Queen Of The Highways

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A married couple from Salt Lake City hauling frozen food told me they liked the spacious and safe truck parking lot, the “unusual” cleanliness, and the relaxed atmosphere. “And it’s a friendly place for dogs,” the husband said. They were traveling with two. “Too many truck stops are oriented to tourists,” the man added. “Knickknacks and stuffed animals. I needed a windshield wiper once for my Kenworth, and couldn’t find one anywhere else to save my life.” Speaking of what drivers need and don’t need, a notice at the deli counter said, “If you want to add sushi to the menu, make your mark.” The tally stood at 15 yes, 67 no.

Two drivers from Georgia, Mildred Greene and a man who said, “Call me Coffeemaker,” were each hauling 45,000 pounds of ice cream from Iowa to Bakersfield, California. They had 20 hours more to go. “This is the right place to stop,” Coffeemaker said. “Your body is ready after 600 miles going west.” Greene said her favorite part of Little America was the clean showers.

After the driver complained about being unable to buy windshield wipers for his truck, I went next door to the repair shop and found it sold a full line of them. “If we don’t have one that fits, we make it fit,” said Jason Peden, an assistant manager. The shop also does just about any repair job on cars and trucks, most frequently water pumps, belts, alternators, air conditioning, wheel bearings, and tires. Towing anytime. A truck oil change and lube costs $134.95.

At the end of my five days there I took a last walk past the rows of idling trucks, a three-dimensional directory of America’s long-haul carriers. I thought about how Little America, this place where restless people alight for a short while, is a twenty-first-century Fort Bridger and an updated version of the stage and Pony Express stations at Granger. 1-80 is a modern expression of America’s old urge to get somewhere. Little America fulfills our equally old need to stop for food, fuel, shelter, assistance, amusement. And not stay.