Chapter 22: From Omaha

August 8, 2011

There was no sleep to be had last evening. I was wide-awake when wake-up call I had scheduled for 7:00am came. My bags were sitting untouched by the door to my room, so I simply picked them up and walked to the front desk to check out. I left behind two shattered mirrors, a dozen or so empty bottles of Fat Tire and a few dozen Post-It vulgar notes littered around the room. Let the hotel charge me for my violent outburst. I deserved it. I destroyed my laptop with a pint of beer, not them.

If you could only see the bones hidden beneath these robes. I’m tired. I’m driving home.

It was cold outside. The temperature gauge in my car measured forty-nine degrees. I donít think Iíve ever been anywhere in mid-August where itís been that chilly. The sky was a shade between blue and gray, and I passed nary another car as I drove the few blocks to Firestone Tires. The car started on the first try. I wondered if maybe all the wet weather was wrecking havoc with something in the engine. I considered the possibility as I followed the directions I received from the concierge at the hotel. Nose ring girl was long gone when I checked-out this morning.

I walked into Firestone and I asked for Ken, who I had been placed in touch with last night. I must have called a dozen different service centers and transmission experts, and Firestone Ken was the only person who guaranteed he would be open this morning. I greeted him and we spoke about the car. I said I thought something was wrong with the transmission, but I had no idea, really. He offered to look around the engine, so we walked outside and he looked under the hood. He poked around for five minutes, pointing out potential problem areas, but he said he could not pinpoint an exact problem. I handed him the keys to the car, and he said he would take it for a drive. I asked him politely to return the car and he chuckled.

In the meantime, I made myself two cups of coffee and stood drinking them, alternating between each Styrofoam cup. I began talking to the other customer present at Firestone. He looked native American, with jet-black hair, a wrinkled face, and stout body. He was having his van worked on. I told him about my travels, and we bonded over how annoying South Dakota is during the Sturgis Bike Rally. He told me thatóas a localóhe knows each year in August he’s going to drive to Minnesota for a week when the bikers begin to take over the state. He apologized that I picked such a bad time to visit, and told me that next time Iím driving cross-country I should makes sure to come earlier in the summer. After ten or fifteen minutes, his daughter came to pick him up, and I was left alone waiting for Ken to return. When he did, he appeared out of nowhere, speeding down the strip and sharply turning into the parking lot. He pulled right up to the door and hopped out of the car. He told me he’d driven it out onto the freeway, around town and didn’t notice anything too out of the ordinary. He said there were no missing belts and nothing appeared faulty with the transmission. I asked if he hit any inclines and he said yeah, it was okay. He mentioned maybe it had something to do with the rain, and a component became waterlogged or a wire could have been temporarily knocked out of commission. He said to drive it around town for a while and if something felt wrong, come back. I said I would, but instead I just got on the freeway. Maybe I do know something about cars after all.

I started my drive at roughly 9:00am. I got to Omaha at 9:00pm. It was the longest drive yet during this trip. I went south from Rapid City, past Mount Rushmore. As I continued along US-385 East (which actually runs North South) I made my way to the Wind Caves region of the Black Hills. I saw signs on the side of the road cautioning drivers that there could be large wildlife crossing ahead. Then I saw another sign that said, “Buffalo are Dangerous! DO NOT APPROACH.”

Buffalo? Aren’t they all dead?

I rounded a corner and a herd of maybe two hundred buffalo appeared before me, meandering slowly across the highway as others lay in the grass. It was–without hyperbole–probably the most incredible natural sight I’ve seen on this trip. I crawled along the road, stopping often to soak in the scene. It was just like Dances With Wolves, only I wasnít hunting the buffalo, just admiring them from a safe distance.

I continued south into Nebraska, all the way to I-80, at which point I finally began driving east. I drove east through the entire state of Nebraska. In short, Nebraska is, like, dirt clods and cornfields. Plus it rained all the way to Omaha. I stopped at a Wendy’s with covered parking for lunch. Red Volvo drove sluggishly at times but refused to die. I made sure to announce the remaining mileage whenever I checked my maps, just in case the car’s spirit could hear me.

[Bright Eyes – “The Calendar Hung Itself” MP3]

Omaha is an incredible little city (Saddle Creek recording artists aside). Old Market is a beautiful area, with cobblestone streets, small boutiques and galleries. The local weekly newspaper contained many articles about the local art and music scenes. I was impressed by the scope of the coverage. I stopped by Drastic Plastic, Homer’s, and a few other stores in the area. They were very quaint and down to earth; the owners and clerks were amiable. At Drastic Plastic, they had a copy of the new Calexico/Iron and Wine collaboration, so the cashier and I chatted while we listened to a few tracks. I purchased a copy of Black Dice’s Cone Toaster twelve-inch and a Drastic Plastic t-shirt.

After I checked into my hotel I drove to various area-bars. There was a dance club nearby called Roxbury that was packed to the gills with people my age, but it being a dance club, it was not my scene. I went to two other bars, one of which seemed to be a meeting place for girls with boy’s haircuts, perky breasts, long skirts and Saddle Creek band t-shirts. I ended up at a brewpub called Upstream Brewery, which touts a handful of excellent microbrews. When I was nicely buzzed, I headed back to my hotel. The girl working the nightshift was only somewhat immune to my advances.

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