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Oregon Travel Experience rest area supervisors are almost never surprised by unexpected events, especially when thousands of motorists travel the I-5 corridor every day. Yet every so often, a situation arises that stands out for OTE employees.
Manzanita rest area Assistant Supervisor Kevin Smolich had just started his early morning shift when a Josephine County Sheriff’s deputy drove up. The deputy told Kevin there was an attempt to locate (ATL) on a missing woman from Glendale, Oregon. The woman’s brother had called the police and reported that his sister had not returned home the previous night.
Kevin began to clean restrooms, keeping an eye out for anything unusual. He noticed the disabled companion restroom was occupied, but since this is not outside the norm, he did not try to open the door. When he returned a little while later, the door was still locked. Kevin knocked softly a couple of times, but no one answered. He finally shouted out to see if someone was inside.
Cautiously, a woman answered back, but was unwilling to unlock the door. Kevin identified himself as an Oregon Travel Experience employee and asked the woman if she had been out of touch with her family since the previous night. She replied “Yes!” and opened the door. Kevin could see she was shivering.
After reassuring the woman that police were searching for her, Kevin guided her into the Manzanita office and notified law enforcement. As the woman drank hot coffee and warmed herself, she told Kevin how a seemingly innocent date had gone terribly wrong.
Her male companion pulled into the rest area at midnight, forced her from his car, and drove off with the woman’s purse, cell-phone and coat. Frightened, and with no way to contact her brother, she locked herself in the restroom where she remained for six long hours.
This story is one of many from rest area supervisors, where OTE employee’s efforts have helped change a potentially dangerous event into a happy resolution for family members of stranded or desperate motorists.
Kevin made sure a terrified woman received solace and warmth. Perhaps all a part of the usual job description if you were to ask Kevin about it, but much, much more if you were to ask someone whose personal safety had been at risk.
Not only do Oregon Travel Experience employees help administer the Free Coffee Program at our nine rest areas, our front-line office staff field calls (and complaints) from the traveling public.
A recent call from a motorist traveling I-5 near Wilsonville went directly to OTE receptionist Sarah Flores’ line. The gentleman complained that he had stopped by the Baldock rest area to take a safety break and found the free coffee window closed.
Sarah said, “I apologized right away and was about to tell him the reason why we were closed when he stopped me and said, ‘Was it because you had no volunteers?’ I told him ‘Exactly! We just happened to not have anyone this weekend.’”
Oregon Travel Experience is a small agency. Approximately 37 employees are employed in both field operations and administrative support. Although considered tiny by state agency standards, OTE employee’s hearts are huge, as evidenced by their participation in the state employee’s holiday toy drive.
Three huge boxes of toys were delivered by OTE staff to the Capitol rotunda, where all of the toys received from state workers will be on display until they are picked up by the Toy for Joy Program.
The annual toy drive allows state employees to donate new, unwrapped toys for children ages 1 to 12. The Salvation Army depends heavily on this drive for a large portion of the toys it distributes each December.
No agency funds are used for the drive. All toys were purchased on the employee’s time off, and with their own money.
We hit the ground managing the Government Camp rest area on December 1st. The snow has begun to fall and with it comes the throngs of skiers, snowboarders and families wanting to play in the snow.
We’ve already received a great number of complements on our clean restrooms. Keeping public restrooms clean is always a challenge, but we are very good at, and it helps when people comment on how clean and nice smelling they are.
One of our greatest challenges (aside from snow removal) is to police the small parking area so that there are parking spaces for the traveling public that needs to use the restroom. It’s easy to understand why skiers and recreational users are interested in those spots for parking, but they have to remain available for motorists using the restrooms.
Under our temporary operation of Government Camp rest area, we will only be able to maintain the area in its present condition, so hopefully we’ll assume responsibility on a permanent basis. If that happens, we already have many great ideas for improvements and upgrades.
The photo to the left shows Jim Pettyjohn, OTE’s back-up Boardman rest area supervisor. On Jim’s third day on the job, he was approached by a motorist at around 8 a.m. looking for the nearest gas station. The driver had been driving from Portland on his way to North Dakota hauling a Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) trailer. The driver was worried he would not make it to the next gas station and was willing to buy the gas. Jim explained OTE’s policy for providing a small amount of gas, free of charge, so that stranded motorists can make it to the next available gas station. The FEMA driver thanked Jim and was back on the road within minutes.
The following is an excerpt from a letter sent to OTE Salem headquarters by a motorist:
On October 15, 2011, my husband and I left Seattle for Arizona with our 35′ motor home and car. Before reaching Albany, Oregon, we could smell gas in the motor home. We stopped at the rest stop near exit 282 (Santiam rest area). We immediately saw gas leaking out of the gas line behind the rear wheels. We shut down the engine and started looking for someone who could close off the lanes on both sides of our RV.
Your employee Nancy Rold was driving through the rest area in her pickup truck. I explained to her that I was concerned with the gas leakage and the possibility of someone smoking near the RV. She went and found some cones to the block the lanes while we contacted an RV service representative.
I am writing to thank Nancy and others who maintain the Oregon rest stops.In our case, she helped protect our RV until we could have it repaired. Emergencies do happen while driving and having someone in a rest stop to assist you is very important. I understand this is very difficult to fund and I just want to say “Thank you” for having someone there.
LeRita Rodbury, Kent, Washington
I thought it very interesting to note the volume of travelers we had through the Santiam rest area on Wednesday Thanksgiving eve. I take the traffic count every day around 9 a.m. so this is within a 24 hour period from 9 a.m. Wednesday to Thanksgiving day 9 a.m.
The count was almost 2500 people that stop to use our facility on the southbound side while northbound visitors totaled almost 2000. Within the last two days, two people locked their keys inside their cars and I was able to offer some kind of service, whether it was calling a tow company for them or staying with them until the tow company arrived.
The central bed measures eight-feet by 24-feet, so quite a large area to fill.
The planter is located in front of the rest rooms so that motorists can enjoy the plantings throughout the year. It is supposed to maximize flowering natives and provide color throughout the seasons.
We’ll have to wait and see when the show really begins because half the plants we used were dormant, so the bed may appear a little sparse.
Thanks to the volunteer efforts of Sarah, Oregon’s natural beauty will shine through.
Thousands of cars drive up and down Interstate 5 everyday, but not many fighter jets.
Passing motorists stopped to see exactly why one was parked on the highway north of Albany, Oregon on Wednesday.
A decommissioned B-1 Bomber is making its way across Oregon as it heads toward Portland International Airport.
It is parked near Oregon Travel Experience’s Santiam rest area and will be there until at least 10 p.m. Thursday.
The jet and its trailers are 29 feet wide and will require two travel lanes during its night time trip.
The truck will pull over in certain spots to allow traffic to pass, as needed.
It’s proving to be quite an attraction. Many people stopped to take photos of it Wednesday.
The impromptu photo shoot slowed down nearby traffic, and the Oregon Department of Transportation warns drivers to be especially cautious when driving through the area.
Oregon Travel Experience rest area supervisors are the first people that many first-time visitors, as well as regular commuters, meet while traveling I-5 or I-84. Their commitment goes beyond hours set or job descriptions.
The motoring public relies on OTE rest area supervisors to help them when the going gets tough. These dedicated men and women help fix flat tires, jump-start batteries, retrieve lost keys, return wallets and purses, oversee the cleanliness and safety of OTE managed rest areas, build, repair and maintain publicly owned grounds and structures, and deal with unexpected emergencies and situations at all times of the day or night.
Grant Christensen is OTE’s Baldock assistant supervisor. He and his fellow supervisors across the state perform everyday miracles to those on the highway. If you think miracle might be an exaggeration, just ask the woman who is locked out of her car in the dark, the man who drops his wallet full of cash, or the family who loses their pet while stopping at a rest area.
Christensen performed one of his “everyday miracles” for a visitor just the other day when he helped a motorist’s stranded vehicle (pictured above) get back on the road.
How are the logos installed? First, grab a reeeeeeeally tall ladder!
And extend it some more!
The two Js steady the logo placard for its ascent up the ladder.
Notice how really BIG the logo placard is?
That’s because when you’re whizzing by on the highway looking for a place to eat, your brain registers the logo, not the dimensions. We all thought that logos were tiny things until we saw this up close.