by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
January 3, 2006
DRIVING ACROSS AMERICA? DON'T FORGET TO GO
ON THE ROAD, U.S.A. -- Around home on St. Simons Island in Georgia, we choose gas stations by the cost of gas. Saving even a penny or two per gallon will attract our business. However, when we're on road trips, we look for the cleanest rest rooms. Shell Service Stations win every time. On the holiday journey West just taken, the one Marathon we visited was so awful we didn't stop at any others in that chain nor chains we couldn't trust to live up to their claim: "Clean Rest Rooms."
Don't these Interstate-exit-based establishments know what draws the customers? Take Cracker Barrel. Now there's a place of comfort available at almost every main exit on any Interstate in the country. It's warm, inviting, has beautiful rest rooms, a nostalgic sense of timelessness and good food. We like the breakfast-all-day menu. But about six months ago they must have changed their coffee supplier because it's no longer robust - you know, a beverage to get you up and out and on the road again. With all they have going for them, how could they not see coffee as a major draw toward their front doors each morning at seven?
We discovered driving north and then west that nothing changes but the weather. Every town, whether a big city, a village or a hamlet built into the landscape is a carbon copy of the last, or of our own hometown.
I don't know how they do it but a Big Mac is a Big Mac in Nashville or Paducah. Oh, yes. It's all in the recipe - but I've had recipes handed down from generation to generation never to be cooked with the same results.
Waiters and waitresses are relatively the same ages and in each town the names are the same, haircuts the same, pony tails the same, skinny jeans and t-shirts identical and the names embroidered on their aprons are either Jennifer, Jessica, Karen, Keith or Connor. The customers are equally indistinguishable. The locals all look like the locals of every town and the travelers all look like - well, like us.
The general impression is that while in that melting pot we once found ourselves we were pounded, pulverized and crushed into a puree now called American. There was a time we still bore the looks of our immigrant grandparents. And they remained forever looking exactly the same as the day they got off the boat. Each ethnic group was set apart, defined by how they looked and expressed themselves.
The movies and then television lured us into molds we thought would make us individuals and found we became cookie cutter images of each other. Most of my observations on this drive are made in restaurants where the wait staff is made up of the thinner-than-thin and the customers are trying to hide excess rolls of flesh held within a pair of flourescent Spandex pants.
So much for these passing comments on the pit stops along the way. What really stands out is how the leisure hours were spent at our drive's end each day. Our check-ins at Hampton Inns along the way went flawlessly; amenities as promised, fully satisfying and clean, clean, clean. The restaurants recommended as the best in the area were not only all that, but the best among many we've favored for years. Our evenings were restful. We've finally learned to enjoy the journey to reach the destination.
One favorite stop was at the Kansas City Airport Hampton Inn, where our dining choices close to the hotel were a buffet at the Hilton across the way or a pizza at the Conoco station. As John and I looked at each other glumly, the clerk said: "However, if you don't mind going four exits down, you'll find 20 or more restaurants and I'd especially recommend your going into the Zona Rosa for Hereford's."
The Zona Rosa. It had a nice ring to it. And, since John wanted a Kansas piece of beef, there was no question that the name Hereford House had an equally appealing ring. As it turned out, Hereford House is a Kansas City tradition and with good reason. Our experience there was wonderful. The lightly falling snow only added to the shimmering holiday lights brightening the paths at the outdoor shopping arena.
We enjoyed fine dining and casual dress - a winning combination for tired travelers. The guests around us were either loving partners or office party-goers. Gifts were being exchanged, Champagne was poured; the atmosphere was warm - Christmassy. Our waitress was Danielle. As is my habit, I use the name printed on the tags attached to the wait staff's uniforms.
And so, it was "Please, Danielle" and "Thank you, Danielle," throughout the meal. Finally, Danielle, blushing, blurted out "I love it when someone says my name, thank you." This waitress was far from being a skinny little Jessica or Jennifer but at our table she must have felt wonderful to be in her own skin … to be Danielle.
I may generalize about the cookie-cutter images we've all become but then along comes an individual content to be exactly who they are. I could tell Danielle liked herself.
The trip back was equally satisfying. We knew the stops; our timing was right on! Until, that is, we approached Atlanta. Too late to shift gears, we drove against our better judgment and were on I-75 South at exactly 5:00 p.m.
There is no way to describe Atlanta traffic. Over a million miles are clocked each day by vehicles going through the city, and they were all in the lanes each side of us. We drove eight miles an hour, no stopping, just inching along. That is normal for Atlanta. It was on this leg of the trip I learned it's more important to have a restroom nearby than it is to enjoy the pleasure of the cleanest one around.
If we spend enough time driving distances around this country, we come to learn certain things: First, don't approach Atlanta, Ga., without first having gone to the ladies or men's room. Second, if you're crossing west to east on I-10 be sure to gas up before leaving San Antonio or you will never make it to the other side of that big state. And, as long as you're at that gas station, you might as well - well, you know.
Vist AR Correspondent Constance Daley at her Website, www.skylinetoshoreline.com.