Saturday, June 23, 2007

Club Rest Stop

As a child I feared the rest stop. It was dark, or, in the day, desolate. Dirty toilets and a lone picnic table. The rest stop seemed a last resort, so to speak, a place for people who had nowhere else to stop. We, well, we always had a place to stop: the end of our journey, be it Vancouver, or Terrace, or Prince George, damn, sometimes Billy’s Puddle. There was no resting and no stopping. Mom and I, we were on a road trip, minus the trip, just a whole lot of road and then the end.

It was the 70’s and my mom was the only single mom I knew. Somehow our road trips connect to this. We were on the fringe and on the road. I was the only 7-year old I knew that belted out Jackson Browne by heart (and the squeaky voice at the end of “Stay” was my all- time favorite belting out moment). I know more songs by The Little River Band than any 30-something should know, or confess to. I’m not really certain now why we were ever on any road trips but there were two unspoken rules. Munchies and barreling through. Pee breaks only. Side of the road. Rest stops were for… well, not us.

So, 25 years later, I now find myself on the road with my little travelers, devastated that my 10-year old gets too car sick for munchies and by the fact that Baby Einstein squeaks from the portable dvd player in the back seat while I bemoan the absence of my mom’s devil-may-care tunes and timetable. The other fact is: my 15-month old needs a rest stop. Walking since he was 7 ½ months, our lil’ Tru is a man of action. Let no car seat stand in his way. Damn the torpedoes. These bowlegs are made for walking. Or something like that. In other words, if you don’t let me out of this car, I will flip my adorable lid. The Bramble rest stop was born. Literally.

Our first road trip en famille was to the Mile High Resort -- bearing no relation to the Mile High Club and, as it was a family reunion of sorts, such a connection would be most inappropriate and just plain weird-- near Logan Lake, in B.C.’s beautiful Interior. Somewhere around the Coquihalla summit, we see our wee one’s head start to spin around and, fearing projectile anything, we lurch into the nearest rest stop.

With trepidation, I unload the kids and survey the grounds. To my surprise, fellow travelers mill around chatting, bustle to the loos, gather around the food vending truck. It is almost festive. Nothing like the perceived rest stops of my childhood. Not dirty. Not desolate. No sagebrush lolling about rusted machines in the sand. No men in trench coats with bare knees. This was no Kalifornia. We make our own runs to the toilet, scrape change together for ice cream and poke at the leftover snow ‘round the picnic tables. Best of all: lil’ Tru stretches and stretches and stretches his legs. We can face the road again.

After the 3-day craziness of our Irish-Scots clan celebration—much alcohol, a little fishing, and endless stories round the fire, all at each other’s expense of course -- we buckle up and head home, but this time we know where we were going first. No mad-hope-through-Hope-you-don’t-get-a-ticket dash to the ferry for us. Nope. We are headed for a rest stop. When we arrive, our chosen stop boasts picnic tables sheltered by rustling birches, a hot/cold vendor, a wood craftsman selling his wares, and most importantly, running room & a clean bathroom. The kids meet a dog and some Japanese tourists while snacking on fresh blueberries and hitting golf balls. It seems, well, kind of like a vacation. Here we rested. As we pull away to make whatever ferry will have us and let us return to our island paradise, I realize this rest stop probably hasn’t changed much in the 25 years I had avoided it, but I have, and I suddenly understand that the rest stop is a magical place of rest and refuge when you need it and just a blue sign on the highway when you don’t. I know it sees its share of desolate moments as it does festive ones and the sign outside the bathroom entrance reminds me of this and of the many empty miles in our country far and wide: Keep this bathroom clean: you may be the next person to use it.

Oh, won’t you staaaaaaay just a little bit longer please please please stay just a little more. Hey hey hey.

(As published in Monday Magazine, August 2006)

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