Saying goodbye to the Des Plaines Oasis
Apart from notices at both entrances of the Des Plaines Oasis, there was little indication Sunday that the structure was mere hours away from being closed forever.
There were no going-out-of-business sales at the restaurants, the information kiosks were still neatly stuffed with brochures for tourists, and even the claw game shaped like a groovy 1960s Volkswagen Bus was still stocked with plush toys ripe for the picking. Travelers still came and went, stopping by for gas, a quick bite or a restroom break.
Perhaps the only other indication that the end was nigh for the iconic rest stop was the presence of some visitors walking a bit slower than usual, taking in the experience of drinking coffee while sitting alongside the rectangular windows as cars whizzed by below.
One such person was Jim Yarbrough, who came to the Oasis with his camera to capture the place on its last day. Yarbrough, who has lived in the Des Plaines area his entire life, said he's sorry to see the Oasis go.
"I've just come through here forever," Yarbrough said. "It's always been clean, convenient and is part of Illinois history."
Over by one of the massive windows Susan Weigner crouched next to her 2-year-old grandson Michael as he looked out at the traffic excitedly, calling out the names of vehicles he recognized.
"Garbage truck! School Bus!" Michael said.
Weigner, a Rolling Meadows resident, said she has taken her grandchildren and her own children before them to the Oasis so they can marvel at the sights of the highway below.
"I was so sad when I heard that it was closing so I said to both of my daughters, 'Come on, let's go to the Oasis, lunch on me,'" she said.
The oasis was a regular stop before returning home after family road trips because it was the perfect place to unwind, Weigner said.
Ramiro Gonzalez, a custodian employed by the state to care for the facility, was tasked with locking the Oasis' doors to the public for the last time at 8 p.m.
"The employees here are great," Gonzalez said. "A lot of them have been here for years and it's like a family, so it's kind of sad to see it (close)."
Gonzalez said he would be transferred to work at a different oasis after he locked the doors.
Other employees declined to comment, saying they had agreed with their employers not to talk about it being their last day.
The Oasis will be demolished later this spring to make way for road work authorities say will alleviate traffic congestion in the region. The site will serve as the northern nexus of a new toll road connecting the Jane Addams Tollway, the Elgin-O'Hare extension and western bypass and the Tri-State Tollway.
Despite the promised improvements, many on Sunday say they will miss the Oasis.
"I'm sorry to see it go," Weigner said. "I wish they didn't have to."