Wednesday, September 28, 2011

American Gods and Roadside Attractions Tour: We're Not in Kansas Anymore

The Kansas-Nebraska state line is a mere 15-ish miles north of US 36. In contrast, I-70 runs straight across north-central Kansas - about 100 or so miles from the state line. Fair to say then that we were truly off the beaten path.

Would you like to know a secret about that path? It ain't flat. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Oh sure. As one would expect, there was wheat, corn, cows (Moo! Moo! Buck-a-roo!). But, north of the interstate, there are beautiful patches of prairie, rolling hills, trees, ponds odd assortment of cemeteries.

Pleasant Plains Cemetery just north of Lebanon on US 281

In the 15 miles from Lebanon to the Nebraska border, there were 3 such cemeteries - all at least 100 years old and all near the road we traveled. I guess people die a lot in these parts. Probably from the contaminated drinking water. But I've already covered that.

We casually discussed stopping and poking about in them - just in case, you know, someone famous were buried in one - but decided against it. We still had a lot of ground to cover before we'd stop for the night and, truthfully, famous graves are typically very well documented. We likely would have known to stop long before we stumbled upon it.

Just north of the Nebraska state line though, we were beckoned to stop by a historical marker. It turns out, the vast panorama of pristine prairie our eyes were feasting upon was all part of a 608-acre preserve - the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie.

Photo courtesy of the Willa Cather Foundation

As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of wine-stains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running.
- from My Antonia by Willa Cather

Truly stunning. It almost felt as though we'd fallen into a wormhole that had transported us back in time. A rare moment in my adulthood, I felt as though I was seeing what I'd read about (and loved so much!) as a child. The worlds of Willa Cather, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the plethora of Native American stories I'd been fascinated by were right before my eyes. I half-expected buffalo. Instead, there was a herd of cows off sunning themselves and drinking from a watering hole in the distance. It was good enough.

Back in the car, it was mid-afternoon - around 3 p.m. - before we'd make our way into Hastings, NE. There were a few attractions from Roadside America I'd put on our list in the area but we were cutting ourselves short on time having spent so much time poking our noses around Kansas that we hastily (in Hastings) decided to pick one or two and continue on.

Unfortunately, the one we chose - Andy, the the footless goose - gave us a wild goose chase (no pun intended). We knew we were in trouble when Acr0's GPS wove us around town and then south of town and down on little tiny lanes and then told us to turn "Off Road". Uh...that can't be good.

We'd end up turning down a one-lane, graveled drive - the kind of drive that is full 'o creep just generally but was made even more so by the appearance of a large school bus, painted black and gray, with the words, "Satan's School for Girls" painted on its front and sides. In a nutshell? We were lost looking for the grave of a murdered goose, on a rural road, surrounded by cornfields, no footless goose in sight, faced with a dead end - the road gated off and bordered, by the looks of things, with an electrified fence enclosing a series of abandoned structures (looked much like the state hospital in Wyoming actually). The Satan's School for Girls bus parked in such a way to barely allow us to squeeze by was kind of my last straw.

We bailed out on Andy (regrettably without snapping a picture of the bus first). Strike two for roadside attractions on this day (because no really, who shoots the fucking Statue of Liberty?!).

Discouraged, we headed back out on the open road then, and forged our way east and meandered north via US 6 and then up US 81 to catch a glimpse of the York water tower before hitting I-80 east toward Omaha.

I have a thing for cool water towers

 Now, if you've ever driven across I-80 through Nebraska, then you probably already know that western Nebraska along the interstate can be just as painful as I-70 through Kansas. But! We'd managed to wind our way on back roads until we intersected the highway at about the time when I-80 starts to look pretty good - with trees, hills, and interesting views.

I was starting to wane a bit by then though and was zoning out, so, when Acr0nym got off the interstate and headed north on SR 15, it took me a few minutes to realize we were not headed toward Omaha anymore and thought to ask him, "Uh...where are we going?"


We were headed toward this...

The World's Largest Time Capsule in Seward, NE

Hans Gothwökkit admiring the time capsule

The description on Roadside America about this particular site is pretty awesome. While I'd love to be present for the opening of the capsule in 2025 - just to get a look at the aquamarine leisure suit and brand new Vega with 0 miles on the odometer entombed in it - it was satisfying just taking a look at the outside of it.

Before we found it however, as we were winding our way through residential neighborhoods, both Acr0nym and I were skeptical the time capsule would even be there. This, based on our experiences of the day leading up to it. We were not left disappointed fortunately. We have documented proof of having seen the World's Largest Time Capsule. It's HUGE! YAY! \0/

The leisure of the day was starting to catch up to us. By the time we pulled into the Sapp Bros. parking lot on the outskirts of Omaha to see the Coffee Pot water tower (is it the world's largest? I don't know!), the sun was setting and our opportunities for roadside attractions this day was nearly at an end.

Allegedly, the coffee pot occasionally lets off steam. Those are just clouds though.
Hans does love to photo bomb

And, since part of this road trip was designed to put us in the path of several Trader Joe's stores, we headed into town to shop at the home of the 2-buck Chuck and then to find some supper.

Mmm...take me to the tapenade and roasted garlic salsa, if you please

Because this was Omaha and the home of Omaha Steaks, we thought it'd be a pretty good idea to rustle us up some tasty beef for supper. We inquired about where to find some of the meat stuffs at the checkout lane when paying for our TJ treats and were directed to a place just down the road...the Twisted Cork Bistro.

This seemed like an ideal place - close by, open, serving steaks and, perhaps most importantly, wine. Even though we weren't dressed for a fancy supper, most diners were certainly dressed casually.

The restaurant was 2/3 full and there were a handful of empty tables (albeit waiting to be bussed) so it didn't appear as though we were going to have to wait to be seated. To be sure, we were greeted warmly by a girl carrying a tray of drinks to the patio and she assured us she'd be back momentarily to seat us.

We waited.

And we waited.

And we waited.

She didn't come back inside. A few minutes passed and a man came to greet us as well. He asked us how many, we told him, he said he'd clear a table for us and get us seated momentarily.

And then we stood and watched him stop at an occupied table and begin a lengthy discourse with its inhabitants. He did not make a move to excuse himself or even look at us again.

We left.

We won't be back.

I'd advise you, Lovely Readers, to do the same.

By this time, my blood sugar was tanking, we were weary, and Mama needed a cocktail. Badly.

So...we did the unthinkable. We went to Grisanti's - a chain Italian joint - and had a satisfactory meal, a glass of wine (for me), and a few minutes to decompress.

Amazing what a rest and some protein and fermented grape juice will do for a girl and a boy!

Rejuvenated, we loaded ourselves back into the Intrepid and sped into the full on darkness of I-80 and Iowa.

We weren't concerned with missing anything through this stretch. A) We'd both been on this road before and B) we knew we'd be coming back through in just a couple of days.

Our mission for the night was to get as close as possible to Milwaukee. For, you see, we had a date, a very important date with Jim...the Milwaukee Chocolate Nazi.

And so we drove into the night, the darkened Iowa landscape lit eerily by miles of glowing red lights atop monstrous modern windmills.

And we this...

It's hard, after On the Road Again, and Six Days on the Road, and Hit the Road Jack, and Road Runner, and  Born to Run, and Running on Empty, and Life in the Fast Lane, and Lost Highway, and Highway 1 Revisited.  After Let's Get Away From it All, after Easy Rider, and Thelma and Louise, and Lost in America, and too many  road movies to name, or even remember. After Jack Kerouac, and Route 66, and As Long As We're at This, after  Huck Finn, and the Journals of Lewis and Clark. After all that, it is hard for an American to just hit the road without some expectations.

Any roadtrip is gonna feel longer than you think it will, and you'll be tired, and you won't get a meal  exactly when you're hungry, you never find a bed exactly when you wanna go to sleep. And, you're probably not  gonna find out what it is you got on the road to find out in the first place. And you know all that, you know  all that going into it. And you still, we all still, buy into the cliché, about roadtrips. That what a roadtrip stands for is Hope. Hope, that somewhere, anywhere, is better than here. That somewhere, on the  road, I will turn into the person that I wanna be. I'll turn into the person that I believe I could be, that  I am. And, come Memorial Day, we hit the road. You and me, and our whole great nation, with high hopes, and no expectations for the future.

And, to hasten the journey, we bring you now, this hour of radio. Today, from WBEZ Chicago, and Public Radio International, it's This American Life. -
Ira Glass

This trip? This trip was really getting good.


Traci said...

I'm glad you bailed on the goose; we've had some interesting attempts at trying to reach some sites we've found on Roadside America too! Love that you got to see the time capsule, though. "World's largests" are our thing! We've seen the world's tallest water sphere in NJ, BTW.

Just Jane said...

Traci - thank you for the comment! I am subscribing to your blog RIGHT NOW! We saw the world's largest pitchfork and cement garden gnome (my favorite) too. Details are forthcoming :).