a greener place

Today I head out from Waco, first south to pass through McCool Junction.All through town I sing to myself “McCool Junction, what’s your function?”I stopped for gas and water and continue on, turning east. From today on,I’m going to be moving in the general direction of Michigan, where I’ll bespending the Fourth with my in-laws.

I pass through Exeter, Friend, Dorchester, and Emerald. (If this last townwere in Kansas, I would stop to look for Dorothy. And the locals would haveheard it all before.)

Passing through Lincoln again, I recover my watch. I’d left it in my hotelroom two nights before. It’s just a Swatch, but I get attached to thingsthat are kind enough make the journey with me.

From Lincoln I continue northeast towards Omaha. In west Omaha, I stoppedat Boy’s Town. I remember reading the story of Boy’s Town as a kid, andthinking that it sounded like a really cool place. At the entrance to’town’ is a statue of a kid carrying a much smaller kid on his back, and thequote “He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s my bruddah!” Well, perhaps it’s notspelled that way, but that’s how I’ve always imagined it. Taking a pictureat the base of the statue, I feel giddy and practically dance back to my vanfor the drive up to the ‘town’ proper. Boy’s Town, the stuff of Reader’sDigest and Scholastic Reader, and here I am.

Remember when I spoke before about using quotes around things? Boy’s Townisn’t *really* a town… it’s more of a campus. A really nice campus, butdefinitely a campus. Well-tended rolling green lawns with large statelyshade trees, administrative and dorm buildings of brick and stone… Boy’sTown would fit quite nicely into the ivy league.

Trying to find the visitor’s center, I wander into a huge auditorium filledwith milling kids (boys and girls.) Up on the screen at the front of theauditorium is a 1950’s era film explaining artificial inseminationtechniques. The kids move like highly excited particles from seat to seat,the noise of their restlessness almost drowning out the voice from the film”…a stiffening of the rear legs indicates that the heifer is ready for theprocess to proceed…”. I wander out into the sunlight in a confused daze.

I finally find the visitor’s center, which contains the Boy’s Town GiantBall of Stamps. During one particularly cold winter, the boys of the Boy’sTown Stamp Club started pasting old cancelled stamps together into a ball.The result was a 600 pound sphere, 32 inches in diameter and perfectlyround. It sits on a pedestal in front of a wall similarly covered instamps. There are supposed to be 4,655,000 stamps in the ball. In one tripI’ve seen the Giant Ball of Twine and the Giant Ball of Stamps. Wow, am Iliving in McCool Junction, or what?

On my way through Omaha I see a bunch of people walking alongside Route 6with rainbow flags. Whoa! I manage to make a U-turn, find a place to park,and go talk with them. They’re now holding up signs saying that the OmahaPride celebration will be tomorrow. I nice older gent tells me where andwhen, and I wonder whether I should return to see what Heartland Pride isall about.

Tonight I’m in Cold Spring Park, outside of Lewis, Iowa. (Where, accordingto local legend, Kool-Aid was invented by a pharmacist as a cure for hishangover.) It’s a small park consisting of a few dozen sites, pit toilets,and a bunch of RVs. There is a lake for swimming and fishing, and theranger tells me that folks come from miles around to hang out in the park.It’s been a local gathering spot since the 1890’s.

As I pull in, I’m playing Beck “Odelay” on the stereo (“I’m a loser baby, sowhy don’t you kill me?”), and as I circle looking for a site, everyone iseither glaring at me or glancing at one another in a ‘here comes trouble’sort of way. I switch to Dusty Springfield’s “Dusty in Memphis” (“The onlyboy who could really turn me, was the son of a preacher man”) and suddenlyeveryone is smiling and waving. Music makes a great ambassador. The rightmusic, that is.

The park is filled with lots of very friendly kids. They’ve formed a packand are circling the park. The pack keeps coming over to take a look at myvan, and I’m happy to show them around. One learns I’m a photographer andasks me to take his picture with my camera. After getting his grandma’spermission, I take a digital snapshot and ask her to send me an email sothat I can send it to her.

While walking around the lake, I meet Ryan, a local teenager looking forfrogs. We talk for a while, and he tells me he’s weird because everyonethings he’s a nerd. I let him know that they won’t be laughing when he’spulling in six figures and they’re pumping gas, and he laughs. We continueto talk while walking around the lake, talking about life and his escape>from Iowa. We compare our favorite computer games, I find our that Ryanhasn’t entered the Dungeons and Dragons phase of his nerd development, andwe talk about our goals for life. We have the natural camaraderie of twounderdogs.

As I’ve moved east across Kansas and Nebraska and into Iowa, things havegotten greener and more lush. The fields of Iowa are rolling and green,even without irrigation. That’s bad for my photography, but it’s beautifultoo. Life seems like less of a struggle here. Iowa feels like a placewhere people can take the time to enjoy a weekend camping with their family.


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