Monday, September 28, 2009

A Reliable Break : Narrative

Bob and Shirley Wilkinson drive the scenic route from Northern Virginia to Charleston, South Carolina each September to visit their grandchildren. The same routine is followed every time the couple gets in the car. After 40 years of marriage, Bob knows Shirley gets anxious and needs to stretch her legs every couple of hours, as does their dog Wayne. They prefer to stop at rest areas, visitors’ centers, and state parks so the couple has a place to walk around and let Wayne run loose.

Each year the Wilkinsons look forward to stopping at the rest area and visitor’s center on the Virginia/North Carolina border on US Highway 17. Bob is always the first to shout out “Welcome to North Carolina” as he always wants to be the first to spot the state sign. As they exit for the rest area, Wayne wags his tail and waits eagerly with his front paws on the back window for the car to come to a stop and he jumps out with Shirley.

Bob takes Wayne around the site to the back deck where they can sit and watch boaters pass by on the Dismal Swamp Canal. Many of the boaters just pass by, as do the motorists, but there are always a few fishermen and families docking their boats to stretch their legs at the rest area as well. Tuna sandwiches, dill pickles, and diet sodas make up the Wilkinson’s traditional road trip diet. Bob arranges lunch on the wooden table ready to eat when Shirley comes back to join him.

Meanwhile, Shirley uses the restroom and is always pleased with her feeling of security in the building. The officer greets her with a friendly smile whenever he is at the security station. Always fresh and maintained, the restrooms are well-lit with indirect natural light during the day and automatic fixtures. Over the past few years, Shirley has become more conscious of the environment and is pleased the plumbing fixtures consume low amounts of water and that rainwater and graywater are reused on site.

Watching the boaters and listening to the faint sounds of wild birds, Bob and Wayne sit waiting for Shirley to return. After lunch, the Wilkinsons take a short stroll around the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge before returning to the building. This gives Wayne a chance to let his energy loose before the second half of the road trip begins.

The couple is always interested in the cultural happenings of the area, and they never fail to stop by the digital information center on their way back to the car. After this many years, they know the history of the area inside and out, but are always curious to know about the latest developments and activities.

A retired history teacher who has always been intrigued by architecture, Bob remembers this rest area most of all for its relationship to its surroundings. Sensitive to both boaters and motorists, the architecture gives him a unique sense of place, which he does not often have the chance to experience. Local materials and a style influenced by the coastal waterway make the facility memorable for him.

Each time the Wilkinsons leave the site, they have a better appreciation of their surroundings and a better understanding of the current conditions around them. This short, but meaningful break is important for their journey each summer as they need a chance to stretch their legs and recharge before returning to the highway.

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