By Mike Thayer
I don't know about you, but when on the road, I HATE pulling into a place that looks OK on the outside but has nasty restrooms and unfriendly and/or unmotivated staff on the inside.
So with traveling on the agenda last week, I thought it would be appropriate to rate the more well-known chain/franchise travel stops along our nation's highways, checking out who has the cleanest rest rooms, the best snacks, who pushes that ethanol crap, and more. Basically, I evaluated which gas station/truck stop/convenience store chain is frankly, the most convenient overall?
I traveled through three Midwest states during my trip and here's what I found from worst to best:
Phillips 66, Gardner, KS: This was one of those places that looks OK on the outside, but has nasty restrooms and lazy staff on the inside. This seems to be a theme with this chain, I say that based on past experience in visits to other locations. The general lack of cleanliness and staff members with bad attitudes must be related to low pay and training issues with this company. The restroom on this visit, like other locations in past visits, was dirty, as in, very nasty. The drink area was in need of attention, the replenishment of cups, lids, napkins, a wipe down. Saying "Hello" generated NO conversational friendliness from the attendant when paying for my drink and pre-paying for gas. I didn't want to bother with the food here, so there's nothing to report. The price of gas was $2.64 for regular (87 Octane). Ethanol is not real big in Kansas. Qualifier: Most all gasoline blends in the United States have around a 10 percent blend of ethanol in it, it's called E-10 but gas stations don't have to label it as such. So when I say ethanol, I'm talking beyond that 10 percent ethanol component. E-85 for example is 85% ethanol. The typical stuff the state of Iowa pushes, is 15% corn-based alcohol, a.k.a. E-15.
Valero, Emporia, KS: The Kansas Turnpike Authority has six service areas located along the toll road and they're all pretty good, EXCEPT this one. The gas station is a Valero, where you have to navigate very tight isles because there's an overkill of shelves, overstuffed with overpriced trinkets. Seriously, only one person can walk down these isles. On the way to the restroom, if somebody is already coming down the isle from the other direction, you have to wait for them to pass through the isle before you can proceed. Once you get into the restroom, that's tight too. Get ready to say, "Excuse me," a lot. Snack options weren't in abundance and the only meal option is at a McDonald's in a separate building. Outside, there aren't enough gas pumps to handle a large volume of vehicles. Otherwise, the facility was clean, it's just not traveler friendly. The price of gas on this visit was $2.64 for regular.
Casey's, Coralville, IA: I like Casey's, it's usually a reliable stop, but not this location, on this day. The restroom was nasty, in dire need of attention. I know it's hard to get motivated to clean up a restroom, but it has to be done. The drink area was presentable, but one of the soda tanks was in need of changing out. In this early morning visit, the breakfast pizza and some biscuits were available, but I passed on it based on the overall condition of the store. I will say that other Casey's locations crank out some pretty good breakfast fare. Casey's does push the ethanol crap, offered at a significantly reduced rate compared to regular unleaded, but to be fair it's an Iowa thing, a state mandate. I don't like the higher ethanol blends, it's bad for your car and actually decreases gas mileage. I pay the higher price for 'regular' unleaded, which on this visit was over $3 a gallon.
Quik Trip, Wichita, KS: You can almost always rely on Quik Trip for clean restrooms, a plethora of snack options and friendly staff. I love their fountain drink and coffee bar setup, it's spacious with more than one service area so there's no "excuse me" or waiting in line for ice or soda, a variety of cup sizes both in foam (no cold hands or cup sweating) and plastic and they feature Pepsi products (I'm a Diet Mountain Dew drinker). Straws, lids, napkins and such are all easy to find and well stocked. I'm not a huge fan of their hot food offerings, I'd rather go to a fast food restaurant, but for chips, nuts, jerky or anything like that, they've got it all covered. If you do want a hot food offering, the QT Kitchen (if staffed) isn't a bad option because it's made to order. Quik Trip also has the roller foods, hot dogs, taquitos, etc., as well as a warmer bin of sandwiches. The price of gas here on this trip was $2.59 for regular and no, they don't push that Ethanol crap.
Casey's, Bethany, MO: This Casey's rocks! I stop here often in my Midwest travels, it's always busy, but always clean, well stocked and the staff is friendly. They've got an excellent variety of snack options, to include a kitchen always at the ready with a nice menu that competes with three fast food options across the street and they do a pretty darn good job of it. The price of gas on this visit was $2.59 for regular. I thank Missouri for having lower gas taxes. Missouri doesn't push the ethanol real hard either, E-85 is available, but only at 125 stations statewide.
Shell, Cameron, MO: Shell has rebounded from being on the nastier side of travel stops - like a Phillips 66 kind of place - to being a top tier travel stop. I like the new Shell model for travel stops because they incorporate the modern plaza style, a very large gas pumping area that can accommodate a large volume of vehicles; a well-stocked convenience store; nice fountain/drink area; a variety of snack food options; well-maintained, large 'capacity' restrooms; and the best part, an attached fast food restaurant, in this case, a Wendy's. The Homestyle Chicken Sandwich rocks by the way. The price of gas was $2.59 for regular.
EZ Go - Topeka, KS: This is another one of those Kansas Turnpike Authority service areas and this is a very nice one. For gas, there's the EZ GO, open 24 hours and no waiting for a pump to open up during times of high traffic volume. Food options are plentiful. Choose from Hardees, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Dunkin' Donuts. Facilities are well maintained and the price of gas on this visit was $2.65 per gallon.
Love's - Eagleville, MO: If you can ever plan your travels so that you can stop at a Love's, do so. These truck stops are top notch featuring large volume pump station areas, large restrooms, a large convenience store with all kinds of snack options, easy access fountain/drink area and if none of the Love's food options trip your trigger, there's a Subway restaurant attached. Overall, Love's should be a go-to for anybody traveling over-the-road. And remember to gas up if your travels take you through Missouri, the state has lower gas taxes, thus, lower gas prices than neighboring states.
Spend Wisely My Friends.....