Big Country Little Car Tour, Day 10: Lewis & Clark Lake, NE to Ogallala, NE
I dragged my feet. I checked every room twice more than I needed to, in case I'd overlooked a cord, or a watch — I even "checked" outside, where none of these things would have gone, so I could put my feet in the freezing dew and forget for a minute that more than half the country remained.
I took one last picture of Campbell and her insect posse, all so tiny under the sky. And the clouds! Different kinds of clouds come to the northeast, but one kind at a time, like it's a single-setting thing, or the dome of The Truman Show. The sky seemed to go much higher here, to have more layers, more kinds of clouds at once, various cloud families and systems interacting at the same time. The more clouds the better, I felt; my driver's tan had already started getting out of hand, my left arm noticeably darker than my right despite troweling on SPF 50 at every stop.
Forced myself to leave, jouncing down the driveway of little ease with Ray LaMontagne on the iPod. After an hour, shooed a mosquito out of the car that, thanks to the anklasbord it had just enjoyed, probably splatted like a bloody blueberry on the asphalt immediately. Dropped down 81 through cows, cows, haystacks, cows, Johnny Carson's hometown. Listened to an old Leonard Lopate episode and thrilled to Dick Cavett's vocabulary — "lickspittler," "imperseverant" — how he expected us to keep up.
And then, the interstate.
I had to stop in Gothenburg for…everything: a bathroom, a coffee, a Pony Express station. At McDonald's, I came upon a seniors' lunch club, gents in their buttondowns and hats in the back, ladies at a big table up front. The ladies wanted to know everything about Campbell; one lady was very concerned about whether she had AC, and asked about it twice to confirm. Another lady sitting tall at the head of the table asked where I was headed. "Ogallala today," I said, "but the endpoint is San Francisco." Twittering (the birdly kind). A lady in pink thought I must be going there about a job. No, I said, I'm meeting a friend. "I hope he's worth it," the tall lady said, and everybody giggled, including me. "He is," I said, because it's true, but also because I admired how directly she took it to a gossipy place.
Ogallala. The front-desk girl was pregnant and over it, so when it turned out that the blackout curtains in my first-floor room wouldn't draw, I decided not to care and changed in the bathroom before dinner. Dinner: not a success. I will not name the place, because the owner was so sweet, and so concerned that a New Yorker sign off on his pizza and pasta buffet that I had no choice but to lie and say it hit the spot, and I should also mention that it is very difficult to make a pizza so bad that I won't eat it anyway — it does contain bread and cheese, after all. With that said, I cannot recall eating a more pathetic slice. The buffet is the first problem; mini-pies that already bear a greasy and tepid resemblance to cafeteria-style Sicilian sit under heat lamps, going rigid and rubbery. The "vegetable" pizza had black olives on it and nothing else. The pasta looked and smelled like a murdered Koosh ball, and I'd like to tell you the marinara came out of a jar, but no. It came out of a Heinz bottle, through a sand pit, to the steam tray. Brutal across the board. …Wait, sorry: the salad bar was fine.
Again: nice man, meant well, had the checkered oilcloth and the straw bottles going on the tables, got a good crowd in, and this is not a New York thing. I have had good pizza and pasta all over the country, and I have had C-plus pizza and pasta all over the country and not minded that much, because it's still pizza or pasta and starch + cheese = Buntnip. I have also had to eat shitty pasta all over the country because it is often the only thing on the menu I can eat besides sepia-toned iceberg and ranch dressing, and when it's as bad as D'Anonymo's, it's exhausting. A little olive oil, maybe? Five minutes of Food Network? I don't need Tuscany, but passable isn't that hard to achieve either.
Next stop: Green River, WY.
Tags: Big Country Little Car Tour Buntnip Campbell Dick Cavett friends Johnny Carson Leonard Lopate pizza partisanship Ray LaMontagne