Thursday, May 04, 2006
When I'm away, I tend to muse about all things related to travel. There's something about being away from home that gets the mind thinking. When I'm away on my own, as I am now, I often think about the trips I've taken with my family. It helps close the distance a bit.
Highway 401 cuts through Ontario from its eastern border with Quebec all the way to Windsor in the extreme southwest. It's the busiest highway in Canada and, through its Toronto sections, is considered the most congested stretch of road in North America.
It's a stretch of road that we cover often as we try to bridge the distance between us and friends and family. Since we moved to London nine years ago, we've come to know the roadway on an almost curve-by-curve basis. We've also come to know and rely on the rest stops along the way.
On the surface, the typical highway rest stop or service area is little more than a fast food restaurant attached to a gas station surrounded by a large parking lot. But when your little one has to go, your middle one needs to blow off some steam and your eldest has been hungry for the last hour, the looming fluorescent presence is a welcoming sight to a tired and transient family.
The 401 has a network of them along its entire length. Once upon a time, each one had a cool-looking domed roof. The unique shape stood out on the unending landscape, and gave the kids something neat to talk about as they waited their turn for Mommy to buy the inevitable box of TimBits. These domes weren't fine architecture and they weren't going to become heritage buildings anytime soon. The design suited the purpose. And they were just unique enough that they were not forgotten.
Now, the service stations are gradually being rebuilt. One by one, the turtle-like domes are giving way to larger buildings that hold more restaurants. The new buildings look pretty much like any other: nondescript boxes made of concrete and glass. We can still buy TimBits and let the kids be kids before we get back in the car and hit the road once again. But something's missing.
The kids don't talk about these places. They're not different enough to merit discussion. They're just like the buildings back home. They're no longer signposts of the great adventure to their grandparents' house.
So I thought I'd post a picture of the interior of one of these domes. I don't know how much longer they'll still be around. And I don't want my kids to ever forget what it felt like to be in a building that made them feel just a little bit more special.
Maybe someday, the folks who design public service buildings like these will listen to kids like mine and once again give them an excuse to look up, and to connect with their surroundings.
Your turn: I hope you'll tell us about an icon of your own travels. Why does good design matter to those who are just passing through? Does it really matter at all?