Category Archives: Nebraska

Watching the Solar Eclipse in Humboldt, Nebraska

To my surprise, I was awestruck – and humbled – when I witnessed the great solar eclipse yesterday in Humboldt, Nebraska.

Staring into the sun with my special eclipse glasses, I was amazed to see the bright orange blob (the sun) being slowly but steadily overtaken by a black blob (the moon) – and at the same time, down on earth, to feel my own environment changing, with the wind picking up, the sky darkening, the confused birds flying by and sounds of night at 1 p.m. When it got dark and stayed dark for a minute or so and then brightened my friends and I were stunned. We’d been told to expect this – so that shouldn’t have been a surprise – but maybe what was stunning was that it happened, just as expected.

The journey was half the fun! Four of us left Des Moines in the dark during a downpour at 4:30 a.m. and headed south and west on back roads toward “the path of totality,”  hoping to avoid the crowds expected on the major interstates — which we largely did (until our trip home).  En route, we bumped into the occasional fellow eclipse chaser  – two women from Minneapolis; a bunch of young Mennonite guys from somewhere in Missouri – and made a few stops, including at the infamous Ax Murder House in Villisca, Iowa (one of the state’s stranger tourist attractions) and Brownville, Mo. (a pretty old town along the Missouri River that I’d like to explore more). Our original destination – Falls City, Nebraska – had rain and cloudy skies so we drove further north and east until we found clearer skies in what turned out to be Humboldt, Nebraska.

We joined a few other cars parked on a gravel service road above the county road, next to the Humboldt water tower.  Like other groups, we unloaded our lawn chairs and picnic goodies and waited for the show in the sky. It was fun to meet fellow travelers from Kansas, Iowa and Minnesota and especially a nice young guy from Japan who had come to the U.S. for three days, specifically to see the eclipse. (He had some serious binoculars, spoke good English and was fun to talk with.) We hit some traffic on the way home but the Nebraska state troopers helped when and where they could and switching to back roads in Iowa helped. Such an adventure!

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Cornhuskers/Wildcats, Beatrice, Runza: A visit to Lincoln, Nebraska

In Beatrice!

In Beatrice!

We don’t go to college football games that often (especially outside Iowa) but the one we went to yesterday in U of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium was pretty near to perfect. Starting with the weather, which was autumn glorious. High 50’s/low 60’s, sun, light breeze, bright blue sky. Amazing and a great backdrop for 90,000 fans, many wearing Nebraska Red. We had great seats behind the end zone (a new vantage point for me) and, as promised, the Nebraska fans were very friendly and polite, even when the team started losing to the Northwestern Wildcats (final score 30-28, Wildcats win). Have to admit it was a nice change from the nasty drunken  behavior of some  (by no means all)  of the U of Iowa fans we’ve experienced during the past few years in Iowa City.  I dutifully tried my first Runza – a hot pocket sandwich filled with peppery ground meat-and-cabbage (and maybe some cheese?) I pronounced it “not bad” but no one else in my group wanted one. They’d been there, done that.

Runza!

Runza!

My friend Anne, an alum, walked us around campus afterwards – and we stopped for coffee in the spacious student union, much changed from Anne’s college days, she reports. The night before, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Beatrice, about 40 minutes south of Lincoln (home of Anne’s brother, who cooked up this whole football trip and generously found us tickets!).

Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Nebraska

Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Nebraska

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From a frequent Nebraska visitor: Alexander Payne gets it right

Thoroughly enjoyed Alexander Payne’s movie Nebraska, an affectionate, matter-of-fact, funny, respectful, honest and true-to-life depiction of the kind of small worn-out rural town in Nebraska (or Kansas, Iowa, and South Dakota) that I never dreamt I would know so well. But I do. (Witness the photo below of Kinsley, Kansas.)

I was worried the movie would be too bleak or depressing, in its black and white account of a mentally failing cranky old drunk who goes on a quixotic road trip from Montana to Nebraska with his long suffering sad sack son to collect a million dollars he mistakenly thinks he’s won through one of those bogus magazine sweepstakes. I also worried that the movie would ridicule the folks in these parts. But this movie wasn’t directed by the Coen Brothers, no snottiness here. it just tells it like it is. it feels dead-on, right and real.

Nor does the movie stoop to false sentiment or glorification of the place and people. There is greed and small mindedness and boorishness but also warmth and kindness. None of it flashy or effusive, of course. Payne captured the stark beauty of the treeless landscape, the quiet emptiness of small town Nebraska, the stoic solid nature of its residents, the lack of drama. Things do happen, the action ebbs and flows, the story moves forward, there are funny, sad, touching moments, but the tone remains steady and true. There is no swelling manipulative soundtrack.

I loved the movies’ silences (brave for a filmmaker), the soundless landscape, the sparse monosyllabic conversation, the quiet acceptance of surprises along the journey. I have grown to respect these places that are so foreign to the one where I grew up and Payne, who did grow up in Nebraska, obviously does too.

After the movie, the scene I encountered while waiting in line in the bathroom of the Des Moines theater felt like an extension of the movie.
“Did you like it?” An older woman asked her friend.
Silence.
“Yes,” her friend responded.
Silence.
“Might be hard to recommend to just anyone. Not like ‘Saving Mr Banks.'”
Silence.
“Yah. There weren’t a lot of lines.”

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when next in Omaha/council bluffs …where to eat

State of Nebraska
Flag of Nebraska State seal of Nebraska
Flag Seal
Nickname(s): Cornhusker State
Motto(s): Equality Before the Law
Map of the United States with Nebraska highlighted
Official language English
Demonym Nebraskan

Will Forte, a star of the new film “Nebraska” had some interesting restaurant suggestions  after shooting the film in Omaha. So for the record, he told the NYTimes he liked The Boiler Room in Omaha and Dixie Quicks for breakfast in Council Bluffs. He liked staying at the Magnolia Hotel in Omaha and also recommended the Occidental Hotel in buffalo, Wyoming which we also liked when we stayed there (it is supposedly where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid stayed when in town…Will didn’t mention another good place in Buffalo…Tom’s Main Street Diner on, you guessed it, Main Street.

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Filed under DESTINATIONS - Iowa, DINING, LODGING, Omaha, Wyoming

Scouting North Omaha – don’t do it at 10 a.m. on a Monday


The Slowdown venue in NoDo.

My son’s flight from Omaha to Lima (by way of Houston) was delayed two weeks ago so we had some time to kill on a Monday morning. We drove to the nearby “NoDo” neighborhood (aka north of downtown) but it was pretty sleepy at 10 a.m. We did peek into the windows of The Slowdown, an indie rock club, and neighboring Saddle Creek Records, an indie label whose artists include a band my son likes, Bright Eyes. The two are connected and both looked promising.  About the only signs of life on the one block stretch of shops and restaurants was at the Blue Line Coffee shop. We also stopped at the Old Market area but that too was very sleepy – what shops are left (the district seems to have far more restaurants than I remembered in earlier years) weren’t open until 11 a.m. Oh well.

Bright Eyes

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Sometimes it pays NOT to fly out of the Des Moines airport: (i.e. if you’re going to New Orleans or Lima)

I was despairing over the inexplicably high price of a plane ticket from Des Moines to New Orleans – where I hope to meet up with old friends from London in the fall – when I discovered, thanks to a new friend, that I can fly for about half the cost by leaving from the Kansas City airport ($230 vs. $450 or so from Des Moines). There’s even a direct flight from Kansas City, although it’s more expensive. It’s been awhile since I’ve schlepped to Kansas City to fly – we used to fly Southwest to Albuquerque until Southwest was no longer such a great deal. But it may be worth the drive and expense to park my car to leave from K.C.

I also discovered that a two-flight trip to Lima via Houston costs about the same from Omaha as it does from Chicago (not from Des Moines alas) so we’re thinking seriously of opting for that since driving to Omaha takes about 1/3 the time it takes to drive to Chicago (2 vs. 6 hours.)

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Filed under airfare, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Orleans, Omaha, Peru

More megabuses from Des Moines/Iowa City – just don’t mess it up!!

Bring it on! There will now be a Megabus from Des Moines to Omaha – and two additional D.M.-Chicago (via Iowa City) buses which is great news. My only concern is that Megabus can handle this expansion! Last time I took the Megabus, there were significant delays and disorganization.

The two new Chicago-bound buses will leave at 12:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.? guess this is the red eye…means a very early arrival in Iowa City.) This is in addition to the 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Chicago-bound buses. Somewhat oddly, there will be four Chicago-bound buses from Des Moines – but only three Des Moines-bound buses from Chicago (leaving at 11:15 a.m., 5 p.m. and 11:15 p.m.) On second thought, maybe that’s not that odd. If you’re traveling to Iowa City, that 11:15 p.m. bus will get you there around the unpleasant hour of 3 a.m….

The Omaha buses leave DM at 5:35 a.m. (kinda early) and 5:35 p.m. One thing that might be good – taking the bus, if it’s reliable, to fly out of the Omaha airport which has had cheaper fares than Des Moines in the past. (Haven’t flown out of it in a few years.)

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Filed under bus service, Chicago, Iowa City, Omaha