The closing of a Chicago Tollway oasis

In the 1950s, the new tollways constructed in the Chicago area included the occasional rest stop, including the Des Plaines Oasis which closes this weekend:

We spent 24 hours at the Oasis talking to people from all walks of life. Here’s a peek at what we saw and heard…

An extremely mismatched couple staggers in, tipsily leaning into each other. She’s tall and elegant in a long cashmere coat and large gold earrings, her hair stylishly up.

Him, he’s wearing ill-fitting pants and a bad baseball jacket with a white body and blue sleeves…

It’s not quite light out yet, but the Oasis bustles with customers. Many of them are truck drivers, like Freeman Barber of Cobbs Creek, Va.

Barber wears a shiny black jacket decorated with several American flag pins and a baseball hat bearing the acronym BARF…

Two buses pull up. Dozens of teenage girls — hair pulled into ponytails, some still in pajama bottoms and fuzzy slippers — pile out.

They bypass the lunch crowd at McDonald’s and line up for the bathroom, talking as they wait. Moms, dressed more conservatively, join them.

In other words, a slice of life amongst American highway drivers. This is a good example of a modern-day journalistic human interest story that doesn’t tell us much about the more quantifiable side (number of people there each day, amount of goods sold, how much it costs to keep open, etc.) of the oasis.

It is interesting to note that this oasis is part of a longer chain of official Tollway rest stops that go all the way from the Chicago area through eastern Pennsylvania. This road, stretching from I-90 in Illinois to I-80 in Indiana and Ohio to I-76 in Ohio and Pennsylvania, was one of the first long highways in the United States. The reason it is a tollway is because it was built before the official Federal Interstate Act of 1956 which provided lots of federal funding for the American interstate system. States were responsible for funding highways then and Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois put together a common road across their borders. Plans for highways in the Chicago area began in the 1920s and 1930s but it wasn’t until the 1950s that the tollways were built.

Having been in a number of these rest stops along this east-west route, here is my quick rankings of rest areas (from best to worst) between the Chicago stops through eastern Pennsylvania:

1. Tied for first: newer Ohio and Pennsylvania rest areas. They tend to feature good fast food options and airy buildings.

2. Illinois Oases. Pretty clean and lots of food options. Bonus: they take up less space since they span the highway and can be accessed from both sides.

3. Older Ohio and Pennsylvania rest areas. Dingier, worse food options.

4. Indiana rest areas. Nothing inspiring here.

A bonus: 5 fun facts about the history of the Des Plaines Oasis, including its short appearance in the The Blues Brothers.

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