Having spent 12 of the past 30 hours this weekend riding in a car, I feel I am justified in commenting on the recipe for a highway rest-stop.  Trap travelers on restricted access toll-road from which exiting is a hassle and offer them sub-par overpriced food with severely limited options.  Add in a dash of restaurant offerings only seen on toll roads (Does Roy Rogers exist outside of the highway rest stop?), and make sure restrooms have smelly soap, and you’re basically there.  Throw in some 7 year old boys in the women’s bathroom, people dashing to and from their cars under-dressed for the climate change from Cocoa Beach to Rehoboth Beach, and you have the full picture. 

This weekend, as we travelled only to Pittsburgh and back for my sister’s graduation (woohoo!), we experienced only 3 rest stops, but they managed to get me thinking about how to improve the overall experience.  More healthy options?  Friendlier restrooms?  Milkshakes and vegetarian-able hoagies?  Cash registers that make electronic ca-chings?  I know what I’m channeling  — Wawa!

For those outside the Wawa service area – DE, MD, PA, VA, NJ – Wawa is not merely a convenience store; it is an experience.  Growing up as a child with a very small bladder, yet fearing public restrooms, I became a connoisseur of the public restroom.  My least favorite were always the convenience store/gas station variety.  They were to be avoided at all costs.  In a pre-Starbucks era (my current choice of restroom in NYC), the world was a cold, unfriendly place for children with full bladders.  Yet a Wawa is a place I seek out.  I know the locations of the six nearest Wawas to my home and places of employment.  I know I can count on them for more than sanitary relief; they satisfy all those pesky hunger needs.  Wawa is not merely a regional 7-Eleven.  It is above and beyond.  The beverage selection is unparalleled, the snacks constantly expanding.  If it is overpriced marginally healthy fare you seek, look no further than the coolers, where you can buy prepackaged apples and peanut butter, apples and caramel, veggies and  dip, cheese, crackers, and pepperoni, mango slices, hardboiled eggs, and yogurt cups.  You can make up your own milkshake and grab a hoagie (aka “sub” or “zep” for those outside the region) built to order in one of three sizes.  They even have “Junior” for women and men who aren’t emasculated by such designations.  There are cigarettes and gum and candy.  There’s water and soda and iced tea.  They have salads and wraps and flatbreads.  There are even Wawas with gas stations – known as “SuperWa” in our house.

We don’t need an overhaul of Roy Rogers, Sbarro, and Nathan’s at our nation’s rest stops; we don’t need to petition for better prices or more healthful, veggie-friendly offerings; we just need highways full of Wawas with Starbucks kiosks. 

When I moved here 7 years ago, I thought Wawa was merely an overpriced convenience store.  I also thought the Amish were quaint and naïve.  A tour through Lancaster County and an Oprah exposé on puppy farms later, I’m so much the wiser.  Seven years of dashing into Wawa for lunch on the go, water in the dog days of the summer, and a coke to wash down a Tylenol for an emerging headache have taught me that the Wa is no ordinary force to be reckoned with.

Down with Roy Rogers.  Long live Wawa!

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