This small Nebraska town was nearly unbearable last time, claiming the engines of our bus And our gettin around car during a hellacious heat wave, amidst gargantuan mosquitoes and the psychotic episodes of the locals we had the misfortune of getting to know too well. Or, in the case of Pastor Jack, just rubbing the wrong way, which apparently justified trying to get our kids taken away. So, when our new van, purchased to carry on the dream while the bus wonders if we’ll ever be back, starts to give us shit just a couple hours from this dreaded locale, my heart begins to race. And then he says it.
“Well, we know we can make it there and the cops are chill. Wife, you could get your job back. Should we just stay there and leave with the bus And the van? ”
I hated the idea. Unfortunately, I’m the guy who will agree to things if the group seems in favor, rather than be the diva who takes the vote away because I’m too high strung and my husband will [possibly] accommodate me. I balk. I hesitate. I spell out our whole plan and the changes as a result of this potential deviation. The others are gung ho. Reluctantly, I agree.
We’ve been here about two weeks. The mornings and evenings are still cool, but the river is shallow enough in most places to not be too cold for a splash when the midday heat rises, and the mosquitoes aren’t out in force yet. I finally got my only pants patched up. We’ve made the acquaintance of a handful of fellow travelers passing through, including a couple with a griddle the very same morning a stranger randomly offered us a couple pounds of bacon. My friend shipped my refill of the new medication to me and I’m plumb and level and square, so far this second round.
Yesterday, as we prepared to leave the truck stop outside town and head back after job applications, the van wouldn’t start. We knew we needed a new stater and just figured we put it off too long. Unfortunately, we were marooned Out of town and our road dog wasn’t even with us. This conundrum, however, led to a pleasant discovery. Of all the things I’ve seen people turn a blind eye to, people pushing their vehicle is apparently not so easy to callously ignore. Strangers seem to feel compelled to help. My husband and I moved the van to an outer parking space where he would have more room to get under the hood. A man came over, first saying, “You know that’s a lot easier if you start the thing.”
He then got under the hood with my husband, went and got his own tools, and helped us figure out exactly what was wrong and what we needed.
The sprinklers went off in the wee hours (my husband is seasoned enough to know the sound of the sprinklers rising out of the ground, even in his sleep, and leapt to the front to roll up the windows just in the nick of time, as I stared at him half asleep, wondering what was happening) and spawned a stinking pit of black mud and standing water at the front of the van. Not quite the greatest work space. So, again, we begin to push the van, and a middle aged woman with colorful beads woven all throughout the hair on top of her head a la “I bought my granddaughter a bead kit,” jumped right in without saying a word. Her husband wasn’t far behind, and once we got the van in place he offered to save my husband the three plus mile walk in the eighty six degree afternoon, and give him a lift to the auto parts store. Within two hours the van was running again.
A trucker redeemed some free shower points for us and our road dog, and hooked it up with a laundromat pack, which is to say a ziploc loaded with detergent pods, dryer sheets and quarters. We finish our shower and come out to find our homie distraught, pacing the field behind the truck stop. While we were showering he got pack jacked. We asked inside and drove the roads nearby, hoping to see someone on foot sporting their new ill gotten gear, but no luck. He was amazingly sporting about the whole thing. His sleeping bag, bivvy, fresh socks, gemstones and photos are gone, but his hammock, ID and birth certificate were in the van, and he had his pocket knife and phone on him.
We stopped by the storage lot to get some things off the bus and found it in front of the shop. Somehow, when we were here last time, we didn’t hear that the building on the edge of the lot where the bus slumbers is a body shop. A shop run by a good ol’ boy who lives in the room off the garage and likes to drink beer and make good deals for people who help him come up with money before his bills are due. When the bus died last year the main shop in town quoted us $5k for an engine swap, and we still had to source our own engine. Tim asked for $650 by June first, for the 350 he had laying around, and another $600 when the job is done. I think my husband could have kissed him on the mouth. Instead he shook his hand, we raged up $650 over Memorial Day weekend, and my husband and the frequently mentioned traveling companion, Burns aka Mama Burns aka Beer Cup, buy beers and go drink them with Tim and his friends every couple nights. Seeing the bus opened up tonight was like finally seeing your kid arrive at the top of the transplant list. Even Burns couldn’t feel too down seeing good ol’ M.U.T.S sitting there, humbly awaiting her new heart.
Today has been wonderful, and the guy sleeping on the strip of grass at the edge of the Walmart parking lot is here to remind why we have this strange, strange love for this shitty Nebraska town. Not only is their Chinese buffet unrivaled in all the land (even if they do get sneaky every once in a while and slip in a charge for the baby), but the police and the Walmart parking lot maintenance truck (I’ve never seen a walmart vacuum truck before… And I’ve slept at a lot of walmarts… This is an entire mental tangent for me right now) slide right on by, taking notice of said sleeping Deadhead and not giving a rat’s ass where he sleeps, because at least if he’s sleeping, he must not be tweaking.
Good night, Nebraska. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.