Thursday, August 25, 2011

the best places to sleep in your car

i've often thought that if i were to write books instead of these pithy little essays, one of them would have to be about traveling.  i've done a fair amount of traveling, not near as much as i would like to, but i've enjoyed almost every trip. i've cruised through the caribbean, the baltic sea, and i've wandered through europe. 

but i would have to say my favorite mode of traveling is driving.  i've driven all across north america and have burned through at least four cars in doing so.  as readers know by now, i lived in maine most of my adult life, but my family was, and is, in arkansas, mississippi, and virginia.  so i did a lot of traveling up and down the eastern seaboard and across the south.  and for a short time i lived out west, making the trek from los angeles to arkansas and maine, across mountains and deserts, city and countrysides. why didn't i fly all these places? well for a few years in my late 20's i developed a fear of flying.  inexplicable, as i had been flying all my life and never had a problem before.  but there it was.  i still flew but for about 3 years i only flew when absolutely necessary.

so i drove everywhere, but i really didn't mind because even from a young age, i loved driving.  when i was 14, my parents and i took a trip to bar harbor, maine from arkansas and my father, being of neither sound mind or good judgment (just kidding, dad), let me drive a large part of the way there.  i enjoyed being in control of the wheel, deciding which lane to be in, where we were going to stop, what to listen to on the radio.

another reason i liked driving as opposed to flying is that it was usually cheaper.  i am, at heart, a cheapskate.  i like things, i just hate paying for them.  so when i would travel, i would frequently just drive all through the day and night until i got to my destination.  however, even the most driven (pardon the pun) of us have to stop and sleep every once in a while.  and that's where one of america's greatest achievements come into play, the rest stop.  frequently, travel means you must stop and rest and there's nothing quite as cheap as sleeping in your car.  and rest stops are reasonably safe and best of all, free.  i've tried stopping in hotels and motels, but really when i just want four or five hours sleep, i feel silly paying 50-100 bucks for a flimsy mattress, a thin towel and even thinner walls.

i discovered, that if you plan it right, you can find a rest area in most states to sleep in for a bit, or if you so choose and are careful, you can even live in them if you don't frequent the same rest stop each night (more on that in another post).

so, my dear readers, i give you a few of favorite rest areas in the united states:

1.  oceanside, ca -- without a doubt, this is my favorite rest area.  not because it is the cleanest or has the best restrooms or vending machines; it isn't any of those things.  but what it does have is the most magnificent view.  if you can get a spot on the southern part of the rest area, you can wake up to an ocean view and in the still hours of the night, you can roll your windows down and listen to the surf bashing the shore.  in the morning, you can get back on i-5 and head south to san diego or north to los angeles.  the bathrooms are serviceable and there are plenty of cops through there so it feels safe.

2.  virgina/tennessee border -- another beautiful part of the country, and both sides have very nice rest stops. interestingly enough both towns on the border are bristol, just split between the two states i believe.  if i had to choose, i would say the virgina stop is probably just a notch above the tennessee one, but i might be biased because i think virginia is a lovely state, the drive up i-81 is one of the prettiest i've even traversed.  plus my oldest brother lives in charolottesville, va and i've always enjoyed visiting there (btw, the answer is yes, i stay with him rather than a rest stop when i'm visiting him).  this one has clean restrooms, a beautiful view, and if you are there during business hours, you can go in and cool off, read about virginia's history, and pick up any amount of info about the surrounding area.  be warned though, the cops don't like you staying more than two hours and it's posted you aren't supposed to stay overnight.  but don't let that stop you.  if they chase you and want to sleep more, just cross the interstate and head into tennessee where the cops are different and at the very least, you've got yourself two more hours of sleep.
some of you might be wondering why i don't stay in truck stops.  well, i've tried that, but they are usually very noisy and have too much light and people moving around.  if you are nervous about rest areas (as the mare commented to me via text as i write this), then try one, but for me i prefer the smaller, darker confines of rest stops.

3.  connecticut, near exit 3 on i-95 south -- this one is absolutely lousy for sleeping in.  i've done it, but i was constantly awakened, and there as many lights there as at a truck stop.  but it makes the list because it is just so much fun.  it's like being at penn station or grand central terminal, large and full of people from all over the country and because it is so close to nyc, it is full of life and is a great place to people watch.  there's also a place there to get your car serviced if you need it, get gas and change your oil, fix your tire.  one day i was there for a while because of a wreck on the interstate.  i counted thirty urinals and 16 stalls in the men's rooms.  it's a toilet extravaganza! there's plenty of food, a concession area to buy magazines, munchies, lottery tickets, tee shirts, pens, gum, smokes, drinks, and areas to sit outside if you are so inclined. it's a lot like the jersey turnpike rest stops, which are also great because they will pump your gas (nj law) for you.  i once played in an impromptu poker game with some travelers at the grover cleveland new jersey turnpike rest area because we were all too tired to drive but it was too noisy to sleep.  by the end of the game i was rested, but also down 30 bucks.

4.  somewhere in the west, arizona or new mexico -- i'm sorry i don't have any more information on this one, but it really doesn't matter, because it wasn't so much the beauty or facilities of the rest area, but simply the fact that i was able to stop and sleep.  the sleep can only be described as... delicious. i am an insomniac, i struggle with sleep so much that most nights it is a battle to get my mind to shut off and if i get 5 hours sleep, i'm doing great.  but rest areas are unique for me, they are like camping in a way, you are in an enclosed area, snug and secure in your car or truck.  i like being out in the open and on the road where almost no one knows where or who you are.  you are part of this great interstate web of roads and freeways and byways but you are also alone.

i love them because i (mostly) only stop at them when i am dead tired.  this one stands out to me because i remember being so tired that almost as soon as i put the car in park, my mind shut down, my eyes closed and i fell into the most delicious, dead sleep.  it was about 2am when i pulled in and i didn't wake up for four hours.  those four hours were some of the most relaxing sleep i'd had in years. truth be told, this can be said about just any rest stop i've been to, i pull in and i just relax. it's so nice to know you are off the road and you can rest. 

i could go on and on about this, but it's getting late.  think i'll grab the intrepid boxer maggie and head out to the car for a well deserved sleep. :-)

what are some of your favorite rest areas?

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