Day 3, Nebraska to Illinois

Lincoln, Nebraska at dawn was an uninspiring sight. Even the new fallen snow looked dirty and grey. The buildings along the track were old and made of brick. In the windows of one I saw milk glass light fixtures that were popular in the 40s or 50s. Turner Classic Movies come to life. On the top floor of another decrepit structure, I saw the blue flicker of a television screen. The building seemed otherwise abandoned, with many windows boarded up.

Omaha was no better. In fact, there was an even more palpable gloom over the place because of the recent mall shooting. Flags were at half mast.

Omaha, NE
Omaha, NE 2
Omaha Greyscale
Burlington, IA
At that moment how I missed the clean, astonishingly good looks of the Amish family that had only recently left the train. Healthiest people I had seen in a long time and their clothes had not one wrinkle in them. It spoke volumes about their way of life.

Husband and wife and six children. Four pretty blond daughters like stair steps, all wearing those white bonnet things. One tall, strapping black haired boy and one short young golden haired boy with bright blue eyes. The husband, with his straight short beard, watched his family like a hawk. The wife looked a little worn and older than her husband, which came as no surprise whatsoever. The Amish family spent most of its time in the observation car, and they all seemed to have a good time.

Sitting near me in the observation car, as we passed out of Nebraska and into Iowa were the mirror universe evil goatee'd Amish -- a typical teenage boy and girl, in ratty clothing.

The boy had a laptop and was trying to impress the girl by playing some rap and hip-hop on it. His choices seemed poor and extremely derivative, to me. The tinny laptop speakers didn't help. The boy then switched to playing a movie. I could hear it perfectly and didn't recognize it, but it sounded like a recent teen comedy.

I wish the writers of teen comedies would learn how to judiciously use vulgarity. The F-bomb, when used properly, can be hilarious. The writers, and the actors in these films, just don't get it.

I noticed that the girl was very carefully laughing only when the boy did, and I got the impression that she was just being polite. Even though the snow covered farm land passing by wasn't what I would call riveting, I got a lot more out of it than the shitty film playing on the boy's computer; and maybe the boy would have had more luck if he had tried to talk to the girl about the passing view instead of showing her what some accountant had decided would make an entertainment conglomerate a few bucks.

As we passed through Iowa, for some reason, everyone's cell phone started ringing, including mine. It was my coworker calling to tell me how my cats were doing (An aside from the present day: My coworker tells me that my small, backup cat, Darby, is angry at me. She has been using the comforter on my futon as a litter box. Only No. 2, not No. 1. There's no indicator of sickness, so looks like I have a stressed cat, and I'll be buying a new comforter when I get home).

We left Iowa at Burlington and crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois. The conductor pointed out bald eagles in the trees along the river's edge. Half a dozen gigantic males with pure white heads.

My new neighbor, Dan, who had boarded in Denver I think, had been sleeping in his roomette since the night before, but he appeared at lunch, bleary eyed and tousle-headed. Turned out he worked for a railroad. One of the freight lines. I never asked which one. He was from Chicago and had been in the wilds of Colorado learning how to handle hazardous chemical spills at some giant training facility that also had the US government as one of its clients. I asked Dan if he had gotten to wear one of those bulky silver suits. He replied that he bossed around the people who did. I also asked him, since he was from Chicago, if he could suggest anything quirky and off the tourist routes to see or do in the city. He suggested the Cook County Jail. A wise guy, that Dan.

Red Cap's Wild Ride
Carbide & Carbon Building
Hard Rock
Lou Mitchell's exterior
Lou Mitchell's interior
I caught the sleeping sickness from old Dan and napped most of the way through Illinois. As we approached Chicago, Dan pointed out the skyline and suggested that, instead of going to the top of the Sears Tower, I go to the top of the John Hancock building instead (Dan called it the Handjob building), for a better view of the city.

My home for two nights and two and a half days backed into Union Station and my ride was over, only two hours behind schedule. I was back to being just another schmo until my return trip in two weeks.

Dan had collared a red cap with an electric baggage cart. He had another train to catch to the suburbs somewhere, and I asked the red cap to find me a cab. After shaking hands goodbye with Dan, off we went, though the station, weaving along narrow corridors between trains, narrowly missing other baggage carts, beeping people out of the way. The life of Reilly. The red cap drove me right onto the sidewalk outside the station and flagged a cab. The Amtrak staff are fantastic!

The cab took me to my destination for the night, the Hard Rock Hotel, in the black granite, art deco Carbide & Carbon Building, another beautiful icon from a lost era.

The decor was nice, and you couldn't ask for more than the view out my window, of Marina City, across the river. Whoever had designed my room, however, had sacrificed function and color for The Matrix. The offset lighting, greenish in color, made it seem like I was in an underwater cave. I expected algae to start growing out of my suitcases at any moment. I found that the hideous carpeting promoted static electricity, such that, when I walked down the hall and pressed the elevator button, there was no longer a need for light because I discharged about 60 kilowatt hours right there in the elevator lobby.

What ev! I was only staying the night and then going back to Union Station, in the morning, to the rental agency there, to pick up a car and drive to Madison, Wisconsin where I would be spending most of the next two weeks.

Based on a recommendation, in the morning I ate at Lou Mitchell's, a Chicago institution located at the start of Route 66, where I was offered a donut hole as soon as I walked in the door. I was also offered ice cream after I finished my omelette. Damn good coffee. I'll eat there again when I return to Chicago at the end of my trip.

After breakfast I picked up my car and, after discovering that all four of my tires were low on air and rectifying same at a gas station, was off to Wisconsin.

Marina City
  • Current Mood: do it again!
Being far too vulgar myself, those comedies (Superbad, knocked up, etc) seem more natural to me than they do to pretty much anybody else. I should probably try to put a cap on my use of the F bomb though.
I don't think the film I was hearing was even at the quality level of Superbad or Knocked Up, both of which, though I haven't seen them yet, are redeemable, I believe.

Edited at 2007-12-18 08:26 pm (UTC)