Service stations are magnificent. From the weird-ass “chewable toothbrushes” in the toilets, to the unusual souvenirs you’ll find – they’re their own world of weird populated by frenzied, overtired stressed people.
Honestly, I’d go so far as to say they’re usually better than the destination. Here’s why, my friends.
They offer that brief moment of glorious freedom.
There’s a feeling of such release when you get out of a car in a service station. You feel like Neil Armstrong. It’s one small step for a family, one giant leap (accompanied by a waterfall of litter, books, pens and other detritus) for family-kind.
I’m no longer in a car, you think. I can do whatever I want, for about 20 minutes. I’m going to do… two wees. Stretching your legs feels borderline orgasmic, every step longer than the last, every surface inviting you to jump on it and do a dance as though you’re Moose from the Step Up films (you don’t need to have seen them to get that reference, really, he’s just a person who dances on shit).
Nothing they sell makes sense... and it’s brilliant.
The rules are different in service stations to the real world. Chocolate bars cost twice what they do anywhere else, and the products transcend time. You’ll see things like racks of CDs that haven’t been seen in a non-motorway context for ages. Box sets containing four different books about some historical figure. Souvenir teapots with a complimentary bag of shortbread. Greetings cards for what feel like needlessly specific occasions (“Happy retirement, sister-in-law!”) but must make sense financially or they wouldn’t be there.
A world of weird, I tell ya.
Your kids get out of a car to get back in a (fake) one.
The last thing anyone should want to do in a service station is pretend to still be in the car. That’s the point of them – sitting in a car for ages is awful, so you get out and decompress a little bit.
But then, what’s in the service station but endless colourful cars your kids can get in. Chuck some money in and it’ll move, and they pretend they’re in a car – you know, like you have been for three hours, except this one doesn’t actually go anywhere. But hey, I’m not complaining – they’re cute, and a toddler wallying about with the steering wheel in a silly red car is about as nice as it gets.
They have that Vegas touch.
If you’re a bit doo-lally from driving too long, the roped-off area in service stations with five gambling machines in it seems like the most temptingly dangerous, dangerously tempting place in the world.
Heading to the loo while your family queue for a very wet burger, you find yourself thinking you could just pop in there for a moment and change your whole family’s destinies. The big machine on the end offers the unimaginable payout of £100 – you wouldn’t have to drive the rest of the way, and could just sack the car off and take a solid-gold helicopter.
Then you think, maybe I’m just a bit tired.
They’re a place where arguments have no consequences.
When you’re shoved in the car on a long journey, the rows you (probably) have can have actual consequences on relationships – or just, on the rest of your holiday.
But arguing with strangers in a service station has no consequences at all. Hoorah. Odds are you’ll never see these people again – so if you’ve all been sitting in a car for bloody ages and then some idiot pushes in front of you in the Wacky Sandwiches queue, you can get out that angst – and all that happens is your family think you’re cool. When you drive off, you’ll hear, “Mummy called that man a thickhead” from the back seat and feel like a ledge.
Service stations have an excellent business model, even beyond the “charge way too much because nobody has anywhere to go” one. You leave a service station with a pint of coffee, drink it and immediately need a giant wee so start planning the next one you can go to.
Children have tiny little bladders – you can still be pulling out of the first service station and be asked about the next toilets. And it all crosses brand lines, of course – it’s not like if you fill your bladder in a Welcome Break you can’t empty it in a Moto. They self-perpetuate collectively. If one service station does well, they all do well. There’s no monopolies when it comes to having a wee, eating some Starburst and buying a discounted book on some old historical man.
Service stations, they’re magnificent.