” Dowling said.
How established? Enough so that if you happen to be traveling on the same day as someone you know, you might run into him or her at a rest area. In our years on the road, my family has encountered my grandfather and aunt, our next-door neighbor and my mom’s college roommate’s husband at various locations. You have to love the serendipity of that.
Just as comforting, though, is having a favorite place to stop, an old friend you can always count on. Maryland House 2.0, you have a lot to live up to.
Forget those ordinary, utilitarian rest areas from the 1960s and ’70s. Today’s new crop of stops aims for way more razzle-dazzle. Some highlights:
• The railroad-themed Donley County safety rest area on U.S. Route 287 in Texas, built in 2003, looks like something out of an old-time Western movie.
• At an information center opened in 2009 on Interstate 90 in northeastern Wyoming, visitors can don life vests and stand in front of a picture that makes it look like they’re on a river raft.
• The new Chesapeake House on I-95 in Maryland, scheduled to open in September 2014, will include an outdoor water feature for travelers to sit around.
• Since 1999, the Iowa Department of Transportation has partnered with local artists in its rest area replacement project. The themed facilities incorporate artwork inside and outside the buildings.
• The Conway welcome center on I-44 in Missouri opened in 2009 with a Route 66 theme. Picnic shelters resemble vintage storefronts, such as a barbershop and a diner.
• In 2009, Dominion Virginia Power installed an electric-vehicle charging station at a rest area on I-64 in New Kent.
• The Delaware Welcome Center Travel Plaza, which opened on I-95 in 2010, has an open, airy appearance that makes it look more like a mall food court than a rest area.
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