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Turnpike turn-on

I enter the roadway at Stony Ridge-Toledo. A “full interchange” as I find out later from some printed information by the folks at the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission. All I know is I was heading south on I-75 out of Michigan, crossed into Ohio and continued to follow the signage toward Cleveland. Now, I suddenly find myself approaching a toll gate. A machine spits a pre-printed ticket at me when I come to a stop and press the button. “Ohio Turnpike Toll Ticket,” it read. “Exit 71.

I recognize I-71 as part of the Interstate Highway System, only here it’s a “turnpike” and I knew someone on the other end was going to dig into my wallet for the privilege of riding their pavement. For the most part, we don’t have pay-to-play roadways out west, save for California that has the rare toll road. But they’re not turnpikes, so I’m not terribly accustomed to how they work.

Driving on a turnpike seems a bit like flying a plane through an air corridor. There’s no turning around, only occasional off-ramps and rules that govern your trajectory. I don’t know what the toll charge will be once I get off the merry-go-round, but I’m preparing for a Welcome Wagon surprise.

On the other hand, the roadway is actually pretty decent. It’s got three lanes in each direction. The surface is relatively smooth and I can drive 70 mph without the constant jarring from patches and potholes twerking my van like the roads in Minnesota, Wisonsin, Illinois and Michigan did.

When the fuel gage reaches the last eighth of a tank, I pull into the Eastbound Travel Plaza, 73 miles west of Cleveland. It’s modern, expansive and open 24-hrs. The gas-up section is well lit with lots of pumps. I pull the car into a slot and walk toward the adjoining structure to take a quick wiz without really looking up at the edifice. I expect a cinder block hut with a couple flush toilets, a sink with running water, but no soap or paper towels, and an area map with historical highlights affixed to an exterior wall.

I was way wrong.

I thought I’d entered a big airport terminal. It’s spacious like a gridiron. The tile flooring is clean and polished to a high shine. Restrooms are genereous. You could pass someone two-by-two without endangering personal air space. There are rows of lavatories and sinks. There’s hand soap and your choice of paper towels or a hand dryer.

In the main hall there’s lots of traveler activity – people coming, going, resting, conversing. A load of tour bus passengers invades the building and there’s room for half a dozen more loads. An elongated, waist-high, curving information stand is positioned like a throne at Versailles and silently busks glossy brochures and booklets – arranged like stadium seating – on Ohio’s recreation and cultural offerings. Vending machines of every ilk in addition to a staffed gift-and-snack shop fill the space. I notice five coin-operated massage chairs positioned against a wall and a few feet away a glass-framed entrance reserved for truckers. Inside it’s got a lounge, washing machines and showers. A short connector leads to another building pod that houses a glistening white food court with a domed ceiling, five name-brand eateries and a small-army sized table seating area. I spot shiny, steel-plated electrical outlets a-plenty for charging devices. Wow, this place is downright worthy of a high-falutin, chauffer-driven vehicle passenger, not to mention a VanLifer expecting only cinder block.

I put some feelers out and learn I can overnight here safely and securely without being bothered or tagged for towing as was the case at a truck stop near Grand Rapids four nights ago (My alarm got me up at 5:30 am that morning and I got the heck out of there before the big hook came). The big bonus is that the trucker showers are publicly accessible and completely free. There’s plenty of parking: eighty spaces for semis. Probably as many for cars and RVs.

I’m sensing an overnight option.

I’d really only stopped here to funnel-in some gasoline. But after more conversations with the cashier at the car pumps, another pump guy on the semi-truck side and a kid who served me a bite to eat, I decide to call it a night right here. It’s nearly 8, no sense coninuing on. I locate the van and find a cozy spot. Later, the rhythmic drone of a diesel engine symphony puts me to sleep.

In the morning at 7, I step into a shower stall, then get a couple toasted bagels with cream cheese and a cup of dark roast. Sit at a table and think about my pending visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cincy.

We should have turnpikes out west!

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