Saturday, September 10, 2005

Part II: Nebraska Explained (aka, A Key Dilemma)


North of that void in the central USA, knowd to those who've watched The Wizard of Oz as the place Dorothy figured she wasn't in anymore -- Kansas -- lies another such void on the road eastward.

Nebraska.

But for the most western and eastern portions of the state, Nebraska is not significantly different from Kansas, except in spelling and crops (more corn, less wheat). So many of the descriptives applied by persons commuting across Kansas, tend to apply in large degree to Nebraska as well. In my younger days, when driving across Nebraska enroute to Iowa or other points E/NE, I saw it as The Great 7-plus Hour Blackhole Of I-80 (this was also at a time that speeds had been restricted to 55 mph, down from 70). A couple times, I tried to plan the bulk of my drive across Nebraska for night time, sparing my eyes the scenic equivalent of Mimi (of The Drew Carey Show) in a thong bikini.

But Time and wisdom tend to soften, if not change, perspective. Of the former, not the latter. That's still ewwww.

For instance, in my youth, I was possessed of those driving gifts (real and/or imagined) of iron kidneys, a gallon bladder, and an insatiable urge to cross that vast gulf of *yawn* as quickly as was humanly (and barely legally) possible. Now -- 2005 -- I am forced to admit the painfully obvious: my iron kidneys are little more than Saran Wrap, and my bladder is pint-sized. At very useful intervals -- 40 miles or so -- Nebraska provides a very necessary series of well-crafted and positioned rest stops. With rest rooms.

My kidneys, bladder, and car seat appreciated this, as well as the state that provides and sustains them, as never before.

There are a few noteworthy differences between Nebraska and Kansas: Nebraska is a study in sensory contrast. Shortly after I-76 (from Colorado) merges with I-80 short of Ogallala, the olfactories are given a sudden, and rigorous test of function, courtesy of a very large, and interstate-side cattle stock yard. Just when you might have been concerned with being lulled into a sense of driving euphoria, bordering on inattentiveness, Nebraska slaps you up side the haid with an olfactory "pay attention!", forcing the other senses to sharpen focus and alertness.

Without the benefit of a road sign to warn drivers of "Caution -- Big STANK Ahaid!".

The stock yard sits just far enough back off the road to prevent drivers from seeing the cows wink and rib each other, satisfied that they'd "dung it agin".

In early September, Nebraska isn't quite so boring to more experienced eyes: harvest time is near upon, the fields are at their peaks, and there are a plethora of attractions and distractions from the long road, designed to help break up the boredom of the still long (6 1/2 hours) crossing from SW to E (helped considerably nowadays by a posted 75 mph speed limit).

Not the least of which -- attraction-wise -- is a built-up archway, spanning the interstate about 4 miles E of Kearney, Nebraska. It's billed as a museum of the old pioneer trail that would one day become a part of the Cross Continental Highway (from New York to CA, much of which is I-80). However, even with all of the more appreciated sites, facilities and smells that Nebraska offers to cross-country drivers, a battle with attentiveness still creeps into the equation.

So it reminded and caught me at a rest stop E of Kearney.

Answering the call of my pint-sized bladder, I had pulled off at the strategically positioned (and gratefully arrived at) rest stop, and was taking advantage of a nearby trash recepticle to relieve my auto of interior clutter (ie., an empty coffee cup, water bottle and sandwich wrapper) enroute to relieve my bladder of it's clutter. And that's when a moment of inattentiveness caused it to happen: when I threw the aforementioned items into the trash recepticle, my car keys followed them.

I am convinced that they tried to escape.

In any event, my car keys were now in the possession of the Nebraska Roadside Refuse Recepticle Department of Assorted and Sordid Waste Management. In a considerable understatement of the moment, I was a touch nonplussed.

Ignoring my own biological urgency, I removed the lid of the possessing recepticle, to encounter not a pretty sight: it was the refuse equivalent of parts of New Orleans, in minature. And my keys were in it, and not on the equivalent of a rooftop.

Don't you hate when that happens?

With a young couple from somewhere, Wisconsin USA, looking on (and giggling), I gingerly fished about, trying to rescue my keys and only my keys from the mix of solid and liquid miasma -- including, of all things, a disposable diaper -- slowly composting together in the mash.
After a few seconds -- which seemed like hours and made that stock yard almost seem like olfactory potpourri -- I eagerly grasped my keys, which were by now desperately seeking succor from their poorly thought-out escape attempt.

I won sarcastic applause from the young couple. I wished them a safe journey. And a flat tire.

After thoroughly washing off my keys, my violated mitt, and dealing thereafter with a code red biological crisis just barely ahead of meltdown, I was on the road again. And my keys behaved themselves thereafter.

That proved to be the high (low) light of the drive east.

Next up, Part III: Coming 'Home'

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