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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Here are our headlines and some of the stories we're following today here at NPR News. The jury in the MySpace cyber-bullying case convicted a Missouri mother of three misdemeanors. They rejected one felony charge against Laurie Drew and could not reach a verdict on another charge linked to the suicide of a 13-year-old girl. And President-elect Barack Obama said today he would have an economic plan of action on his first day in the office. At a news conference in Chicago, Obama also named former president and former FED chairman Paul Volcker to head a new panel to help create jobs. Details on those stories and of course, much more later today on All Things Considered.

Tomorrow, even in good times, gift-giving can be treacherous with the economy in the dumps, you can really get into trouble. Ask Amy's Amy Dickinson guides us through the land mine field of gift-giving dilemmas plus far from home on the holiday, NPR's Gwen Thompkins joins us from Congo. That's tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day, on Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

And right now, the day before the holiday, many of you are either on the road heading over the river and through the woods or getting ready to start that trip. One thing you'll probably do is break your journey at a rest area. If you're on the New Jersey turnpike, it might be named after Walt Whitman, or Vince Lombardi or Molly Pitcher. If you're in Washington State, you may come across the rest area that offers free wireless, free coffee and snacks. Wherever your favorite rest area is or maybe your least favorite, we want to hear your story. Is there one good enough that you tell the kids to hold on until you get there? 800-989-8255, email, talk@npr.org.

You can also join the conversation at our website, npr.org and just click on Talk of the Nation. Debra in San Francisco emailed to say Iowa 80 Truck Stop is the world's largest truck stop with a barbershop, showers, a dentist, masseuse, three to four fast-food outlets, a sit-down restaurant, gift shop, arcade games and other entertainment. When I rode a Greyhound Bus from Grinnell, Iowa to New York City, the I-80 Truck Stop was the only pit stop on the entire six-hour leg from Iowa to Chicago. And this is from R. Danica in Newton, Massachusetts.

It's not exactly on many people's way home but let me recommend the Patagonia Road Side Rest Area, south east of Patagonia, Arizona. Famous among birders. Many rare species have been seen there. Bring your own coffee and there are no other facilities. Joining us now is Joanna Dowling, an historian and founder of the website RestAreaHistory.org. She's with us from the studios of WBEZ, our member station in Chicago. Nice to have you on the program today.

Ms. JOANNA DOWLING (Historian): Hi, Neal. Nice to be here.

CONAN: And as illustrated by those two emails, there are two really different kinds of rest areas. Help us out in the terminology here.

Ms. DOWLING: Absolutely. Well, technically, a rest area named as safety rest areas in the late 1950s when they became a part of the legislation with the Interstate Highway Act is a noncommercial, service amenity located on an interstate highway. They have bathrooms, picnic areas, information panels. Now, we have vending machines, telephones. A truck stop is a commercial location like the amenities listed in email. You can buy a cup of coffee, of course, get gas. So that's the big difference. Really, it's commercial versus noncommercial.

CONAN: And so there are the ones we are familiar with, maybe from the New Jersey turnpike, the Walt Whitman Rest Stop. That's where you can get a (unintelligible) hotdog, a hamburger, roast beef sandwich and gasoline and be on your way.

Ms. DOWLING: Right. And those were more a throwback to the early era of the turnpike and turnpikes being commercial ventures themselves. They offered commercial services in their rights of way. The interstate highway system being a public venture does not allow commercial services within its right of way.

CONAN: And so they will just have restrooms and maybe a vista view.

Ms. DOWLING: Absolutely. A view, probably some information on the local landscapes, maybe some interesting architectural elements, lots of little tidbits to be picked up about the areas that you're traveling through.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller on the line. And this is Buddy. Buddy calling us from Atlanta.

BUDDY (Caller): Hey, how are you?

CONAN: I'm very good. Thanks.

BUDDY: I used to drive around all over the United States, maybe about two million miles already.

CONAN: Oh, good Lord.

BUDDY: The nicest truck stop is off of the 75 Alligator Alley. You can go there. You can park. They got boats going out. There's a lot of things to do there. And the next one is - I don't know if you like trucks stop - but Iowa 80 is a really good truck stop and have a rest area right next to it.

CONAN: So, we've had two votes for the I-80 Truck Stop in Iowa. And so, Buddy, where are you now? Are you driving?

BUDDY: Oh, yes, traffic is bad. A lot of people, I guess, when the fuel got so low, they all decided to come out at all one at a time, you know. And that's everybody is heading for all of us, they are all packed up already.

CONAN: Oh, well, did you pack a lunch or are you going to stop in and buy something.

BUDDY: No, I got to make a delivery. You know, Califrord(unintelligible) and head back to Disney World and pick up my son.

CONAN: Your son is at Disney World, so you're going to pick him up for the holiday.

BUDDY: Yes, I will pick him up. Well, usually if I make a delivery at Disney World, I usually get in for free. They have trucks parking at Disney World too.

CONAN: I did not know that. Well, Buddy. We wish you and you're son a Happy Thanksgiving.

BUDDY: Thank you. You too.

CONAN: So long. Here's an email from Jen in Lyme, New Hampshire. The Vermont Welcome Center on I-91 just across the border from Massachusetts on the north bound side of the highway gets a hardy vote for me housed in a Post and Bean Barn - a Post and Beam Barn that is. And surrounded by gardens, picnic areas, walking trails and a dark park one can rest, pick up a snack and look at exhibits of Vermont made crafts. And Joanna Dowling, that's sounds like the rest area, the classic.

Ms. DOWLING: Correct, absolutely. And welcome centers were part of that program but they are park usually located near a state line and you're going to get a little bit more travel information, possibly bigger, sometimes more well developed amenities at welcome centers.

CONAN: And those, just out the state line because you're just crossing in to that state.

Ms. DOWLING: Correct and they- states want to welcome you to their state. Show off, may be historical sites or a scenic you know, attractions, things that you can do in their states.

CONAN: Let's get Judy on the line. Judy calling us from Brooks in Kentucky.

JUDY (Caller): That's right. My favorite rest stop is in West Virginia. It is about midway through the stay and it's Tamarack(ph) exit. It has a regular welcome plaza down below, but if you just go to the right, in the same area. It has artisans in from all over West Virginia, you can see them doing their work. They sell the work, plus the food court is cooked by the Green Brier which…

CONAN: That's a very famous place in West Virginia.

JUDY: Oh, I anticipate their greens. Whenever I'm traveling to Virginia and Pennsylvania, that's where my family lived. I go out with a smile because I know, I'm going to stop and get those greens.

CONAN: It's hard to imagine Joanna Dowling that people, given our experience with a lot of rest stops, people actually looking forward to stopping at one.

Ms. DOWLING: Well, I'm encouraged by people looking forward to stopping at them. And different sites have different things to offer, so it's exciting when people pick up what they look forward to, to stop and it keeps these programs going.

JUDY: Well this is out of 64, take 64 and just go straight and then all of a sudden it will be there, and it's just fantastic. I love it.

CONAN: Oh, what's the best thing you bought there Judy?

JUDY: Actually, the best thing I bought there. I bought several little CDs and stuff like that, but the one thing I bought there is I didn't have a Christmas present for my sister in law. So I bought her about a four foot snow man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Better than an airport present. Judy?

JUDY: Anyway, it's great. I mean, I love it.

CONAN: Judy thanks very much for the call. Happy Thanksgiving to you.

JUDY: Me too.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let see if we can go next to Ron. Ron is striving to a stop as I understand. Ronnie are you there?

RONNIE (Caller): Well, this is Ron.

CONAN: Yes, hi.

RONNIE: Hello, and thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

RONNIE: Actually, I'm on my way home. I work out at Wisconsin but I live in North east Oklahoma. And it's been unusual, a little rest area here on Interstate 44 in a little town called Veneta(ph). Claim to fame is the world's largest McDonald's. It's a giant parts…

Ms. DOWLING: I'm familiar with that.

RONNIE: You are?

Ms. DOWLING: I am. I know exactly what you're talking about. Over the road, right?

RONNIE: Yeah, it's - I think, it once was called the House of Windows or something. At McDonald's spot there's a big beautiful art that's just lighted up in gold and in away we go. A little tourist track(ph) as well, a few souvenirs and things to be ad. And now that I've heard this on the radio, I think I may just have to stop there. Push a penny.

CONAN: Ron, one would be force to point out Wisconsin to Oklahoma, that's a long commute.

RONNIE: Well, actually, I work out of Madison Wisconsin, but I manage sales for a manufacturer, throughout the south central United States.

CONAN: I say, so you stay in one place more often than the other?

RONNIE: I pretty much live in hotels.

CONAN: Oh, I'm sorry to hear that Ron.

RONNIE: It's a living.

CONAN: There you go, as long as you're making it. Are you going home for the holidays.

RONNIE: That's exactly what I'm doing.

CONAN: Well, drive safely.

RONNIE: Thank you very much.

CONAN: So long, bye-bye. Here's an email by - from Carol. Rather than favor rest stops, I have several stops stories including being robbed ones in Northern Oregon. Today, U.S. Interstate Rest Stops are plumbing. But 25 years ago there were still a lot of fairly primitive stops. I recall an urgent stop at a Midwestern outhouse no more than 10 feet from the freeway, the door had no latch. It was just out of reach and centered so as to favor a wide open natural state facing the oncoming traffic, many of whom waved as they passed. A previous user had written in huge letters with an orange pencil, this place sucks. Well, facilities have improved over time but you describe in your, on your website, some of this places that have remarkable architecture.

Ms. DOWLING: Absolutely and actually Oklahoma is one of the sites that has some very interesting picnic shelters. TP forms were one of the popular regional images use in the late 60's. And Oklahoma has some great minimalist TP designs throughout the state, on Interstate 40. You can find those pretty close to the golden arches that the previous caller was talking. Texas has some wonderful TP's. South Dakota also has some great TP structures. And then there's also some great modern, buildings that may be at first glance you wouldn't think of as great architecture that really reflects some of those mid-century aesthetics that were popular during the first generation of construction.

CONAN: But you could nominate some unusual rest areas or even picnic benches in the Bronx for example, on the Bronx - the cross Bronx, especially it might be a burned out Buick.

Ms. DOWLING: All right. Yeah. Absolutely, and there are many great examples regionally throughout the country that reflect the regional design of their locations. The Southwest has some great adobe inspired shelters and on the North West there's some brick and rock face buildings that really fit nicely into the rustic mountainous regions.

CONAN: Our guest is Joanna Dowling, a historian and founder of restareahistory.org. What's your favorite rest stop? You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

CONAN: Let's go to charity. Charity is driving to Vermont. On the road, Charity, how are you?

CHARITY (Caller): I'm well, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: So where exactly are you?

CHARITY: I'm right now in Connecticut, heading North to Vermont.

CONAN: OK, and what's your favorite rest stop?

CHARITY: My favorite rest stop is the Sharon Rest Stop off of I-89 in Vermont. It - of course, has free coffee, like all the rest stops off of 1-89, the Green Mountain Coffee Rosters. But the most remarkable thing is that processes is own waste using a living machine.

CONAN: A living machine?

CHARITY: A living machine. It's a kind of a giant - and you can walk through it. They organized so that people stopping can actually see what's going on. They have tanks and somehow, I'm not a scientist, they process the waste using plants. And…

CONAN: Is this one of those things that it's wise that's it's not place next to a fast food restaurant?

CHARITY: Maybe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHARITY: Yeah, it's in the mountain, it's in the green mountain. So it's really pretty as well, and they have a picnic benches and things outside so you can have your lunch and look at the view.

CONAN: And watch a pink processor. OK. Charity, drive safely. OK.

CHARITY: Thank you.

CONAN: And have a happy holiday.

CHARITY: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. This is from Sandra, by email, my favorite rest stop is the Trail of Tears rest stop in Southern Illinois. It commemorates the tragic forced removal of Cherokee Indians from the Southeastern region of the country, to the west, the photos and the story, and the indictment of the cruelty. The experienced, Joanna, are familiar with that one?

Ms. DOWLING: You know, I'm not familiar, actually, with that rest areas specifically but I think that's a great example of the emphasis that can be found in a lot of rest areas, is that educational aspect and that really was consciously done in the part of DOT developers in the late 50s, 60s through today is that that educational aspect and then also as a means of entertaining people and occupying them so maybe they'll stay in the rest area a little bit longer, rest from that weary road travel which we all understand traveling on the interstate for miles at a time and the whole points is to make our highways safer so if you spend a little more time in the rest area, you'll be a little more fresh when you get back behind the wheel.

CONAN: Let's go talk to Joe. Joe's with us from Natick in Massachusetts.

JOE (Caller): Yeah. My favorite rest stop is the place of complete tackiness, South of the Border, I-95 south across the North Carolina-South Carolina line. It's just everything you can want in kitsch.

CONAN: I think the signs for that begin just south of Hudson's Bay. It's one of the best advertised rest stops in the country other than the Wall Drug in way out west.

JOE: Yeah. I mean, walk into the building and all you see is fireworks. Thank you! I didn't know I could actually get these and take them home.

CONAN: In some states, if you try to take them home, you are in violation of the law which I'm sure is strictly enforced.

JOE: In my own home, yes. That's a problem. And it's hot climate and miniature golf. It's just a great place of tackiness. I love it.

CONAN: All right, Joe. Thanks very much. Drive safely and happy Thanksgiving for you.

JOE: Bye-bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Nancy in Rochester, New York. The Blue Benn Diner in Bennington, Vermont. You can get a California Pareto(ph) or a stock of pancakes with Vermont maple syrup that will make you want to take a nap. There are the pies that will clog your arteries, always packed with locals and holiday travelers. The bathroom is cold enough to be an outhouse and the floor is tilting but then, you're there for the food. Suzanne in Menlo Park, California. My husband's and my favorites are any rest stops along I-80 in Nebraska. We drive across country every summer and Nebraska's rest stops are unfailingly attractive. The restrooms are spit-polish clean and their on site travel desk are staffed with folks with lots of local knowledge. It just doesn't get any better than that. Peggy in Ann Harbor, Michigan. One of the prettiest rest stops is located on the Highway 2 in the upper peninsula of Michigan, approximately one hour north of the Mackinac Bridge and looks out of over Lake Michigan. It is really gorgeous. We've got a stack of these coming in. America, Joanna Dowling, loves their rest stops.

Ms. DOWLING: Well, I think that's fantastic and I would just encourage people that start looking when you stop and think a lot of these sites are becoming historic sites and I think it's great when the newer sites are appreciated because they're clean and they have great service amenities. But for my perspective as a historian, we want to start looking at the origins of the sites and some of those less savory restrooms which I don't honestly enjoy using anymore than everybody else but they have a history to them and it's important to recognize some of that. So there's definitely a layering of experience here and I'm very encouraged by all of this feedback coming in. I think it's fantastic.

CONAN: Joanna Dowling is an historian, the founder of RestAreaHistory.org. There's a link to her website at npr.org/talk. Thanks so much for your time today.

Ms. DOWLING: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: We'll end with this one from Eric via email. My favorite rest stop is the wayside at Turnagain Pass about 50 miles south of Anchorage, Alaska. The setting is visually stunning and it's the perfect distance for those who didn't go before they left on the trip. Tomorrow, Ask Amy's Amy Dickinson solves your gift-giving dilemmas and we'll hear from our friend and colleague Gwen Thompkins who's spending the holiday far from home in Congo. We hope you'll tune in for that. If not, or even if you do, have a happy Thanksgiving. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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