I recently attended an alfalfa expo in Kearney, Neb. That's just how wild and crazy I am: I'll drive seven hours simply to attend an event that's all about hay.
This voyage involved traversing a good portion of Nebraska. I am a chronic channel surfer and soon discovered that Nebraska has an abundance of "oldies" stations. Nothing makes the road slip by faster than healthy doses of The Stones, Boston, Foghat and CCR. I'm just lucky I didn't get picked up for speeding when "We're An American Band" thumped out of the speakers.
There was ample time make observations. At one point, I passed a farmstead that contained copious amounts of, shall we say, retired farm machinery. Which made me wonder: would the phrase "tidy rows of junk" constitute an oxymoron?
I also perceived that Nebraskans don't agree on how to pronounce "Norfolk." Some of those on the radio pronounced it as "nor fork" while others said "nor folk." Confusingly, we have an English friend who says it as "no fick." They should hold a vote to clear this up; had I not been better informed, I might have concluded that these were three distinct towns.
The weather was predicted to fine, but such was not the case. This isn't the first time the weatherman has lied to me.
Snow began to fall as I motored down the flat-as-a-billiard-table Platte River valley. Visibility became both a problem and a source of wonderment.
A sextet of geese abruptly materialized from the murk, winged phantasms that swiftly and silently melted back into the gray. A mile-long coal train approached, blowing its mighty air horn as it was birthed by a shimmering, swirling cloud of white.
Finally arriving at Kearney, I opted to explore the town a bit. Imagine my disappointment upon learning that the city does not contain a home for retired carnival workers!
The alfalfa exposition was interesting, especially if your interests include such things as rakes and hay tarps. In a booth that promoted baling twine, a couple of guys were using an antique hand-cranked device to twist innumerable strands of plastic twine into rope.
An older guy stood nearby, giving advice to the novice rope makers. I chatted with the old guy and learned that he had grown up manufacturing rope in this manner and continued to do so as a hobby.
"Dad and I would start out with a bunch of binder twine and crank out an entire hay rope," he said. "What a chore! It took purt near the whole day!"
I usually don't notice such things, but the old guy's breath was strong enough to scour the rust off a cast iron skillet. After we finished talking, I surreptitiously slipped a fresh Altoid into my mouth.
I later went to a restaurant and treated myself to a steak. When in Rome; Nebraska, after all, is the home of Omaha Beef.
The booth next to me was occupied by a fellow whom I took to be a hit man. He was big and mean-looking, with nasty Van Dyke whiskers and a pate that was shaved down to its blue roots.
About halfway through his meal the hit man's phone rang. He answered it with a wordless, guttural grunt. I tried not to eavesdrop, assuming it was last-minute instructions from his boss. Having information about an imminent whacking might prove hazardous to one's health.
The presumed hit man immediately began to speak in fawning tones. It soon became apparent that he was indeed talking to his boss - his wife!
Goes to show that you can't judge a book by its cover nor a hit man by his haircut.
Next morning I breakfasted at Daylight Donuts, a funky little hole-in-the-wall joint chosen for the giant fiberglass Leghorn rooster roosting atop their sign. The recent snow made it appear that it was time to clean the coop.
The donuts were both cheap and delicious. I plopped down at a table to more thoroughly enjoy my morning jolt of caffeine and sugar. Nearby sat a smattering of local guys dressed in camouflage coveralls and seed corn caps.
The word "birthday" floated on the air. Four of the guys at a neighboring table held a brief confab, then began to sing "Happy Birthday." The birthday boy, who had 80 or so birthdays under his belt, was obviously embarrassed. He stared into his coffee until the serenade ended, then thanked the singers with an awkward wave of his hand.
Such vignettes lend charm to long voyages, but I was still glad to at last point the car towards home and my wife. And I was extremely relieved that I didn't get a speeding ticket when the radio played "Radar Love."