Vintage Snapshot: Midway Plaza, Pennsylvania Turnpike, Dec. 1963 – Heading To Florida?

Taking a break on their holiday trip with the Airstream. Somewhere warm, I assume? The ’61 Ford wagon is sitting pretty level, thanks to that load distributing hitch.

I’ve got lots of memories of this and the other turnpike plazas on the PA, Ohio and Indiana turnpikes, especially from my hitchhiking days. I used to ask my rides to drop me off at the closest plaza before they got off the turnpike, as many of the exits were really dead. I learned this the hard way one bitterly cold night…

It was late at night and my ride pulled off on an exit that was in the middle of nowhere in Indiana. He left me off just outside the little toll house. It was a clear starry night in January, and about zero degrees. I stood there shivering in my feeble Army surplus jacket all night long; maybe only one or two cars came by, and they did not pick me up. I was getting a bit concerned about hypothermia. There was no place to go; the exit went to some little town that was like 10 or 15 miles away.

At about 4AM I asked the guy in the tool booth if I could come in and warm up for a few minute. No way.

I squatted on me feet and pulled my jacket around my legs. If it hadn’t been for the thick Icelandic wool sweater under the jacket, I’m not sure I would have survived.

Around 7AM the first car of the day came. I must have looked desperate enough, as the middle-aged man in a Ford sedan stopped and invited me in. I’ve never been more thankful to get into a warm car. He asked me how long I’d been there.  All night.

At the next plaza, he pulled off and said he wanted to buy my breakfast. I can still remember sitting at the counter chowing down the hot eggs, bacon, potatoes, toast and coffee. I was so appreciative. He was my guardian  angel.

After that experience, I always asked turnpike rides what exit they were getting off at, and looked at the signs to make sure they let me off at the last plaza before they got off. I would approach folks who looked like they’d be relatively more amenable about a ride, which was better than standing out at some dead exit, especially in the winter and at night.

Here’s a shot of Midway, including the HoJo, from the 1940s.