The N.J. Turnpike, at your service

July 07, 2008|By KEVIN COWHERD

Gas crisis or no, millions of Americans are hitting the road this summer, and many will travel that magical stretch of road known as the New Jersey Turnpike, where they'll stop at its various service areas which are, well, not so magical.

These are named after great Americans, for some reason, and include the Vince Lombardi Service Area, the Thomas Edison Service Area, the Grover Cleveland Service Area, the Molly Pitcher Service Area and so on.

You wonder what someone like Thomas Edison would think about having a rest stop named after him.

This was maybe the greatest inventor in history, the man who gave us the electric lightbulb, the phonograph and 1,000 other inventions.

And now, his name is forever linked to a place where people stop to use the restrooms, talk loudly on their cell phones and cram their fat faces with Roy Rogers' burgers and Cinnabon rolls.

Interestingly, there is no Tony Soprano Service Area as of yet, but it's probably just a matter of time until there is.

In his heyday, the TV mob boss was huge in Jersey; bigger than Jon Bon Jovi, maybe even bigger than Bruce Springsteen.

So how does he get dissed like that?

Look, there's even a Joyce Kilmer Service Area. And what did he ever do? (Yes, Kilmer was a he. You could look it up.)

Anyway, what did he do? Write a couple of poems?

Including the one about trees?

Big deal.

Tony Soprano showed a whole generation of would-be wise guys that there's nothing wrong with getting in touch with your murderous feelings via psychotherapy.

Not to mention that he also personally brought loud sport shirts, sleeveless undershirts and gold chains back into fashion.

For God's sake, name a rest stop after the man!

Who do you have to see about something like that, the governor?

Speaking of Tony, you would have a gut as big as his if you made it a habit to eat at New Jersey Turnpike rest areas.

This is where good nutrition goes to die.

Each has a basic configuration of fast-food restaurants that incorporates some mix of the Artery-Clogging Big Six: Roy Rogers, Burger King, Cinnabon, Popeyes, Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips and Nathan's Famous hot dogs.

A few rest areas also have a TCBY. But a TCBY, heck, that's like a health-food store compared to the others.

Naturally, everything sold at these fast-food places is monstrously overpriced. You see families of four walk up to the cash register carrying trays laden with junk food, then everyone nearly has a heart attack when the bill's totaled up.

At Roy Rogers and Burger King, they sell pre-packaged salads to make you think there's actually a way to eat healthy on the road.

Ha, that's a good one!

Look, I have eaten these salads, if that's what you want to call them. They look as if they were prepared back when Edison was alive, and they taste the way you'd expect wilted lettuce, bland tomatoes and stale carrots to taste.

Each service area also contains a Travel Mart, where you can buy overpriced magazines, paperbacks, souvenir T-shirts, candy, etc. I stop in a Travel Mart on occasion to buy a small pack of gum or candy - at which point I remember there's no such thing as a small anything in these places.

Recently, for instance, I went looking for a small York Peppermint Pattie.

I have a thing for York Peppermint Patties, which there's no need to get into here, except to say that I use them as a tiny dessert after a meal. They send a signal to my brain that tells me to stop stuffing my fat face.

Anyway, there's no such thing as getting a small York Peppermint Pattie at these places. I was looking for one the size of a half-dollar, which you used to be able to get anywhere. But at the Travel Mart, you have to buy one the size of a dinner plate.

"King-Size!" it says on the wrapper. And, boy, they're not kidding.

But I'm a junkie for this stuff, so I buy the super-sized one, eat a small piece and save the rest for later.

Actually, when I get back to the car, I place the rest in a cup holder and forget about it. Pretty soon, it'll start to melt in the hot sun and ooze onto the black plastic. Then some 30 miles up the road, I'll have to stop someplace else (maybe the Clara Barton Service Area or the Richard Stockton Service Area or the John Fenwick Service Area) and soak a paper towel in water and try to scrape the congealed chocolate from the plastic.

It gives you something to do as you travel the turnpike, I guess.

God knows there's not much to look at.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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