While gathering my effects to lug into a truckstop for a shower, it occured to me to grab the soopaCam and give it another go. I've actually done this now on two occasions, attempting to document with photos the experience. Taking-in the whole thing in a single shot is not possible. But, this entry will attempt to detail the procurement of a shower in a typical, big-chain truckstop.
The first step in getting a shower for a truck driver is obtaining the shower receipt. So here's how it works. The "big 3" of the truckstop chains (TA, Flying J, and Pilot) all have magnetic-stripe frequent fueler cards. You swipe these cards when fueling and generate chain-specific perks depending on the number of gallons you purchase.
Typically, you generate one penny for every gallon of fuel you purchase. This may not sound like a lot to some of you. Consider this: the typical driver covers between 2000 and 2500 miles per week and the typical semi gets about 6 miles per gallon, on average. If you could be faithful to only one truckstop in the course of a year, that's an extra $200 in your pocket. And being a company driver, they're giving me that for spending my company's money to buy the fuel. It is totally free money. In my opinion, TA has the most generous of these programs. They regularly offer "double point" months where you earn two cents on the gallon. Also, TA allows you to use your points for purcashing merchandise in their store as well as time on their WiFi network. Flying J and Pilot limit the use of theirs to food puuchases. TA also has better driver services in terms of TV lounges, game rooms, worship services, telephone lounges, full-service truck shops, barber shops, etc. It is for all these reasons and more that TA has become my preferred truckstop for fueling.
It is pretty much an industry standard that, with the purchase of a minimum of 50 gallons of fuel, you also receive a shower credit. With Pilot and Flying J, they are good for 5 days, but TA, as usual is the most generous with a shower credit being good for two weeks. These credits accumulate and when you need a shower, you can use it to obtain a shower receipt free of charge. TA and Flying J have both automated their shower processes. You simply swipe your card through a reader, which then determines how many shower credits you have. After pressing a couple of touch-screen buttons you are printed a receipt which lists your driver number and an access code. Located somewhere nearby is usually a video monitor which displays the driver numbers in a stacked queue and what their shower assignment is, should they choose to accept it, er, if it has indeed been assigned. Again, TA is way ahead of Flying J. In addition to showing this queue, it also gives an estimate on the screen of the "wait for shower" in minutes, viewable to all before even swiping your card. Both Flying J and TA also utilize an overhead intercom system which announces the driver number and shower assignment when the shower becomes ready in the event of a wait. So you're safe to go play in the game room or get a cup of coffee until your shower is ready. When it is ready, you proceed to the locked door of your shower room. Beside this door is a numbered keypad and using the access code on your receipt, you can gain entry to the room and begin to wash the road grime from yourself.
And where is Pilot in all of this? At Pilot, you actually have to GO to the fuel desk and HAND your card to a HUMAN BEING who then gives you a METAL KEY. I'm not a cave-man!
Once inside the shower room, while there are some minor differences between the truckstops (such as Flying J's insistence on providing liquid soap in a wall-mounted dispenser), you have essentially the same things at your disposal:
A bench and trashcan
Towel(s), wash cloth, and soap
Wall hooks and truckstop advertisements
A mirror (hawt soopageek not included)
And of course, the shower
Finding a truckstop with an adequate amount of continuous hot water is a blessed event. Sometimes you get a lukewarm shower for the duration. Other times the temperature changes wildly every couple of minutes from disfiguringly hot to genitalia shrinking iciness. When the planets align: the heavens part and you hear that choir of angels singing "Hallelujah" as a consistent, hot stream of water flows from the faucet. You know those models in soap commercials that look like they're having the time of their life in the shower, flinging their head back and forth and smiling? I'd be convinced they shot those in truckstop shower rooms that had hot water with hidden cameras if, well, if I'd ever seen a truck driver that looked like those TV models.
When you're done, you simply leave your damp towel and wash cloth behind and exit. A dutiful attendant comes by and cleans the room for the next person waiting on the video monitor. Except at Pilot, where you have to actually PICK UP your soiled terrycloth and CARRY it along with the METAL KEY back to the fuel desk. That's so 20th century.