The Summer of 1998 Part XXIII

The next day was as copasetic as any day could be, which translated meant, that I took full advantage of the supplementary bike lanes that accommodate Denver streets. What a civilized city! I biked about a mile and a half to visit my old architect buddies, Tom Rielly and Bob Johnson. It had been twenty years since we were introduced at RNL Architects. Young Bob, who’s fourteen years my junior, exclaimed, “You know, we haven’t changed a bit in all those years.” “Well, thanks, Bobby,” I replied, “I really appreciate that.” I said my good-bye with the usual, ”See you guys next summer.” I biked around downtown, scoping out the new trolley lines, and than pedaled back to my home base at King (Queen) Soupers, taking a few side trips along the way through my old neighborhood. I decided to drive the few blocks over to Cheeseman Park, where I had some room to outfit the bed with the new sheets I had purchased at Target back in Boulder. I couldn’t take the grimy old sheets any longer. Finally, as if on one last juggernaut, I pushed the pedals to the extreme, biking around the park’s oval drive at full throttle, passing other bikers and fantasying I was in that classic movie “Breaking Away”. Wow, was I loving that. I wasn’t even out of breath after that mile-long stint. Thinking one has to be gasping for oxygen at 5,280 feet is a bunch of malarkey as far as I’m concerned. I guess I was blessed with an over-sized set of lungs. I retired back at my secluded spot behind King Soupers, and thanked the Lord for one splendid day in my favorite city.

I made a momentous decision the next day. Instead of taking the usual route south to Raton, I opted to head northeast on I-76 towards Nebraska. There was a method in my madness…I wanted to eventually link up with historic U.S. 30, which paralleled the Union Pacific tracks all the way through the Cornhusker State. There was a curious sign marker on the highway which read: “Truckers, Please Use Left Lane for the Next 88 Miles.” I wondered, “What the heck does that mean?” You know, after awhile, I finally figured it out: keep the trucks on the left side so as to even out the wear and tear on the roadway. When I reached Julesburg, I asked a gas attendant if my diagnosis was correct. He replied, “You’re right on, man.” But why that one particular segment, out of the entire Interstate system, was designated as such, remained a mystery. Just hearing or seeing the name Julesburg always conjures up images of a cavalry fort, a stagecoach stop, and impending Indian raids. I crossed the state line into Nebraska and immediately hit the old Lincoln Highway (U.S. 30). And just as I had anticipated, there was the Union Pacific main line – triple tracks at that point.

I was in the heartland of America…the country’s breadbasket, the Cornhusker State, Mid-Way U.S.A. (actually Kansas has that title nailed down), and the state with the largest volume of rail freight, constantly grinding back and forth, from coast to coast. I was in seventh heaven, chasing locomotives and waving at engineers, coming and going. A glorious sunset appeared as if to set the corn fields ablaze, when I pulled into the little burg of Sutherland. The planets must have been lined up again, for there, right between the highway and the tracks, was the city park. It was like a seraphim had descended and said, “Here you will park for the night, under a tree, no less.” I could sit in my easy chair and gaze down the tracks, finally focusing in on an oncoming train. Then, I would ease my way over next to the roadbed, and get that ultimate rush of feeling the ground tremble under me as tens of thousands of tons of steel streaked by, creating a wave that almost bowled me over. I’m not kidding, I really got the goose-bumps. After dark, I would plump my rump down on the rail, and watch for the glimmering headlight to finally appear, way, way down the flat, straight stretch of track. At the last moment, I would extricate myself from the throes of disaster and, with a quaking body, watch the diesel units hurtle by. By then, I had fulfilled my thrills for the day.

The next day, I roamed around North Platte, gaping at the immense marshalling yards of the Union Pacific. Then, on down the road on route 30 to find one more stop next to my rolling “stock.” Through Gothenburg, Cozad, and Lexington, I was getting’ close to where I eventually wanted to turn south towards Kansas. All I really wanted was to light upon a huge shade tree next to the tracks. I would have been perfectly happy with that, but there was not a solitary tree along the entire stretch. My last resort was Slim Creek (pop. 862) at the junction of U.S. 183, which was the most direct route south out of Nebraska. I stopped at Mom and Pop’s grocery market for a few items, and here again, I was like a walking semaphore. At any moment, I was expecting an announcement over the P.A. system (I doubt they even had such advanced technology): “Stranger in town on aisle three.” As I was casually looking over the cold-cuts, a middle-aged gentleman approached me with a smile and a look in his eyes that emanated, “You’re new in town, aren’t you?” He politely asked if he could be of any help, and I thought, “This guy can’t be hittin’ on me. There can’t be gays in the middle of Nebraska.” My suspicions were unjustified. After inquiring about the availability of a city park, he kindly gave me directions to where I could safely spend the night. I thanked him, but I wasn’t through with him yet.

I confided in him, not to verify my heterosexuality, but just out of simple curiosity. I asked him, “Where are all the good-lookin’ women in these parts? I’ve been traveling on the road since Oregon, and the female scenery has been a bummer. I mean, they’re nice-lookin’, a bit homely maybe, but nothing like I’m used to seeing when I’m traveling down south. Are the Homecoming Queens absconded in farmhouses?” The man graciously replied, “The smart ones have left town, moved on to the big city somewhere. That’s why you don’t see any of the cute ones around here. Sorry to disappoint you.” I don’t like to stereotype any region, but there had been a dearth of beauties ever since I had left Reno. Maybe it was being corn-fed that had something to do with it.

When my supply of quarters has been depleted, that’s my barometer to tell me the odyssey is over, and it’s time to head on home. I had just emptied the last few coins out of my little chump-change traveling’ packet (suspended on a chain on the tranny stick), and as I was paying my fare at the check-out counter, I realized I had only a nickel and a penny left in change. All of a sudden, I felt naked, finally stripped of all the reserve change I had stocked up before leaving. Hey, don’t get me wrong…I’m not quarter-pinching…I just like having a stash of ready-to-use change on my trips. It’s a quirky ritual I have for every trip, and son-of-a gun if there isn’t one quarter left in that pouch at the end of every journey. Just seems to work out that way.

I checked out the city park, mainly out of curiosity, and in deference to my friend’s recommendations. It was very accommodating, even with a big cottonwood to park under, but it just didn’t cut the mustard…it was four blocks away from the U.P. tracks. My agenda did not call for this, so I moseyed over to the main-line, and sequestered myself next to an abandoned trailer about thirty feet from the rails, in full view of the west-bound, high-ballin’ freights. I was in my cocoon, waiting.