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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

Big Country Little Car Tour, Day 10: Lewis & Clark Lake, NE to Ogallala, NE

Submitted by on August 6, 2011 – 11:08 AM10 Comments

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.

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10 Comments »

  • attica says:

    Ray LaMontagne is excellent music to drive by. Flove.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Okay, I now must insist you visit Seattle at some point, because you are the kind of New Yorker who I want to eat our pizza. There is a small but mosquito-level vocal contingent of ex-east coasters here who call us every week, and every week mention that they are A) from the east coast and thus carry the kind of Pizza Pie Expertise that would make a Scilian weep and B) You have no hope, pathetic west coast person, of ever even approaching the radiance that is New York Pizza. Did I mention they call every week?

    I know there is, clearly, good and justly famous pizza in New York but just being made in New York doesn't confer some kind of magical glitter onto said pie, like the Ghost of Christmas Present swooped by with his magical horn and gave it a sprinkle. And conversely, just because this particular location is on the opposite coast doesn't mean Standard and Poor automatically downgrades it. Also, you left New York when you were seven and you grew up in Albany, so shut it.

  • ct says:

    I'm really enjoying these travel stories. Thank you for taking the time out of your vacay to write them!

  • Melanie says:

    My poor vegetarian neice just spent a month visiting us. I don't think her parents realized they were signing her over to QUITE that much pizza and salad. And chili. Lots of chili. An embarrasing number of veggie burgers. Went to show that if we ever decide to become a vegofamily, I will have to start doing the cooking again, because husband? Can't handle it. Here's hoping the next couple of food stops are slightly more inventive.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    just being made in New York doesn't confer some kind of magical glitter onto said pie

    Just coming from New York doesn't confer a magical ability to adjudge Italian-American cuisine, either; I'd really hoped it wouldn't come up. Tough to fly under the radar in that car, alas, and once he saw the license plate…

  • Andrew says:

    @ Jen S 1.0: What is it with PNWers and this weird defensive thing about the food? When I still lived in Atlanta we'd get the occasional NY/Chicago transplant making snide remarks about our pizza, and all of the natives would just shrug and then go back to getting rich.

    But in Portland, that same snide remark constitutes a declaration of war, and everybody's gotta drop what they're doing and barrage each other with arguments about "yada yada something in the water" and "blah blah locally grown " and "nyeah nyeah been in the family for generations". I get that we're sort of lacking in a distinct cultural heritage out here, but this business of trying to best all of the country's other regions at their own traditions isn't gonna do anything to help create one. It also makes us look really insecure and silly.

  • One of the Karens says:

    No danger of insulting St. Louisans. St. Louis style pizza is vile and most people admit it and eat it anyway.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    @Andrew, it's because I work at Pagliacci Pizza, so I hear it a LOT. From people who order our pizza, like, every week. Gets old, fast, trust me.

  • Andrew says:

    @ Jen S 1.0: Oh, I see. Pardon my misdirected rant. Your frustration is totally justified.

  • Kaijsa says:

    @ Jen S. I miss Pagliacci so much! I'm visiting home next week, and you just reminded me to make sure to pick up a slice–anything with goat cheese.

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