Having just showered, I had all my toiletries and some dirty clothes in my hands, but no keys. Figuring the average person at a truck stop drives a vehicle for a living and knows a little bit about care and repair, I returned to the cashier and asked for help. She responded by announcing over the intercom my situation to every patron in the restaurant, shop and showers. Slightly embarrassing but very effective, this method produced my knight in denim overalls. Leaving his warm blueberry pie, the house speciality, Buck answered the distress signal to see what he could do for "that little girl." Within minutes, he was opening my car door with his locksmith tool. At that moment, I honestly considered moving to a truck stop. But that would defeat their purpose. Truck stops are places of convenience and comfort away from home. And since there's no membership or minimum stay required, this is true for anyone, regardless of the size of your rig.
Convenience is the most obvious virtue as the large colorful signs beckon you from the monotonous highway. I only stopped when I could look up and see cheap diesel advertised. I knew all other car supplies from oil to dancing dashboard hula girls would be available, all day, everyday.
What I didn't expect was the comfort. Following my fast-food-fed stomach to the buffet, I found a selection of items to rival my childhood dinner table. I stood in line behind a driver who had just delivered a load of peas from California to Maine. He wouldn't even look at them in the buffet but said they'd be good for me. My body appreciated the large portions of healthy homestyle food and my wallet liked the cheap prices. Designed to feed working men and women who don't have time to stop for three squares a day, the truck stop restaurant doesn't skimp or overcharge.
After chowing down bite for bite with the biggest trucker in the place, I relaxed in the large comfy booth with an endless cup of coffee, the drug of choice for drivers. I decided to call in my status and location. Luckily, many truck stops have installed Trimline phones right there on the wall next to the table. These are handy for dialing up your little darling to ask if floor mats or another magnet would make a good road souvenir.
Both are in great supply with many other treasures at the gift shop. For example, a recent purchase of mine included two state magnets, a canteen, white tube socks, a portable jewelry box, brake fluid and a book on tape. I put each to good use during the trip and returned the audio novel at the next stop. Through a rental system, you can borrow from one store's collection and return your choice to the next stop you visit.
From the shop, I was drawn by shouting and sirens to the arcade and TV room. Everyone was dropping precious toll money to shoot aliens in Area 51 or, unbelievably, pretend to race cars. I couldn't decide between an episode of "Dukes of Hazzard" playing in one corner or the bright lights and loud ringing of an original Donkey Kong console in the other. I sat down to Bo and Luke Duke. My viewing companion didn't wait for questions before telling me of upcoming detours, construction and stops. He even referred me to a family-run winery that provided tastings, tours and overnight parking. I tried to just nod and act like I knew the roads and facilities but was really scribbling notes so I wouldn't forget the advice.
After a long day of driving or sightseeing, I was often ready for a safe and comfortable place to rest. A truck stop has two options. I squeezed my car into an out of the way spot - between two parked eighteen wheelers and was lulled to sleep by their constantly running engines. For safety's sake, I left enough room for them to leave when the sun came up and I was still sleeping. If you just can't get comfortable enough to doze in your tiny Italian sports car or you are traveling sans vehicle, ask about the stop's accommodations. Beds are available to rent for a cat nap or big snooze. It's often bunk style with a few private rooms. Think hostel for truckers.
In the morning, I hit the on-site showers. Plain, white and spotless, the stall was all I needed to be fresh as a scented cardboard pine tree. If you aren't prepared with bath supplies, turn to that well stocked gift shop. Convenience and one stop shopping are goals of the store. If they don't have it, you don't need it.
I even found God at a truck stop. Well, I found Truckers for Jesus, a local group of representatives from several churches who perform Sunday services in an empty part of the parking lot. Their flyer under my windshield wiper welcomed everyone to non-denominational group worship. Under a white canopy tent, preachers spoke in a cadence set by the roar of passing trucks.
All these truck stop options are the right price for budget travelers preferring to save their money for the inside of an art gallery or national park. You want to meet your needs quickly, safely and cheaply. Truck stops want to help you. Consult a road atlas for locations or pull into the first one you see. Ask for a map of their other sites. The real beauty of a truck stop, though is that you know they're out there, always open and ready to serve.