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Illinois Tollway Oases
Illinois Tollway Oases

We previously suggested having a picnic in Jackson Park and/or Red Gate Woods while on your Atomic Tour of Chicago's Nuclear Edgelands, but if Jackson Park isn't fringe enough for you and if eating close to a nuclear dumpsite sounds too unappetizing, how about stopping at one of the Illinois Tollway Oases on the city's ring roads?

Illinois Tollway Oases

These oases are roadway rest areas whose defining feature is a glass bridge built over the highway they service. Inside are the usual coterie of fast food restaurants, such as McDonald's, Subway and Panda Express. There are seven listed by Illinois Tollway, although the DeKalb Oasis does not have an over-the-road food court. But you can ignore it, because it's way out in the western hinterlands.

If this website is to be believed, these oases are apparently vernacular to the Chicagoland area. They are found nowhere else — except, of course, for the Glass House in Vinita, Oklahama, and a couple of examples in England, which, if the same site is again to be believed, were “inspired by the Oases in Chicago.”

In reviewing David Lawrence's Food on the Move: The Extraordinary World of the Motorway Service Area, Will Wiles briefly describes one of these English oases, writing: “At Charnock Richard on the M6, Charles Forte — the missing link in British fast food between milk bars and McDonald's — built an Italian-style futurist glass bridge over the motorway containing a high-class grill restaurant where diners could watch the traffic passing underneath, a kind of automotive dinner-theatre.”

If you're looking for a peculiar venue for a public viewing of David Cronenberg's Crash, try a tollway oasis. Then again, if there's an actual crash screened through the glass, the whole thing will come off as some sort of grotesque affectation.

For easy trip planning, we've mapped all these oases (green picnic placemarks; regular green for DeKalb Oasis) in relation to Site A/Plot M (the southern nuclear placemark). Next door with the atomic placemark is Argonne National Laboratory, the direct successor of Site A and (can we say this?) descendant of the Chicago arm of the Manhattan Project. The northern nuclear placemark is Zion Nuclear Power Station, retired in 1998 but scheduled for decontamination and dismantlement in a year or two.

Perhaps it's interesting to note that parts of Chain Reaction was filmed at Argonne. That movie, starring Keanu Reeves, is perhaps the only cinematic treatment of bubble fusion, a hypothesized form of nuclear fusion using sonoluminescence.

Keanu aside and not forgetting that Fermilab is nearby, one wonders what other cutting edge nuclear physics are being done along the fringe.
  • John Hupp
  • April 16, 2011 at 4:30:00 AM CDT
  • You know they have these overhead bridge restaurants in Malaysia, too, except theirs are new. Being from Chicago, I immediately associated them with our tollway Harvey Houses, but I didn't know the idea originated with them.


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