America is huge.
Really big. Not quite Canada big, but still very big. And unlike Canada, which has in essence a ribbon of road going from coast to coast with much of the country being thawing uninhabited permafrost, you can find some kind of interstate to take you through any of the 50 states. The I-5 takes you from Vancouver, Canada down to Tijuana, Mexico. The I-95 is the eastern coastal highway that runs from Miami, Florida through Fredericton, Canada. You can cross the country either skirting Mexico on the I-20 almost touching the Mexican border in places, or see Sturgis on the I-90 as you head towards Pennsylvania.
The roads do see traffic. A lot of it. Obviously the coastal regions see more traffic than, say, Wyoming or South Dakota. But the American road has a call - be it people going West, my son - to the nostalgic romance of Route 66. In some countries motorcycles are sold as reliable, inexpensive and easy to park ways to get from A to B. America is where Harley Davidson made an entire industry devoted to $30,000 motorcycles with fairings, radios, GPS and hard bags designed to comfortably allow you to pick a direction and drive for DAYS, for the sake of travel itself.
The roads are full of stories: young people moving across the country away from family and friends to start a new job, families reuniting, a young woman with her entire life in the back of her Honda Fit joining her boyfriend to a new city, gambling on love. Old people using their retirement to see the beautiful country they live in and explore. Middle aged people getting on with careers, and lives. Truckers piloting the red blood cells they drive around the arteries and veins of the country, moving goods.
But driving for 12 hours a day straight requires at least stops for fuel, both personal and for the vehicle. Legs must be stretched, bladders and bowels voided. Directions sought, diversions obtained for tired, whiny children.
Enter the truck stop.
These days they are more likely to be renamed "Travel Plaza"s and are a veritable bazaar.
Most have the vestigial remnants of the trucker's requirements. At the very least will be one corner that contains CB radio parts, log books, tire bats, fuses, ratcheting straps, and the consumables that anyone who maintains a vehicle must obtain. Close by are consumables all motorists need: windshield washer fluid, oil, octane booster, brake fluid and so on. There will also be "soft requirements" in this area - microwaves, coolers and so forth for one person that plug in to a cigarette lighter 12V port, insulated coffee mugs and so forth. There are also free periodicals for truckers to read pertaining to the industry to take away, and many offer shower facilities so that a given trucker can remove the miasma from sleeping in the back of their truck.
A few still maintain a "sit down" restaurant area, where there are pies on an automated lazy susan in the front and waitresses in uniforms. Most these days have been replaced with microwave burritos, roller hot dogs and fast food joints. Because truckers these days are compensated by the mile as opposed to the hour, it's imperative for many of them to get in and get out.
There is usually a separate entrance for trucking: trucks usually fuel behind or to the side of the truck stop proper on dedicated lanes which support many more payment methods including the standards logistics and trucking firms use to pay for fuel. They enter from the rear through a trucker-oriented door into the aforementioned trucker's area.
But most people enter through the front: with the fast food franchise maintaining a separate entrance off to one side.
It is ENTIRELY possible to walk in, get in line to pay for fuel, fuel and then walk out to pump your gas and leave, but doing so would rob you of the chance to see what else is on offer.
Food is a secondary fuelling need, and as such there's a veritable smorgasbord to choose from. Bagged nuts and trail mix, pretzels, chips, protein bars, chocolate bars, bagged candy, beef jerky, individually wrapped little blocks of cheese. Cookies. Danishes. Donuts. Yoghurt. Microwaveable pot noodle, cans of pasta in sauce. An individually bagged pickle in brine. The chocolate bar rack alone is spectacular, reaching to eye level and extending for yards with a wide variety of options.
As for liquids, you can either obtain soda from a self serve wall of soda fountains, or in many places semi-frozen "slush" drinks by definition ice and therefore ice cold. The cup choices range from a modest 8 oz glass to a 64oz reusable plastic jug with a straw on top. You can also obtain a coffee mug the size of the average protein powder container, and carry your 128oz of coffee in an insulated barrel with a handle.
If you prefer your drinks in cans or bottles, there's bottles of Coke products and Pepsi products, and often regional small-market offerings (PROTIP: when in the Carolinas pick up "Cheerwine"). Bottled water? You prefer Dasani or Perrier? About 10 yards down the row of walk-in coolers that line the place, you can find milk, energy drinks and beer. If that's not in sufficient quantities there are cases of drinks stacked somewhere for a reasonable cost.
Seeking other diversions? Well, there's magazine racks, books on CD, books proper. DVDs for sale or rent, those "inspirational" books describing Christianity lite. Sudoku and crossword puzzle books. Notepads and journals, pens, pencils. Toys. Music on CD.
Haven't had time to do laundry? There are T-shirts, both utilitarian and touristy ("Virginia is for lovers" or "You mess with me, you mess with the whole trailer park"), work shirts, work pants, underwear. Extra jackets. NASCAR copy leather racing jackets. Biker leather vests. Serapes. Hippie Guatemalan rough yarn hoodies.
Want to arrive somewhere with a gift? Figurines, pocket knives, toys, dream catchers, small signs that are replicas of that state's license plate with a child's name thereon. Birthday cards. Anniversary cards.
Addicted to nicotine? The cash register, where you can also pick up USB cable phone chargers and auxilliary audio input cables, is also a depot for cigars, cigarettes, pipe tobacco, e-cigs, vaping juices, snuff and chewing tobacco.
If that wasn't enough, the expansive parking lot also often attracts its own attractions not part of the truck stop proper but still part of the experience. Free CDs on offer by the local church, giving you sermons on CD to listen to. Tracts. In some places, Amish at a respectable distance just off the property, selling maple syrup and home made baked goods, minding children and watering their horses. Lot lizards patrolling the rows of parked trucks where truckers are sleeping or relaxing in their cabs, trading sex or a quick blowjob for money. Methamphetamine sales discreetly transacted WELL away from the ant-like stream of tourists.
To one side in some places, a permanently parked truck cab that serves as a nondenominational chapel for truckers seeking confession or worship. In some places, free screenings for diabetes and blood pressure.
Scams. A skeevy looking woman in what looks like a broken down car with its hood up just needing $20 for gas to get to that job she has lined up finally making it able for her to feed her four children (curiously absent from the car). You can see the shakes she's trying to hide and the sweat unrelated to the ambient temperature.
People allowing their dogs out to stretch their own legs, taking a not so discreet shit on the patches of grass. Teenagers trying a quick skateboard in the back lot before the family piles back into the station wagon.
Most are chains - but there are some even more well worth the stop. There's one on the I-20 in Texas that's panelled with wood and various deer and bison heads mounted on the walls. They offer everything from turquoise jewelery to hand made, hand tooled leather belts made to order while you wait. In the South West you can find freeze-dried rattlesnakes permanently preserved in a coiled, striking position. Lollipops containing scorpions. Local weaving. In Alabama and Louisiana I've found smaller, quainter stops that never updated any aspect of their site since the 1950s, glorious in faded powder blue tiling and 1950s signage, albeit weathered by the sun and glazed yellow by decades of now-banned cigarette smoking.
Regional brands, too. Utz potato chips in the North East, the aforementioned Cheerwine in the Carolinas, boudin in East Louisiana.
There's usually something regionally interesting to seek out, even at the most pedestrian run of the mill ones.
Although for tourist trap dreck in all its mighty glory, you're going to need a Stuckey's.