I sometimes wonder if those who grow up in mundane landscapes and non-progressive towns are disadvantaged or rather “advantaged” in life. I mean, does the lack of natural beauty and cultural affluence make one less imaginative, or on the contrary does it make one all the more imaginative out of a necessity of yearning for more? I would say the latter is true for me, and as I drove across the rippling sand hills of Nebraska, I had no desire at all to want to live there, but pondered what a winter birth in a featureless region deep in the middle of the country would subconsciously instill in a baby boy taking his first breaths and tastes of the world.
December 3, 1969 I entered the world in Ogallala, Nebraska. At the time, second child and son of Tim & Peggy Mosteller. We were only there for a bout a year before we moved on to other parts of the Midwest. Thus I have no memories of the place, but I hoped that while driving around somehow, something might click like an intangible smell, and seem familiar. But nothing did. I had to call my parents and rely on their memories to help me find our house (920 W. 6th) that I was brought home to from the hospital, and to locate the Church of God that Daddy had pastored (it has since been converted to apartments). While I have no personal memories of the place to attach sentiments to, it was still a sentimental experience to be there. I thought mostly of my parents, over a decade younger than I am now, living on $60 a week, trying to raise their first 2 kids out of 4, and trying to get established in ministry. Daddy’s career in the cloth eventually diminished after moving around to different churches, but he and Mama would become successes in the career of raising kids. I am ever grateful for their upbringing. Though it could be called under-privileged in terms of culture, finances, and possessions, it is immeasurably fortunate and wealthy in my mind.
I was a bit surprised to learn that Ogallala actually does have a bit of pride and culture of its own. It was the end of the line of the Texas Trail for cattle drivers connecting to the Union Pacific Railroad, and was thus an early boom town in the West back in the day, so it had a legitimate frontier, cowboy culture – as evidenced by Boot Hill, the pioneer burial ground overlooking the town. There are a few efforts at tourism to highlight this history, but I was more interested in my own personal history, so I dedicated some time to “shopping” at the downtown thrift store, buying some second hand “Ogallala” garments. I’ve done virtually no shopping on this trip other than buying food, but now I’ve got some birthplace garb to take back to Carolina. I look forward to wearing my “new” well-worn cowboy boots from Ogallala.
At sunset I continued East a ways to eat dinner in North Platte and sleep at a lakeside parking area. I spent the next day crossing through the state, stopping in some of the main towns and watching the transition from ranch lands to agricultural lands. I had breakfast at the “Farmer’s Daughter” diner in Grand Island, and let me tell you, this place is no joke. I officially name it best diner of my trip. Excellent food, generous portions, cheap prices, all locals, jovial wait staff, and a refreshing absence of hipsters and tourists (other than me).
I made it to Lincoln in the afternoon – a Saturday afternoon in fact, on a day when the University of Nebraska was hosting a home football game in the evening against… South Alabama. Okay, so it wasn’t a marquis match up, but in Lincoln that doesn’t diminish the devotion of the local fans. I was a huge Cornhusker fan growing up in Oklahoma – and each season I followed their roller coaster success in the Big 8 and eventual Big 12. As I got older, I lost some of that interest, and when Nebraska moved to join the Big 10 conference, to which I had no affiliation or allegiance, I nearly lost all interest together. Yet, I am still a fan – much like I am a fan of Star Wars. It’s not that I’m a sci-fi nerd or think the movies are great cinematic works, but it’s part of my youth that is worth celebrating and returning too with fascination and anticipation.
I thought I might try to buy a scalper’s ticket to go see the game in Memorial Stadium, but when I saw how close the stadium was to all the downtown and how many people were out tailgating and mingling to watch the game at all the nightlife venues outside of the stadium, I decided to do the same. I put on my Nebraska shirt (purchased at the Ogallala thrift store) and took El Guapo in with me to mingle among the fans. Every single one of them was wearing some type of Nebraska garment. It was more like a big festival, than a game. I found a place where a number of restaurants and bars shared a large open patio with a big screen. It was also dog friendly, so that’s where I went.
So far on this trip El Guapo has not been the attention getter and conversation starter I was expecting while traveling. Maybe because I’ve spent significant time in the National Parks where he has to stay in the car a lot, or because I have to be wary of him around families with kids, since they agitate him. That all seemed to change on this crowded patio of over-21 Nebraska fans. He was constantly being approached and petted and adored as if some plague had recently killed off the local dog population and they unleashed their longing affections on El Guapo. Some were students who missed their dogs back home. Others were just friendly drunks who were happy to see something that would receive their advances without question. I’m not sure if El Guapo liked all the attention, but he did enjoy sniffing out all the tid-bits of food and such that had been dropped on the ground. I was happy to have found such a big friendly party of fellow merry-makers who loved Nebraska and loved El Guapo. But then near the end of the game, I was startled when one woman looked at El Guapo and resolutely said, “That’s just wrong. He shouldn’t be here.” I thought she disliked dogs, but then she clarified claiming she was an animal activist, and that he looked distraught in this noisy crowded environment and I should promptly leave and take him home. Her point is somewhat valid, not just on this game night, but for this road trip overall, that El Gaupo does seem to be less of himself and less at peace without a consistent home context. But her condescending orders annoyed me. I told her that I was in the process of taking him home, which is North Carolina, and that I was going to stay and finish the game. She then quizzed me on when he had last eaten or if he had access to water (there was a water cup sitting right next to him) as if to reinforce to me that I was an irresponsible dog dad, but the other people around who had already become El Gaupo fans nudged her away from me, and continued to give him encouraging pats and strokes. In thinking of the incident, I concede that I often bring him along to settings that he might feel uneasy in, for the sake of my own companionship needs, but I did not adopt him 5 years ago to change my life to accommodate his dog needs. I invited him into my life to join me in the things I enjoy, and for that he is a lucky and happy dog on the whole. I am ever amazed at whatever it is in him that looks at me and says “wherever you’re going, please, please, I want to go too.”
After Nebraska’s victory, El Guapo and I headed back to the car parked by the Capitol building, having to find discrete places to relieve ourselves surrounded by the throngs of people leaving the game on the street. I grabbed a midnight burrito and headed out of town to find a private wayside near the Platte River to sleep. In the morning, I made a stop in Omaha just to see it. It looked like a healthy, manicured city. I particularly enjoyed the statues representing settlers and pioneer expansion, and that dogs were among the statues of people headed West. My Prius was beginning to feel like one of those horse drawn wagons, as it had taken a beating from the miles and forces of nature: dents and scrapes from the deer I hit, dust from the back roads I’ve taken, and a mysterious check engine light that I’m just going to ignore till I get home. My journey is East, so El Guapo and I loaded back up and crossed the wide Missouri into Iowa, leaving my proud birthplace, but happy to be one state closer to home.