GateHouse — Because it is freezing in your world, because most of the Eastern Seaboard has become an igloo-and-wampa-covered hellscape and because there’s very little circulation in my typing fingers (I only use 7), I’d like to take a spin into the past and share an old snow-themed journal I found, and by “share” I mean “recycle content like a regional carnival hack.”
The following is an actual, swear-to-God-I-kept-this-for-some-reason journal I wrote in 1998 while stranded for 24 hours with my dad in a rest stop along I-80W in northern Indiana. At the time we were driving a packed moving truck to my new coastal South Carolina hometown but first needed to make the 90-minute trip west from South Bend to Crown Point to say my goodbyes, so the universe thought it would be amusing if, before I relocated to a life of 70-degree Decembers and readily available shrimp-driven entrees, it marooned us on a highway McDonald’s for a full day, because the universe is a stupid jerk. These notes are presented in their original form, edited only for spelling and to remove a joke about “Good Burger.” I’m leaving in all the other 1998 stuff, though, because I find it pleasingly dated, and because Ken Starr was a schmuck.
Monday, 10:35 a.m. What do you do when you’re stuck at a rest stop? By virtue of its design, there is nothing to do at a rest stop. It’s not a destination. It’s a place where you pause, briefly, before theoretically moving on to enjoy the rest of your life. A small two-seat table at a McDonald’s on the westbound toll road is about the last place on Earth any one of us would want to spend a Monday. (Well, maybe Ken Starr’s office.)
I thought I’d try to write something from this experience, but up until 30 minutes ago, I could find no paper. Mind you, this rest stop features two Ms. Pac Man games, 18 toilets, a gaggle of angry-looking Amish travelers and nine copies of the February issue of Fangoria, but zero notebooks. So I am writing now on one sheet of 4×6 notepad paper donated to me by a very nice lady from Iowa, whose husband looked sort of like Shelley Winters and who apparently steals things from Fairfield Inns.
Editor’s Note: In 1998, Haitian presidential candidate and mangler of 80s hip-hop remakes Wyclef Jean was a popular recording artist.
11:14 a.m. At 11 a.m., I had to politely fight other patrons for what would likely be our meals for the day. This is a tricky gambit; one must be sly and move with catlike quickness but one also must not appear threatening to the polite woman with four kids, who all, I’m guessing, also have to eat. I came away with a bag of pretzels, three Cokes, one bottled water, two Snickers and a Peppermint Patty. I was going to challenge the woman for the Cheez Balls, but the kids were looking really hungry, and I am not an animal.
11:16 a.m. Screw her. I want Cheez Balls.
2:25 p.m. I have just returned from my 12th visit to the Rest Stop Gift Store, where I successfully browsed through every single magazine they had. I read sports magazines, sci-fi magazines and auto repair magazines. I read Details, Guitar World, and Teen Beat. Sure, make your jokes, but it was either that or try to select a Louis L’Amour book on tape again, and Teen Beat had an article on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Note: During my stay, I will write myself about 10 different scenarios in which Buffy confesses her pure, true love for me.)
3:58 p.m. The man at the next table has asked what I do for a living, and I tell him I am a copy editor and page designer for a newspaper. After enduring that now-obligatory look that people give when I tell them this — the one that essentially goes “Euuhhh?” — I assure him that I’m not a reporter, which is what everybody outside the newspaper business thinks that all people in newspapers are. Yet for the rest of the day, whenever anything happens, no matter how trivial, he will repeat the phrase, “THERE’s something you can put in your story.” I begin to write headlines: “Man at rest stop found beat to death with Teen Beat magazine.”
6:01 p.m. There is a group of stranded Amish travelers here, and they appear about as cheesed off as the Amish can get. One man is angrily pulling at the strands of his thick unclean beard, and he is looking at his restless, bored Amish children with a look that says, “If you ask for butter one more time I’m going to punt you to the next tollbooth.”
6:48 p.m. I am trying to sleep. This rest stop has no power — there are no lights and the temperature is dropping steadily — yet its intercom-style radio still functions. So while we can’t get so much as a warm slab of toast from the good people at McDonald’s, it is still gloriously possible for us to hear the Celine Dion song from “Titanic” four hundred thousand times in an afternoon.
7:32 p.m. I wish I had dry socks. I had to go out to the car to use the cellular phone, because the line for the pay phones now equals roughly the population of Nigeria, and the snow, which now measures nearly 12 inches in depth, has soaked through my thin-skinned Nikes and is currently seeing what it can do about the last few bits of feeling I have left in my toes. I called Aaron in Crown Point, and he told me that the power is out at his home as well, and they’ve been burning his college physics notes in the fireplace to keep warm. Aaron informs me that this is the most practical use for physics he has ever found. I laugh heartily, and immediately turn back to scouring the floor for fallen candy bars.
8:54 p.m. Those Cheez Balls were tasty. Good call.
10:16 p.m. McDonald’s has announced that they will be selling Cheese Sandwiches for 50 cents. A Cheese Sandwich is essentially a cheeseburger without the “burger” portion — it’s a piece of cheese on a bun. In the span of one and one half minutes, I scarf down eight Cheese Sandwiches, which taste like sod. Coupled with the effects of the Surge and the Cheez Balls, I will likely spend the rest of the night dying slowly.
10:47 p.m. OK, I’m kidding, but the people at McDonald’s are godsends. Occasionally, stranded employees will wander through the crowd, passing out Happy Meal toys to the kids. A woman, who with a strength and will that I only can dream of having, is keeping four toddlers amused and happy, looks at the McDonald’s employee as if she is Braveheart tossing out loaves of bread to the villagers.
3 a.m. Buffy the Vampire Slayer would have thought of a way out of this by now.
4:35 a.m. If you ever get out of here alive, it will be to spread this one crucial message: Never, ever eat eight Cheese Sandwiches in one sitting.