I believe a roadhouse defines a country.
In America for instance, the roadhouses serve apple pie and donuts and breakfasts of waffles and maple syrup that come in at 2,000 calories. You can have eggs any which way, hash browns, and bacon that looks like it’s been struck by lightning.
You are served by waitresses that are straight out of all the American movies you’ve ever seen. Think Five Easy Pieces and Jack Nicholson. The waitresses work hard for their tip. But let’s not mention that they pour completely undrinkable American coffee.
Then in France there’s the L’Arches, which literally arch over the motorways that crisscross the country.
You can have a gourmet meal in one of these very strange architectural feats. Cassoulets or duck confit with freshly fried pommes frites, hams and charcuteries and of course cheeses of a standard you’d find on sale in Fauchon on the Champs-Elysees .
Oh yes, and the bathrooms have bidets. Of course they do.
It Italy the roadhouses have bathrooms that should be nuked.
But they also have amazing pastas and pizzas, which compensate somewhat. In an Italian roadhouse you can buy rosaries from Lourdes and pornographic postcards from Russia. While imbibing the most exquisite coffee you’ll find in any roadhouse anywhere in the world, you have to keep an eye out for your car in the parking lot in case someone tries to bust in and steal all your belongings.
Then there’s Germany.
Precise, ordered, efficient, meticulous, rigorous, Germany.
Germany, that makes Mercedes Benz cars and Leica cameras and Zeiss optics. Germany, that has an economy that keeps most of the rest of Europe functioning. Germany, where you can set your watch to the trains because they always run on time, down to the second. Germany, where you can fit out your bathroom with a shower that will give you water temperature down to half a degree Celcius.
Germany, where the roadhouses are completely and utterly weird.
Worms is a town that I had to visit. How could you not visit a town called Worms? You would regret it always if you drove past Worms and didn’t pop in.
Worms was an important stop on an ancient trade route across Europe. It vies for being the oldest city in Germany. And on it’s outskirts it has a roadhouse, catering to modern day travelers on their way across Europe.
I judge roadhouses on the number of trucks outside. The Worms Roadhouse had about forty big mothers parked in the lot out front. I figure if forty German truckdrivers choose the Worms Roadhouse to stop, then it’s got to be worth a look –
The first thing I notice as I walk in is a very impressive coffee bar – an Italian coffee bar. Segafredo. This is a good start, because German coffee sits only marginally above American coffee in drinkability rankings.
Germans don’t do coffee – they do beer.
Then I notice a big NordSee section, where you can buy North Sea stuff, like cod and smoked salmon and other marine life pulled from those freezing waters. NordSee is the McDonalds of fish & chips in Germany.
I then notice that the place is immaculate. There’s a capacious sitting section where you can just – sit. And racks of sweet goodies that are perfectly in order. Nothing out of place. So too the pre-made rolls and sandwiches. Everything has been carefully and precisely put out on display.
You suspect that salmonella doesn’t abide here.
It wouldn’t dare.
But then again, there’s probably no flavor in the food either. Flavor after all is arbitrary. Subjective. And so by definition, imprecise. In this roadside temple of exactitude, imprecision is verboten!
The food they’re cooking though looks yummy. Bavarian sausages, pork roasts, schnitzel, roasted potatoes. Good solid German fare for forty German truckdrivers, all at reasonable prices. I look around for the forty German truckdrivers but can’t see them.
Perhaps they’ve all gone to the restroom.
The restrooms are downstairs.
This in itself makes me suspicious.
I’ve never been to a roadhouse where the toilets are downstairs. Usually they’re out the back, or behind the office, or in a separate block or shed where you need a key, supplied spitefully by the person who just swiped your card for $85 for fuel, as if resenting that at the end of his or her shift, he or she will have to clean the putrid mess that you made.
Here the toilets were downstairs.
I walk down, the stairs immaculate. I consider dirtying them. Dropping some rubbish perhaps, or better still, cleaning out my nasal passages with a sharp snort which would have the contents sling-shoting onto a shiny wall where it would cling there tenaciously in all its disgusting glory.
But then I think my desecration would be probably be caught on a security camera and I would be imprisoned for lacking precision.
I walk down to the toilets, aware now that my need is more than just one of curiosity. I did actually want to avail myself of the urinals. But then I realize that … I have to pay.
PAY TO USE THE BATHROOMS AT A ROADHOUSE?
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
I can’t believe it. This is the first roadhouse I’ve ever been, anywhere in the world, where I have to pay to use the toilets. And it’s not cheap either. €0.70. That’s about US$1.
It’s not the amount of money that bugs me – I can afford it. It’s the principle. Why should I have to pay to use the toilets in a roadhouse? I notice that they offer a deal – if you pay the €0.70 to use the toilet, then you get a €0.50 discount on a €3 cup of coffee upstairs at the Segafredo coffee bar.
That’s cool. So it only costs €0.20 to use the bathrooms.
If I buy a €3 cup of coffee.
But I don’t want a cup of coffee. €3 or otherwise. Because if I had the cup of coffee, I’d want to use the toilets again. So I would then have to pay another €0.70. And then to justify the outlandish cost, I’d then go back upstairs again to have ANOTHER cup of coffee. For €3. And then I’d have to go to the toilet again. And pay another €0.70.
I could imagine myself being there all night. Going up and down those immaculate stairs, between the toilets and the Segafredo coffee bar.
I paid the €0.70 and went inside.
It was like I’d walked onto a set in a Stanley Kubrick movie. Think A Clockwork Orange.
The urinals were… precise. Cold and precise. And of course they were spotlessly clean. No cigarette butts in these beauties. No wads of chewing gum. No little yellow puddles in the toilet bowls that hadn’t as yet been dispatched to the North Sea.
Nope – if you pay €0.70 you get hygiene with a capital H.
This is thanks to a contraption attached to each urinal, called a Urimat. Urimat is made by Sanifair. Sanifair as a name just makes you want to smile, doesn’t it.
Smiling, I wonder what a Urimat does. I consider that it might automatically make me urinate, but when nothing happens I dismiss that possibility. I’m momentarily disappointed that precise German engineering hasn’t yet delved that far into helping us all live full productive lives, our bladders automatically emptied.
Presumably a Urimat, made by Sanifair, sanitizes your urine – fairly – before it disappears into the North Sea. I must admit I could suddenly start to see value in my €0.70. I was using a Urimat. It looked expensive. The product of precise German engineering. All this to clean my urine.
I feel good about this, and immediately I feel ashamed for thinking that the roadhouse had ripped me off €0.07.
I notice as well there are large black screens separating each urinal. This presumably so that the truckdrivers don’t peak at other truckdrivers penises. I wonder if this is something particularly German. I make a note that I should look into this further.
I use the urinal, thankful for the screen – although I was alone.
I wonder where the forty truckdrivers are.
As I walk out I notice something on the wall. A vending machine. I wander over, curious to see if it dispenses hair combs, or dental floss, or antiseptic.
No – it dispenses penis rings.
This is probably where the truckdrivers are – in the cubicles trying on their penis rings.
I notice that some of the penis rings actually have inbuilt vibrators. My goodness the Germans are inventive! I would calmly state here that I’ve lived a full and colorful life, but I’ve never heard of a penis ring with a vibrator.
Perhaps I should get out more.
The dispenser can also provide a German truckdriver with a travel vibrator. I wonder why a dispensing machine in a men’s toilet would have a travel vibrator. Is this to make the long kilometers on the autobahns more enjoyable for the truckdrivers? Where would they place it? Or insert it? And does it need batteries? Are the batteries included?
I wonder if you buy a penis ring or a travel vibrator, do you get a discount voucher for coffee?
I walk upstairs. I hear a loud crash, and see that the magazine rack has crashed down and spilled magazines everywhere, all across the floor.
The roadhouse manager rushes over, his face pale. He looks at the chaos, distraught. This was not how his life was meant to go.
As I walk out to my car, I smile. Not because of the Urimat, but because I viciously drop an icecream wrapper on the ground as I get into my rental. I revel in my celebration of chaos.