What came down had to go back up. We returned from Red Cloud to the Interstate via Hastings, passing a Pony Express Road on the way. We drove by Valentino’s on the city’s main drag, the pizza and pasta buffet highly touted by AAA that is not going to make the Journey Through Gustatory America tour book. There was a bookstore in Hastings that I had made an appointment to stop by but they were closed that Sunday—or so I came to believe, when I called their number twice and it rung 15 times without a response.
When you make a cross-country tour you begin to get a feel for the long roads, a broader vision. Quite a few Americans live most of their lives along sections of highways that, as stretch hundreds or even thousands of miles in one direction or the other. When I was growing up we lived along Route 7, which ran to the Canadian border in one direction and to Norwalk, Connecticut in the other. I, who possessed none of the geographical acumen my two brothers inherited (somehow the Cartography Fairy skipped over me), assuredly had no idea of its length until I was much older. When we reached the Interstate, we both concluded that we could have probably saved some time if we had gotten off on Route 6 in Hastings and used that to travel east to Omaha. Route 6 was like a marathon to Route 7’s sprint. According to Wikipedia, from 1936 to 1964, it was the longest route in the country, running from Long Beach, California to Provincetown, Massachusetts. The stretch from Bishop. CA to Long Beach became something else and Route 6 lost that honor to Route 20. So, back on the speeding bullet we were, from the Hastings exit to near Omaha, wind whistling past our ears and buffeting the minivan.
Our regret was not deep or lasting. One strong advantage of the Interstate is that generally one does not have to make stops and starts. Our son slept for between 1 and a half and 2 hours in a speeding car. He’d fallen asleep in Hastings. The Interstate would preserve that. We drove on towards Lincoln. I had only found one promising bookshop in Lincoln, and it was only mildly promising. We agreed to pass it by if Felix was still sleeping.
Another thing one realizes when one travels is that a map is not a good indicator of a highway’s speed. We had another opportunity to get off on Route 6 in Lincoln, and we took it, entering immediately onto a road that was sheltered from the wind, following the rolling Grant Wood-like landscape through small towns like Pleasant Dale, past local landmarks like the Pla More Ballroom, a large roofed building that must have had an old-fashioned dance floor. Felix slept on until we got in sight of Lincoln. The fields narrowed. I saw my first Git ‘N Split convenience store—the first of many in the metro Lincoln area. Felix stirred, and then completely woke up. So, it was back of the pleasant ribbon of Route 6 and on to Interstate 80 again, for a straight shot into Omaha.
As a special treat for Felix (okay, a distraction as well), we visited the Omaha Zoo, where Felix was enthralled by the aquarium, particularly the passageway where the walls and ceiling were part of one huge tank, and manta rays and sharks and all manner of huge fish swam over and by us.
We stayed on the other side of the Missouri River from Nebraska in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where Lewis and Clark parleyed with the Indians. As The Daily Nonpareil’s Book of the Bluffs and Southeast Iowa put it:
The history of Council Bluffs glitters with a parade of famous western explorers, fur traders, military figures, engineers and great Indian nations.
Abraham Lincoln had the foresight to realize Council Bluffs should be the eastern terminus of the transcontinental railroad. Known as the Gateway of the American West, Council Bluffs has a proud and rich history.
French and Spanish explorers and traders were in Council Bluffs for almost a century before the Lewis and Clark expedition stayed five days at White Catfish Camp, known today as Long’s Landing. Lewis and Clark later met with Missouri and Otoe Indians ten miles north of Omaha. This historic council in the bluffs provided the model for future meetings with Indians and the name of our city.
Numerous Indian tribes shared hunting rights in the Council Bluffs area and made great contributions to its history. All of Southwest Iowa was purchased in 1830 by the United States government from the Indians. Between 1847 and 1856, tribes were moved to reservation lands.
We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express near the Hooters and the Casino, though it doesn’t appear that the casino had anything to do with a dispossessed Indian tribe. The historic council was hard to imagine in the orange glow of the Hooters sign.
I don’t know whether this is something about the Midwest or just an unfortunate coincidence, but it seems as though people don’t like to use answering machines. Enamored of the idea of eating a famous Omaha steak, we checked the local listings. I called seven recommended steak restaurant and, at all of them, the phone rang and rang and rang, though it was after six o’clock by that time. I finally called the one restaurant I had been avoiding: a family restaurant, in business for 75 years, that offered steak and other things at affordable prices. They answered the phone right away. The restaurant was located in an old part of town, affordable frame houses with driveways and yards, such as are not available in Santa Monica, California, along a network of brick paved streets. My lasting impression of the place is not so much of the foil wrapped tray, boiled-beyond-texture asparagus and barely warm filet mignon but of low ceilings and a hint of claustrophobia. I am not sure now whether my memory of the ceilings is even accurate.
The next day, on a hunch, we drove to the Bookworm in Omaha. The Bookworm was back the way we had come, in a western section of Omaha that grew pleasanter and pleasanter as we approached. The store is located in a large shopping center. A mower droned on the hill next to the shopping center, the impression was of serenity and comfortable circumstances. The better half of the couple that owns the shop is a former teacher. The store has been in business for over twenty years and, on that day, it appeared to be thriving. In a very congenial transaction, the Bookworm took some books from my inventory in the car. I was so excited that this bookstore which had not been on my list had turned out to be such a serendipitous stop, that I completely forgot to take a picture for the blog.