The Gas Station Glance | My Family Travels

My watch made another insufferable beep. I counted in my head: three. Three hours of sedentary riding on an itchy seat that had turned travel into a game of scratching and ever-shifting posture. I longed to stretch my raw legs. The bus veered right slightly and pulled off the main road. I craned my neck hoping to see that our hotel had miraculously teleported to us, but to my disappointment we were still in the middle of Czechia. A run-down gas station came into view. I took in the scene with a sigh. Despite exploring the otherworldly old town of Prague that morning, I realized that outside commercial influences would always worm their way into unique, foreign cultures. Even in Velké Mezi?í?í, Czechia, a violently yellow golden M hung above the gas station general store. Of course, I wanted to leave my straight jacket of a bus seat, but I in no way wanted to smell Big Macs in the middle of such a distinctively enchanting country.

I rushed out of the bus door heading right – away from the golden arches on my left. While my peers swarmed like locusts in search of chicken nuggets, I scanned my surroundings looking for something, anything, slightly more interesting to occupy me. Unfortunately, my surroundings were quite barren. As I shuffled along, one of my friends fell in stride with me exclaiming that he had no interest in McDonald’s either. I turned my head to smile, but before landing on his face my eyes snagged on a hill – an intriguing hill with a road made of gravel sloping up it. Without much thought, I steered us to the hill and began to ascend, my sandals slipping slightly on the scree below me.

It did not take long for my breath to become heavy and for my legs to feel numb – they hadn’t experienced this much movement for the better part of the afternoon. The sound of hungry American teenagers faded until we were high enough to be graced with silence. We both didn’t dare to break the tranquility with a conversation. We raced up to the plateau ahead, anticipating the satisfaction of discovery.

The crest of the hill melted away and we were left standing on a platform of Earth that one might characterize as anti-climactic: the hill abruptly stopped and there were no people or buildings in sight. Amid the initial disappointment, my friend and I sat down facing a patch of trees. As I shifted my legs trying to avoid the pointy rocks underneath, I turned my head in the direction of where we had come. A small breath escaped my mouth. I stood up tugging my friend along: there was something up here worth looking at.

With a cursory glance over my shoulder, the extreme exercise became fulfilling. We did not see miles of glistening sea or gridded cityscapes. Instead, we saw the countryside dotted with houses and towns, surrounded by croplands. We saw hills rolling on the horizon. We saw lives being lived simply with only the breeze as a soundtrack.

I look back at this memory with immense fondness because, amid unparalleled boredom, heavily Americanized gas stations, and itchy thighs, something unremarkable had turned in to a lasting memory. The view at the top of the hill was not ideal, but to me discovering it represents the essence of true travel: making every moment mean more than you thought it could.

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