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Nebraska Journal, Part I


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What do you think of when you think of Nebraska? (If you’re a Nebraskan, you think of home, of course.) I think of Tom Osborne and football; Willa Cather; and William Jennings Bryan.

I also think of my friends who live there.

Here, I should say — for I have touched down in Lincoln. Lincoln is not as big as Omaha, to the northeast — it’s the second major city in Nebraska. It is also the capital, and the home of the University of Nebraska (which has other branches, to be sure).

I’m interested to learn that Lincoln was founded in 1856 — some years before Abraham Lincoln became president. The town was called Lancaster. It was renamed for the great and martyred president in 1867.

There is another town, named for a Republican father, 50 miles away: Fremont.

I’m slightly taken aback to learn that Lincoln has a Democratic mayor. Et tu, Lincoln? Et tu, Nebraska?

Maybe that can be remedied at the next election . . .

The first person I meet in Nebraska is from Brooklyn — figures! Nice kid behind the rental-car counter.

By the way, shouldn’t “Avis” be the name of an airline, rather than a car agency?

And don’t rental-car people ever get embarrassed at their hard sell? The push for a bigger car, pre-paid gas, and gobs of insurance? In my experience, they perform the hard sell with zeal — a not entirely honest zeal — time after time.

I’d be interested in what someone who has had the job would say.

Anyway, I’ll talk about Lincoln later. First, I’m going to the southeast corner of the state, to do a story for National Review.

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The first thing I see on the highway is an enormous flatbed with a strange, long white object on it. That object turns out to be a blade — a blade for a wind turbine. My story has to do with just this issue: Why must the Keystone XL pipeline be blocked while wind farms spring up, blighting the landscape (as I see it)? Why is the pipeline yucky and forbidden while these ghastly turbines are kosher?

You get the picture . . .

Driving through a stretch of Nebraska, I think of a conversation I recently had with my friend Joan. She grew up in one of the Dakotas (I forget which). Now she lives in New York City and Maine. In the Dakotas, she said, the sky was big, and the ground flat, and you could see for miles. “In Maine, you can’t see anything! So many trees!”

I’d never thought of it that way . . .

The farms I see here in Nebraska look neat and prosperous. I’m not sure how you make a farm look tidy, but people do. They certainly do in Austria and Switzerland. Have you ever seen these things? My goodness, they’re neater than many posh urban apartments. You could bounce a quarter off them, so to speak.

I reach the town of Beatrice. It’s pronounced, not BE-uh-triss or BEET-rice, but Be-A-triss. That middle vowel is the same as the one in “yeah,” or “attic.” Can you hear it?

Speaking of Nebraska pronunciations, here’s another special one: Norfolk, where Johnny Carson grew up, is called “Norfork.”

Don’t think for a second that Beatrice doesn’t have an airport.

It also has some beautiful churches — including St. Joseph Catholic Church, which has an extraordinary steeple: one with air in it (open spaces).

The Community Players Theater is near the fire department, and the A&W restaurant. Pardon my sentimentalism — or my Midwestern biases — but isn’t this the way an American town should be?

The Big Blue River, I’m here to tell you, is neither big nor blue. At least at this juncture.

I see a sign for Ben Sasse, the Senate candidate — my Senate candidate, certainly, in Nebraska. I look forward to his election. One of his opponents — Republican-primary opponents — just ran a dirty television commercial against him. A low, dishonest one. I hope Sasse beats him if for that alone.

I’m behind a police car, which seems to be going slow. I think of something a colleague told me many years ago. He was a young driver, and a cop car was going really slow. He passed the vehicle — going the speed limit as he did. The cop pulled him over, saying, “Son, don’t you know you’re not supposed to pass the po-lice?”

I thought that was kind of bad: Obeying the law is obeying the law. If you pass a policeman and do not exceed the speed limit, what’s the problem?

Anyway, my policeman, here in Nebraska, pulls over. I keep going. Then he pulls me over. He says, “You snuck up on me pretty fast.” How does he know how fast I was going? I imagine they have technology that can do anything.

Anyway, he lets me off with a warning, and could not possibly be nicer. A gentleman trooper (and I’m sure I was speeding).



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