There’s something about rest areas that I love. While I don’t take many road trips anymore and my chances of visiting them have decreased since the days of cross country family vacations, they still hold a dear place in my heart.

A few weeks back I did a day trip (well, actually a night trip) to Portland and back—a 350-mile journey round trip. I had a 4:30pm work meeting in Portland that lasted until about 9pm. I left Seattle at 12:30pm that afternoon and decided to drive the three hours back to Seattle that night rather than spend the night in a hotel. Well, the three-hour drive turned into four (due to construction) and before my eyes began to cross too much, I decided not to take any chances and stopped at a rest area.

As I pulled in around 11:30pm the memories flooded back. The sounds—kids running to the bathroom and then back to the cars, fully awake even at that late hour; semi truck brakes screeching to a stop and settling down; the muffled highway noises of cars rushing by—sounds of my childhood. I could almost hear my dad’s Thermos creaking open, the mumbled voices of my mom and dad whispering to us, asking who needed to use the bathroom, my dad singing softly to keep himself awake. These are the reasons I love road trips, and by default, rest areas, especially at night. Memories of melting M&Ms, Red Vines, Gummy Bears, coolers, camping gear, car sickness, books on tape, the rattle of the trailer being pulled behind us, random exclamations of license plates (Delaware, anyone?).

I pulled back onto the road after a 20 minute power nap and could see my family of six, with four ragamuffin kids, piling back into our Econoline van, slamming the sliding door closed and pulling into traffic to continue our journey, where we were headed was anyone’s guess.

Incidentally, NPR’s This American Life just did a feature on Rest Stops this past weekend.