I've driven through Nebraska at least once before, back in 1994 with the late great Kosmo on our pre-Moscow cross-country trek, but I didn't remember a thing about it (I may have driven through as a child as well on one of our summer meanders). I would love to report that I somehow forgot the wonder and splendor that is Nebraska from earlier visit(s), but, well, to steal one of my favorite Stellan Skarsgard lines, "it would taste a lie."
Here is what I know of Nebraska, at least as far east as North Platte, where I am currently holed up at the Super 8:
It is brown and mossy-colored rolling hills and flat tan stretches of grass punctuated by the bright white towers of grain elevators, and the smell of cow and diesel hangs heavy in the air.
Oh, and all but one of the restaurants that included their menu in the North Platte Super 8 Menu Guide serve "freedom fries." Really. I never saw that seriously on a menu, even in 2002/3.
Also, Mi Ranchito, the "fine Mexican dining" establishment next to the Super 8, where I had a "small dinner" selection big enough for a lumberjack, serves a cheesecake burrito. Both horrified and intrigued, in a "can I watch the autopsy?" kind of way, I asked the server what exactly was in the cheesecake burrito. They put cheesecake batter in a flour burrito and then deep fry it.
Let me repeat: cheesecake batter. Flour tortilla. Deep-fried.
I thought immediately of the Scottish woman who once tried to make a dish sound more appetizing to my best friend L. and I by stressing that it was "deep fat fried." Apparently to distinguish it from things fried in broccoli juice or something. I know that, in the name of research of all things pastry or pastry-ish, I should have ordered one, but I just couldn't bring myself to do so. If I have shamed my intended profession, so be it. Forgive me, St. Honore.
A couple other things I saw today as my car struggled, literally groaning, to haul all my stuff up and down the Rockies and then across the prairielands:
- Perhaps my all-time favorite highway signs ever, eastbound on I-70 just past Idaho Springs. After warning of steep grades with the usual truck-on-a-triangle yellow hazard sign, an above-lane sign (a real, legit one, made by the highway department) read: TRUCKERS, DON'T BE FOOLED! STEEP GRADES AND CURVES NEXT SIX MILES. Yes, truckers, beware the road gremlins that will try to trick you into thinking you're on a level straightaway when you're in the middle of the Rocky Mountains! Even better, a few miles later (4.5 miles to be exact) was another official highway sign that warned: TRUCKERS, YOU ARE NOT DOWN YET! STEEP GRADES AND CURVES NEXT 1.5 MILES! Just in case, I guess, the fact that their rig was hurtling down a mountainside wasn't clue enough.
- Also seen, on the back and sides of a tanker near Sedgwick, Colorado, exactly as it appeared: "INEDIBLE TECHNICAL ANIMAL FAT. Naturally." Where do I start with that? What exactly is "technical" animal fat? And why did the makers, or at least transporters, of it feel the need to add "Naturally" in sexy italics? If they're trying to make it sound better to the average puzzled consumer sharing the road with it, perhaps they could start by calling it something less disturbing than "inedible technical animal fat." "Cheescake burrito filling" might do.