Rob O'Neil: Rest Area - A Tony Hungerford Memorial Art Gallery Exhibition

Rest Area by Rob O'Neil
September 4 - October 4, 2018 in the Tony Hungerford Memorial Art Gallery, FA Building, La Plata Campus | Artist Lecture: October 5, CE, Room 101 at 2:30 p.m., reception following in FA lobby
10/9/2015 07:00 PM

Like a draftsman’s line across a white sheet of paper, highways and interstates paint sweeping arcs and pin-straight lines across the landscape. Multiple midpoints exist on these lines; they’re called rest areas, travel plazas, picnic areas, pit stops, or welcome

After my undergraduate degree, I took a job working for some friends with their
importing business. Part of my job was driving a box truck around the eastern United
States. Chicago, New York, Atlanta, High Point, Brimfield, Boston – these were
destinations two or three times a year. I got to know the interstates. Rest areas were a
vital part of my driving. They are efficient. They are utilitarian. This was before the
ubiquity of cell phones; they had pay phones. I find these places interesting for many
reasons including their banality, their need, their glamour or dinginess, their desire to
please and yet their cold utility. Highways sterilize our experience of the landscape, but
the rest areas seal the deal on our un-infringed-upon travel.

On a base level they all share the same goal – “…off-road spaces with provisions for
emergency stopping and resting by motorists for short periods” (A Policy on Safety Rest
Areas for the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, 1958 ) – but they
vary in size and amenities. There are monumental welcome centers that have themes,
state propaganda, “History Happened Here” displays, and rows and rows of sunglasses
for sale. They give us a sense of community on the road. Newer designs feel like a
shopping mall or ‘lifestyle center’, with peaceful settings and your choice of gourmet
food. It’s family friendly! Others are simply pull-offs with nothing more than a trashcan
and a picnic bench. But the rest areas are places we share.

These places have beauty! Gardens are tended, views are contemplated, and pets are
given their own places of solitude. Even with the constant drone of traffic, these are areas
of comfort and serenity. There is a structure and plan that makes sense; we breathe and
our weary bodies relax a little bit. These places are interesting and useful physically,
sociologically, and emotionally. We need them.