While my wife and I were traveling through upstate New York late at night this past summer, we pulled off the highway to make a pit stop. We followed directional signs and pulled into the parking lot of Love’s Travel Stop a few minutes later. It looked like it hadn’t been touched since the 80s. It was a low-slung building turned at a 30-degree angle to the road. It was clad in cheap wooden siding and surrounded by yellowing street lamps that cast lazy circles around the parking lot. We worked our way inside, past the Day-Glo tchotchkes, single-serving Tylenol, and rotisserie hot dogs, while news of ISIS played on the TV. In the bathroom was a cologne dispenser that offered the following selection: Polo, Drakkar, Obsession, Eternity, or Polo Sport. Scattered throughout the dining space were truck drivers from all corners of the continent. A few wore wrinkled faces and wiry Duck Dynasty beards, while others looked like they just turned seventeen. Things were generally quiet. There were a few small groups talking, but most were sticking to themselves, reading a book, or watching the TV.
A soft static over the intercom, and then: “Ticket number 113 to shower stall 4.”
I watched as a single driver trundled off for his allotted shower time.
I was struck at how incredibly modern it all was. It was perhaps one of the most progressive spaces I had been in. While a majority of America still lives in housing that hasn’t changed significantly in the past few decades, here was a group of individuals that live largely without a stationary home that stop only to refuel, grab food, take a shower, and stretch their legs. Their modernity isn’t one of hoverboards and tweetstorms—it is one of non-ownership and transience. The truck stop fulfills all of their needs in one compact building.
My wife and I sat at a table far from the entrance of the stop and ate a snack that we picked up from the counter. I was overwhelmed with a bittersweet emotion. It was equivalent to entering an alternative reality, and knowing that you’ll never be back. That truck stop had its own culture and logic and value systems. It was lightly based on my own reality, but made its own rules to serve its own needs. The individuals inside had their own lives, and they were far different than my own.
That truck stop was the perfect social condenser. It was an extension of the 60s counterculture. It embodied the dream of the Situationists. It was the ultimate Metabolist structure. And it will remain hidden from most of us.