Highway rest stops aren’t always in the middle of nowhere, but those that aren’t are on the way to nowhere. Large rest stops are mall food courts plucked from their natural habitat. Middle sized rest stops exist largely to deal with basic human needs, with some bits of local history thrown in if you’re lucky. Small rest stops are bathrooms, nothing more. Tightening budgets have led to the closure of rest stops throughout the country, leaving tired, full-bladdered people with little respite from the long drive.
Today, while listening to the latest episode of the Alice Isn’t Dead podcast (Part 2, Chapter 7) the narrator tells of a troubled man who cleans the bathrooms at a rest stop, where he is living. Religious mania moves him to consider the rest stop his monastery – the title of the episode is “The Monk of Crystal Springs.” The idea caught me by surprise, and I began to wonder if a highway rest stop wasn’t a good place for a monastery. People come by for the bathrooms, and perhaps to walk a labyrinth or sit for a prayer. As with many of the best experiences in life, a rest stop/monastery would be an unintended experience, a “hey, what do you know” kind of surprise.
Now living on a highway might not be the best location for monks or nuns, but an art gallery or sculpture garden might be a better fit. There would have to be a certain amount of security and proper climate control, but a middle-sized rest stop is about the size of a modest art gallery. Rental fees would help the state be able to afford to keep rest stops open.
Of course, we’re talking about nonprofit galleries. The middle of a highway, where travelers are eager to keep going and reach their ultimate destination, is not prime real estate if you’re looking to make big sales. But catching people unawares, giving them a moment of delight and enlightenment. They might even learn something, something beyond how to get there from here. The gallery might even make the middle of nowhere a place worth remembering.