What Once Was
Going back in my travel experiences and reconnecting to places that made impacts in their own ways.
One was a small town in Nebraska that I spent a quick night in. Was never actually in the plan.
I actually had a space to crash for the night near Omaha, but it fell through at the last minute. I wasn’t aware of anyone else in the area, and Couchsurfing, Airbnbs, etc. were all turning up dead ends. What I didn’t realize until later was that this was the same week as the College World Series which is a huge baseball event that takes place in Omaha, which explained why the lodging was booked solid. My cynical self was convinced that the Couchsurfing options may have magically turned into Airbnbs that week. I get it, capitalism gonna capitalism.
After hustling spending way too much time stressing (I mean, I could’ve just crashed in a truck stop lot for a few hours and probably would’ve been fine) I ended up finding a cheap Airbnb maybe 90 minutes outside of Omaha.
It was a fascinating space. It appeared to be an old rooming house that may have been part of a farm once upon a time but is now split up into a housing development. It had communal areas downstairs, and rooming quarters with individual rooms and a shared bathroom/ shower upstairs. In the middle of the upstairs hallway hung a rotary phone on the wall. Was a bright yellow version of what hung on the kitchen wall when I was growing up.
(I wonder how many young’uns are aware of what a rotary phone is. Okay, get off my lawn.)
I grabbed some dinner at a local diner and then retreated. I had planned to hang out in the shared area in the evening as there were maybe 3 or 4 other travelers there for the night as well. My body had different ideas, apparently and I ended up crashing at around 7 P.M. and slept through the night.
To be fair, it was an interesting drive, having started from Minnesota, not too far west of the Twin Cities and spent the bulk of the day travelling across Minnesota, through South Dakota, blinked through maybe two lights’ worth of Cedar Rapids, Iowa before making my way into Nebraska. Much of the driving involved farm roads in South Dakota which were an eye-opening experience.
First off, I thought I grew up in a farm town. I mean, I did, there still are a number of farms, A few dairy farms and a number of farms that grow a little of everything. The farms out here made the farms at home look like backyards. They seemed to be cattle farms mostly, but it also looked like a number of them grew wheat, corn, and maybe soybeans. And oh, boy the dairy cows back home compared to the beef cattle out here? It felt like the equivalent of a shih tzu next to a Newfoundland. Whoa.
Anyway, back to Nebraska.
I woke up that morning and apologized to the host for my unintended antisocial behavior the night before. She was understanding and we had a nice chat about life. I don’t remember a lot of it, but it was clear that she saw the world much differently than I did, yet we both saw it as an opportunity to ask questions from a space of curiosity and a desire to learn than in the ways that seem to be more popular these days. It gets harder to remember these days but there really is something amazing about understanding how and why someone comes to their personal beliefs. Their upbringing and life experience, as with yours or mine, teach us what to expect and how to show up in life and what to believe going forward. When we come from a place other than curiosity and wonder like, say a desire to win the argument no matter what, we piss away some golden opportunities to create the world we want.
From there, I went into town to grab a coffee and fuel up before beginning the next leg of my journey, which would take me to Colorado. The route to the interstate led me through the center of town.
It felt like I was dragged through a time warp to maybe the late 1940s or early 1950s, the way the stores on the main drag appeared. I love seeing anything that doesn’t look routine or “big box,” so I gladly stopped to explore.
It hit me as I was walking around that it was maybe 9 AM on a weekday morning in a center of town and there was nobody around. There were a couple of offices open. One appeared to be a town or city hall, the others I don’t recall, maybe an attorney or real estate or something like that. The rest looked like there may have been old stores, restaurants, a pharmacy, a couple of garages, a movie theater. Like an old school downtown or center.
It was a bit sad in a way, it gave me a bit of a Radiator Springs vibe from the movie Cars. I could visualize what once might have been, almost like I could in a way watch the ghosts driving through, passing on the sidewalks and making their way in and out of these assorted spaces.
Then I would ponder what the story was that led this space to silence. Was it the promise of convenience and savings from big boxes elsewhere? Was this a boom town gone bust and if so, what was it that left this place so high and dry?
I know that there are many stories like this across the country. Places that for any number of reasons the world no longer found a need for and abandoned them to dry out. Some could rebuild or create a new identity, others not so much. Were there promises made, and when they weren’t kept, did they still hang on to the possibility that the abandonment was temporary, just waiting for something bigger and better to walk through the door?
Is that what makes it seem so easy for people so desperate to be seen in some way that they’ll buy fully into all kinds of grifts or worse because of that power of feeling seen for a flash in a world that just doesn’t? Like that episode of the Simpsons where Springfield was suckered into building a monorail?
Maybe that’s something to consider when pondering why people buy into things that from an outside point of view seem ridiculous. To be seen when it’s felt like for eons you weren’t can be quite an aphrodisiac. Or maybe you just hang on to whatever crumbs you can, health be damned.
That went in a little bit of a tangent but it’s where the mind is tempted to go when you’re trying to understand things. I have no idea what if anything this particular small town may have been offered or how fleeced they may have been. But that’s where my brain tends to go. How did we get here? How can that be solved if possible? What was tried? What could be tried?
But at the end, certainly in this space, all I was going to do was wonder for a bit, and then move on. Like so many before me, and plenty after me I suppose.
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