I’m gross. Like, really gross. Like, so gross that there’s a bloody, half-smushed mosquito on my upper left arm and my fingernails look like they’ve been dragged through the trenches in ‘Nam. I need a bath. But how? I’m on day seven of a sleep-in-the-van road trip with two more days of driving before I get to my mom’s house in Tahoe.
Then, out of the darkness, a sign appears in bright yellow and red like a 1970s roller disco. “Love’s” exclaims the homey print, followed by a large cartoon heart. The sign looks and feels just like a hug, and I am drawn, mothlike, to its folksy flame. I’m about to experience the magic of my very first truck stop shower.
As a road trip addict and frequent Love’s visitor, I have to admit I’ve always been skeptical of the showers advertised at over 250 locations across the US. I mean, it’s $12 for something that lasts 15 minutes! Could it really be worth it?
But last month, my boyfriend’s added curiosity pushed me over the edge, and we splurged on a real-deal trucker shower after an all-day hike in the Grand Canyon that left us both feeling a little, ahem… ripe.
We entered the more hardcore section of the travel store, passing shelves stocked with brake fluid and spare tires, looking entirely out of place in our sneakers and ripped Pink Floyd pajama pants. “What’s the deal with the whole shower situation?” I asked timidly, not sure if I had unknowingly entered into a secret society of trucker illuminati.
“Well, it’s $12 for one shower, and it includes towels and soap and all that. You guys can share if you want. We can even throw in some extra towels.”
Now they were speaking my language! It’s like the incredibly Midwestern-looking man behind the counter knew that all I secretly wanted was to be clean and naked with my boyfriend for a few minutes in a room that wasn’t my 25-degree van. I was sold.
We were given a little scrap of paper with a code and a shower stall number printed on it and pointed in the direction of a long hallway of bathrooms. I walked up to stall #3, entered in the passcode, and excitedly cracked open the door to an impeccably clean small room, complete with a toilet, sink, shelf, and shower. There were towels and washcloths and a soap dispenser all perfectly placed around the room, and I immediately hopped out of my clothes and into a steady stream of hot water, eagerly scrubbing the grime from every piece of my body in a ritualistic fashion.
When we had both luxuriated in the tiny space long enough to feel clean and sated, we donned our trashy road trip clothes again and set out to find a free campsite in the Mojave desert. I sunk into the passenger seat and felt a smile creep across my face as I stared out the window at the night’s lingering stars. I felt like I had just uncovered one of the least talked about and most fabulous secrets that van life had to offer.
The magic of a truck stop shower isn’t just that it exists, it’s that the people shepherding you through the experience are the warmest tour guides you will ever find in the middle of nowhere. They know that sometimes, the only thing standing between you and a beautiful evening is a clean towel, a bottle of soap, and a steady cascade of hot water.
Sometimes, it’s the littlest things that bring the biggest smiles.
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