Road trips have an almost mythical status in American culture; open roads have inspired countless artists and writers, the expansive landscapes, the empty highways, roadside attractions, pit stops, the passing ghost towns, as significant, if not more so, than the eventual destination. Highway rest stops, therefore catch people during the interlude moments of their journeys. Magnum’s Carolyn Drake photographed the goings on at highway rest stops across America, photographing weary travelers stretching their legs, taking cigarette breaks, eating roadside picnics and walking dogs. The more surreal moments appear in the red-lit glow of nightfall, where we see one visitor taking a break to play some violin.
“The rest stops didn’t feel very distinct,” she says. “These are state-funded projects and usually bare boned; a cluster of trees, a bathroom, a parking lot. I enjoyed talking with the workers there and wish I had sat down to record interviews with them. A lot of them are retired, living in remote places, working there part time to barely make ends meet but they had stories and opinions about the travelers they had seen coming and going over the years.”
For Drake, the American road trip that sticks most in her mind is The Great Unreal by Onorato and Krebs. “I can’t drive long distances with my camera in this country without thinking about this work.”