My twenty-five favorite rest stop walks

Palm_Springs_rest_stop_3918B[1]I spend a lot of time at rest stops. Those blue road signs promise relief and a break from driving. It’s really nice when they add “Next rest xx miles” so I can plan ahead. Can I hold it? Yes. No. Maybe. Can I stay awake that long? I hope so. But will the rest stop be open? On my recent trip to Tucson, half the rest stops in Arizona and California were closed. Come on road guys. Don’t promise relief and not deliver, especially when there’s no visible reason why it’s closed. I can’t tell you how many times I have scanned the roadside thinking maybe I’ll have to find a secluded tree or bush.

Most of the rest stops I have seen look pretty much alike: parking lots, buildings with Men and Women signs on the sides, picnic tables, dog walk area, maybe maps and soft drink machines, maybe a coffee concession. Sometimes people camp out front with backpacks, bedrolls, dogs, guitars and signs begging for money.

People walking around rest stops often have that disoriented look we all have coming out of movie theaters, a kind of wow-where-are-we-everything’s-so-bright-what-just-happened look. I have come up with a list of walking styles I have seen—and done—at rest stops throughout the American west. Perhaps you have seen them too. I welcome your additions in the comments.

(I know where the hyphens go, but I’m too lazy to add them. Consider them implied.)

  1. The oh my god I forgot how to walk walk
  2. The hunched over it’s freezing here walk
  3. The oh shit it’s raining walk
  4. The ah, sunshine leisure walk
  5. The I really don’t know where I am walk
  6. The hey, wait wait wait dog walk
  7. The don’t judge just let me smoke walk
  8. The I’m on the phone don’t anybody talk to me walk
  9. The oh my god I have to go so bad walk
  10. The I don’t want anybody to see me in my pajama bottoms walk
  11. The shuffling in my flip-flops walk
  12. The toilet paper stuck to my shoe walk
  13. The I see you with your need-money-for-gas sign but I’m not going to look at you walk
  14. The you scare me so I’m going to walk really fast walk
  15. The I’m so late hurry hurry hurry walk
  16. The shaking my hands because the blow dryer doesn’t work walk
  17. The slow can’t I just live here walk
  18. The I’m looking at the river because I don’t want to get back in the car with you walk
  19. The watching the ground for snakes in the desert walk
  20. The coffee coffee coffee walk
  21. The I can still feel the car moving walk
  22. The I meant to trip like that walk
  23. The swatting mosquitoes dance walk
  24. The where did I put my car walk
  25. The it’s my turn to drive get out of the way walk

BTW, the rest stop above is on I-5 near Palm Springs, California. Bet you couldn’t tell by looking. Happy travels.

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Don’t call me sweetheart if you don’t know my name

The young Irish waiter called all the women at Thursday’s church ladies luncheon “dear.” On my trip last week, the waitress at Denny’s called me “hon.” The young black man taking away my used plate at Sizzler asked, “Would you like to keep your knife, sweetheart?” I got sweethearted at another Denny’s farther north and at a Black Bear Diner just south of Bakersfield.

The waitress at the Black Bear called the young adult male in the booth behind me “young man,” which I suspect is insulting to any male over age 10. I know I have always hated being called “young lady.”

I also got called “sweetheart” at a gas station where I had trouble with a malfunctioning pump. The woman clearly thought I was an idiot.

I’m a 66-year-old woman. Why are strangers calling me sweetheart? I can’t help but think of the nursing home employees who call everyone honey, sweetie, darling, etc., or use their first names even though the residents are elderly adults deserving more respect even if their minds have turned to melted Jell-O.

But let’s get back to restaurants. I ate out approximately 20 times on my recent trip, so I got a pretty good survey of low-budget sit-down eateries, the kinds of places with sticky menus and tables wiped down with dirty wet rags. The servers, mostly in their 20s, mostly Mexican south of San Francisco, gave out the “sweeties” and “hons” freely. (They were also prone to rate my orders as in “awesome” or “perfect.”) I don’t expect them to know my name. I know I’m just the “club sandwich at table 12.” Even at my favorite local restaurant, they don’t know my name, just that I’m the solo diner who wants iced tea–no lemon, lots of ice.

I know the words trip out automatically. The servers don’t mean anything by it. But why not call me “ma’am?” I know some women bristle at that term because it makes them feel old, but I’m okay with my age. If I were dining in a Spanish-speaking country, I’d like to be called “Señora,” because that’s what I am. For me, the terms of endearment should be reserved for one’s lover, spouse or child, not for a stranger eating a waffle at Denny’s.

We in the U.S. are casual people, probably more so on the West Coast. Earlier generations were taught to address adults as “sir” and “ma’am.” When did it degenerate to “sweetie,” “hon,” and “dear?”

Then there’s the waitress at the truck stop in Corning, California, who probably should have retired a few years ago. I remember her from eating there with Fred back when he was alive and healthy. She walked as if she might fall over any second. She was already confused, and it didn’t help that it was a Friday in Lent, so I couldn’t eat meat. I was craving a tuna sandwich, but the menu was a meat-lovers dream, not so good for even seasonal vegetarians. She recommended the buffet. I served myself a hard piece of mystery fish, salad and a brownie, wishing I’d gone to my sixth Denny’s instead.

One of the great things about this truck stop restaurant is that they give you a whole pitcher of iced tea. I watched my waitress walk toward me with a glass and a pitcher. She gave me the glass but walked away with the pitcher. Then she got busy with other parties. I ate and waited. She wandered around, sort of serving the group of six men nearby. I waited some more. Eventually she brought my tea in a to-go cup that was already leaking.

“You should have thrown something at me,” she said.

I considered what I would have thrown. My book? My phone? My pen? She looked like she would bruise easily.

She walked away and came back. “Did you have the buffet?” Yes, yes, I did. She handed me my bill. She did not give me my senior discount.

But bless her heart, she didn’t call me “sweetheart,” “honey,” “dear,” or anything else, at least not where I could hear it.

So, darlings, what are your experiences with strangers calling you by terms of endearment? If you have waited tables, I’d love to read your comments on the subject.

Writing my way across four states


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Pondering the river during Fishtrap poetry workshop
This week I drove through four states in one day. Twice.
Sunday I woke up in a yurt at Wallowa Lakenear Joseph, Oregon. Outside my window, deer grazed on dandelions and a covey of quail chittered in the bushes. I dressed, walked to the lodge for a breakfast of homemade coffeecake and cantaloupe, said goodbye to my Fishtrap writer friends and drove away. That night I went to bed in Missoula, Montanaat a Howard Johnson’s on a busy highway lined with motels, restaurants, casinos and car dealerships. To get there, I had driven over 200 miles of winding roads from Oregon through Washington and Idaho and into Montana. I went from the vast farms and cowboy hills of Eastern Oregon through the Blue Mountains and along the Lochsa River until I finally reached the rolling hills and suburban landscape of Missoula. Seventy-five mile-per-hour speed limit and no sales tax. Woohoo!
  
After checking in at Howard Johnson’s with Indian desk clerks whose English was unintelligible, I drove down the street to Applebee’s and suffered culture shock after a week in nature at the Fishtrap writer’s workshop. No wi-fi, no phones, no TV, no news. We sat by a river talking about poetry, wrote songs under the trees, and told secrets by the campfire. We ate healthy cafeteria style meals. Suddenly I was in a noisy restaurant with an over-solicitous waiter named “Luc” who was waiting for me to choose from a menu of over-seasoned high-calorie entrees. As I settled for a plain turkey sandwich, my cell phone rang for the first time in over a week. No!
Why was I in Missoula? The main character in the novel I’m almost finished with lived in Missoulabefore she came to Oregon. Toward the end, she goes back for a while. Because I was so close to the border at Wallowa Lake, I decided to see Missoula for myself. I’m glad I did. You can’t really get the flavor of a place from the Internet. I was able to visit the places where she and her husband lived, worked, worshipped and shopped. I ate in the restaurant where she ate. I had a great time following my fictional character through this real setting.
But it got hot, very hot, and I needed to get back to my own nonfiction life. So Tuesday I headed west, taking a different route this time. I drove through C’oeur d’Alene, Idaho, stopped for lunch in Spokane, Washington (great food at the Timber Creek Grill Buffet), and crossed the Columbia River into Oregon near Umatilla. I honked my horn in glee. Hello, Oregon!
Four states in four days. Twice. I bunked in Arlington, Oregon Tuesday night, woke up yesterday at 5 a.m. to the roar of truckers starting their engines and a freight train blasting its horn and set my GPS for “home.” After 1,600 miles, the only state I wanted to be in was a state of rest.
Stay tuned for trip highlights and pictures in the next few posts.