At about 10:30 last night, 200 miles into a 250 mile drive, Mag and I stopped to use the restroom. If you've ever driven through Illinois and Indiana on 70 East, you know the pickings are slim along many, many parts of the corridor--but at that moment, I had also realized I needed gas. Well, not "needed" yet, but the scarcity of exits (and civilization) in the deep, deep one lane country parts of this highway necessitate a hearty plan-ahead sort of spirit. Really--who WOULD we call? It's not like Dan can come bring us some gas.
So, off the highway we pulled into a gas station that was pretty well lit up--I will give it that. And I felt reassured by all the other cars from Midwestern ports of call.
"I think I'll go in with you," I made the last second decision as soon as we stopped. I only needed gas, but I changed my mind. I noticed many other mothers exiting the station had made the same decision with their own daughters. Daughters who, with their hoodies and Nike slides over socks, announced their destination as clearly as ours: Laxtoberfest at Grand Park in Indiana.
I looked at the derelict gas station across the road. So derelict that it looked like it was in a movie set. Derelict, it was the epitome of the word.
And yet. A wholesome, comfortable looking man about my age held the door open for us. It was cheerful enough. Lots of handwritten signs which is either charming or slapdash. BUT--I will say this--nary an apostrophe out of place and everything spelled correctly.
We took a second to orient ourselves.
"I will cry," Maggie said, and I remembered another off-the-road gas station restroom with a toilet (only one--a "one-er" as we call it) out of order at a time when she really, really, really needed one. Finally I spied the (handwritten) restroom sign.
We stopped short as we rounded the corner to see only a dimly lit hallway. Lots of doors--one designated as male, the other female. We stopped. Looked at each other, then proceeded a little less than confidently. But "needs must" as the old folks say.
It wasn't dirty so much as I want to say it was rusty. Unkempt. As if someone in the early shift cleans it within an inch of its life, but no other worker does it at any other time in the day. It didn't smell bad. But it didn't smell good. It didn't even really look bad. But somehow it didn't look good either. But nothing was broken. Nothing out of place. Nothing on the floor that you wouldn't expect. Nothing missing.
In fact--SO many things were there that it was a bit confusing. And I say nothing missing, except--
"I can take my weight," Maggie said as she stood there with dripping hands, "but I can't dry my hands anywhere."
I spun around--the weight machine was chin height to me, a strange combination of dingy and bright. It might have done a brief stint at a carnival.
"Maybe it's for the best," I said.
"Do you need a tampon?" She nodded to the rusty white dispenser. Only a quarter!
"Or the...um..opposite... of a tampon?" Also a quarter. Needs must.
And, charmingly nestled also nearby--a third dispenser advertised its contents: "Weed".
"What is the name of this charming town?" I asked Mags when we were back in the car, waiting as the gas tank filled. She looked it up on her phone and said it--though it didn't make an imprint on me and I no longer recall what it was.
"You know," Mags said as we pulled back on the highway. "Bathrooms like that don't make me worried about COVID, as much as they make me remember every other disease in the world."
~originally published October 2020