The last stop before (the next one)


The store is in a location that Terry and I drove past often for years.

It’s on what most of us might consider a secondary major highway of sorts. Not a real highway. Stop lights and forks in the road. Often just a single lane in either direction. Still, connecting major cities, built on historical pathways route.

Terry and I hadn’t driven past it in at least five years, and possibly a handful more than that. Not much had changed, including a hand-painted store sign out front that included a line that began:

“Last stop before…”

We need to establish something to ground this next bit. So, please consider…

Most sources will list the generic distance between Orlando and Tampa as 84 miles. Same resources, San Diego to Los Angeles is 120 miles. Cleveland to Pittsburgh? About 134 miles. Many of the roads you would travel on suggested directions between those destinations are highways, but some are not. Driving time estimates range from 90 minutes to 2 hours.

The sources used to establish those details list the distance between our shop’s parking lot and the place it’s the last stop until as 88 miles. While we pause for a moment so you can bring those thoughts together, it’s likely time for our fairness to the other side assessment of things.

If you’ve ever driven along a thruway or turnpike, you’ve seen signs. Last exit before toll. Next rest area 45 miles. Warnings about something coming up that you might want to note. Not necessarily in any way scary, but often worthy of consideration.

If you’ve ever experienced the joys and wonder (and sometimes boredom) of stretches of road across the United States, you know that a sign warning you that there won’t be any gas available for a while means there will be absolutely no gas after this next station for a really long distance.

So, regardless of it being food or gas or alcohol or lottery tickets, there deserves to be some thought given to a place that wants you to know the road ahead is lacking. That, in summary at a really basic level, is fair.

But… you know… is it?

We’ve almost become conditioned as drivers and passengers. When a big sign on the side of the highway says the next rest area is at least a half-hour away, we consider whether or not we need to stop to use the facilities. When driving across a desert or virtually uninhabited run of road, and the warning is there will not be gas available for a long time, we look toward the dashboard and check the gauge.

So, here we are, with a little shop saying this here is the last stop for a while. A traffic light follows the parking lot by about a half-mile. Pass the light and find about two hundred yards beyond it a stretch begins with a grocery store, fast-food restaurant, diner, sub shop, coffee shop and drug store. And, you know, that didn’t take long to come across other stops.

A long time ago, I spent some time kicking around thoughts about a roadside stand and fries in a completely different place in a completely different state:

I’m driving along a local route… one of those roads that, while I suppose it qualifies as a main road, you wouldn’t think of using unless you had a need to be there. Basically, when driving it unintentionally, it is exactly the type of road that confirms all fears that you’re lost.

A gas station is located at an intersection, with little else nearby. It’s a minimum of a half-mile in any direction from that intersection to find a store, restaurant, or any other place of business. Half-mile. Minimum. We’re talking houses and lots of trees. Perhaps some livestock. I would not be surprised if most of the residents nearby allow pigs, goats, horses and such inside their homes.

Also at that intersection, across the street from the gas station, is a small piece of open land. And on that land, on this day, is a hot dog cart. It’s a pretty fancy setup. Two or three canopies are in place, along with a couple of tables and chairs. And, leaning off to the side, is a sign:

Try Our World Famous French Fries

A sign can say whatever you want it to say. While I questioned every possible element of this roadside stand being world famous, there was a funny twist. I was writing about those fries. I have friends and family that live not only around this country but also in several international locations. Technically speaking, people from multiple countries had heard about these fries. Apply the world famous label with your own definition.

And now we have the last stop store. Have the owners itemized their inventory, driven the two hours and 88 miles, and checked every potential stop along the way to see if they are the last hope for finding some items? The sign isn’t specific. Just claims to be the last stop. Maybe they are the last stop where some specific item or particular brand could be found for some time.

Life and directions and the paths both traveled and not. Experiences differ. They always differ, even along the same routes. And there’s no guarantee of what you might encounter if you drive a bit further into the unknown before turning.

So, smell the roses. Order the fries. Appreciate the journey.

But if nothing else, when a sign is offered to remind you, think about the restroom and check the gas gauge.


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