by ERIC GREEN, for the Sun Gazette
My wife and I were driving south on Virginia’s Interstate 395 from D.C. and planning to stop at some nice place to rest right off the highway before continuing on with our long road trip to Florida.
We drove for over an hour looking for such a rest stop before we encountered something very strange – the official Virginia Welcome Center some 53 miles into the state near the city of Fredericksburg.
That mystified us. So far down into Virginia before you’re welcomed?
We made our pit stop there thinking that the welcome center, like how other states do it, should be located immediately after you enter Virginia coming from D.C. At least having the Fredericksburg Welcome Center was better than not being welcomed at all, with its special feature a white-metal “LOVE” sculpture, reflecting the state’s slogan that Virginia is for Lovers.
Getting back on the highway, surprisingly, within several minutes, we passed an official Virginia rest stop by the community of Ladysmith, which seemed odd that having another place to rest was so near to where you could get a break at Fredericksburg.
Maybe the Ladysmith stop was designed to make up for the first indiscretion of taking so long to be officially welcomed into Virginia. But who needed to stop at Ladysmith when we had just stopped minutes before in Fredericksburg? As it later turned out, maybe it was us who should have stopped there.
To paraphrase from the poem by Robert Frost called Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, we had miles to go before we slept, or in our case, decompress, at the next Virginia service plaza, which we figured would be somewhere after Richmond, another 50-60 some odd miles down the road. But no such place existed on I-95 or the I-295 bypass around Richmond, until we arrived after several more hours had transpired, exhausted and desperately needing to relieve ourselves, at the North Carolina Welcome Center on its border with Virginia.
We wondered why Virginia officials did not offer any more rest stops for people driving south down the state. Did they think the two stops by Fredericksburg sufficed? That we southbound drivers in Virginia are tough, that we don’t need to stop until we drop?
A friend from D.C., who is a senior citizen like me, calls the rest-stop situation in Virginia “ridiculous” as “they are just too far apart for seniors.” He adds that the rest stops are not well maintained and offer insufficient urinals, resulting in “lines of guys in the restrooms, which is not great for the (urinating) shy.” Lack of parking spaces at the rest stops is another problem, he said.
Unlike Virginia on I-95 south, we appreciated the North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida welcome centers to greet us when we first arrived in their states, making us feel more than welcome to be there, especially since some of them had grills, if we had brought food to grill. All along our route, we wondered why Virginia, which bills itself as the place for lovers, would give travelers in that state the impression that they’re unloved and unwelcome, since it takes so long to be welcomed in that state.
Maybe having so few rest stops on I-95 south in Virginia has something to do with when more than a decade ago the state closed many of its rest stops and service centers to save money? Or because of a shooting at a I-95 rest stop near Dale City in 1996?
Whatever the reason, coming back from Florida to Virginia on I-95 north was a whole other happier story. Near a town called Skippers at the Virginia-North Carolina border, Virginia heartily greeted us with a welcome center that partially made up for how we had felt unappreciated going the other direction.
As a self-appointed trip adviser, let me suggest to Virginia officials that they build a welcome center in Arlington, Alexandria or in Fairfax County for travelers heading south of D.C. No offense to what’s at Fredericksburg, but It’s the least they can do to make drivers get an immediate welcome to Virginia before they travel down busy Interstate 95 corridor.