By Natalie Lund
About two decades ago, newly constructed rest areas were opened along I65 in Hart County, just north of Horse Cave. Providing overnight parking for truckers as well as bathroom breaks and picnic settings for assorted other travelers, these rest areas soon became welcome stops for hundreds and hundreds of visitors every day.
Thanks to a part-time gig with Hart County Tourism, I’ve had the privilege of meeting a lot of these visitors while working information desks on both north and southbound sides of the highway.
But times change, and earlier this month in-person desk coverage was suspended due to concerns about coronavirus transmission. I miss the fun aspects of my job and thought this might be a good time to reflect on and share a bit of what I’ve experienced and learned as a “tourism ambassador” here in Hart County.
For starters, I love the questions people ask: Where are the wineries? the covered bridges? the artisan cheese makers? Are the caves underground? What restaurant has an “interesting” kitchen? What state am I in? Who are the famous people from this state?
And messages on t-shirts are likewise entertaining: “I’m not 50. I’m 18 with 32 years of experience.” “Tattooed and employed.” Norwegians say BINGO first!” “4 out of 5 Great Lakes choose Michigan.” “When I was a kid, Pluto was a planet.”
I even have favorite trucks, particularly those sporting giant food murals—Grande Produce, Red Gold Tomatoes, Bruce’s Yams, Sargento Cheese. Indeed, vegetables that are three and four feet tall never cease to amaze me.
Now and then truck watching is even a bit educational, the trucks themselves serving as visual aids. “How?” you ask. Well, after spotting a flatbed loaded with a giant power turbine blade, I asked the driver how many loads were required to transport all the necessary parts for this new kind of windmill. The answer was nine trucks total—three for blades, five for tower segments, and one for mechanical parts. Wow!
Over the years, meeting travelers has been a big source of new information for me. People have recommended favorite books, interesting vacation destinations, trendy health products, and useful websites. Among other things, I’ve learned a bit about cotillions and pickleball and cement mixer rodeos and boot camp graduations and even wild game suppers organized as church outreach events.
In response to questions, I’ve studied up on locations of nearby penny-smashing machines, checked on how one goes about ordering a barn quilt banner, and identified various activities and attractions welcoming to dog participants. I know where to buy country hams and bourbon candy and Amish-made donuts and small-batch cheese sold fresh from the farm where it’s produced.
We’re mostly about alerting travelers to fun and interesting activities, of course, but we also occasionally have information that can help solve travel problems or supply issues. We know where to find the nearest McDonald’s, the closest Wal-Mart, and where assorted car repair resources are located.
Perhaps the very best part of a typical day in tourism is time spent people watching. From this, I’ve learned that people who travel together tend to match in style, fitness level, and mood. Well-dressed people travel with other well-dressed folks, slobs with slobs, chubbies with other chubbies, grouches with other grouches, etc.
Vacationers on travel coach tours tend to be happy and chatty, whereas people who only travel for medical reasons or family emergencies tend to be stressed out. And college sports team members are by far the healthiest looking of all travelers.
Occasionally, there are surprises. Some people want me to discipline their children! (“Tell Johnny he can’t take all those brochures.”) Some people want us to discipline other adults. (“That dude just walked out with two rolls of toilet paper under his coat. YOU NEED TO DO SOMETHING!”) And I particularly remember a day when someone stealthily opened a car door, dropped off an unwanted dog, and drove away as quickly as possible.
For now, our tourism counters at the local rest areas are without their usual array of brochures and other pick-up materials. This, of course is in response to current efforts to minimize spread of the coronavirus. The rest area buildings and grounds, however, ae still being expertly cleaned and well-tended by the usual crew. Their efforts at keeping everything under control and in tip-top shape are legendary. And of course, those of us who work in tourism are eagerly awaiting the time when we can return to business as usual.
Hart County Rest Area Ambassadors below: