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Friday, October 07, 2005

Lincoln, Nebraska

I traveled with my wife, two daughters and two dogs to the capital of Nebraska. We left Saturday in the late afternoon, the Volvo wagon packed to max capacity with people and animals (not to mention luggage). The event was my wife's exhibit at the Elder Gallery which is located on the Nebraska Wesleyan University campus. It was terrific to see my artsy wife's work featured in this large, attractive space. I took a picture of the large sign with her name on it. She has worked hard in obscurity, so it is a great day when she gets the recognition she deserves.

NWU is a nice little school, completely overshadowed by the gargantuan University of Nebraska. UN permeates everything in Lincoln, especially during football season. The Cornhuskers are 4-0. They spanked Maine and Wake Forest, then squeaked by Pitt and Kansas State. Next up is Texas Tech, who is ranked #7 I think. Husker Nation is all atwitter.

I expected Lincoln to be a pretty bland, landlocked, midwestern burg. I underestimated the "college town" effect. During my trip to the SuperValu grocery store, I saw tatooed Goth girls, fully cloaked Muslim women, muscled-up African Americans, an Asian family and some of the expected middle-aged and elderly white folks. This is a "blue" island in the "red" sea of Nebraska. UN is the largest employer in the area and the town has the liberal tilt and the cultural trappings of a larger city. And, of course, Lincoln is the home of an internationally famous institution, The Zoo Bar, a miraculous blues oasis in the flat wasteland between Chicago and the West Coast.

Since I was in Lincoln on Sunday and Monday, the Zoo Bar was quiet. It was closed completely on Sunday, and open for drinking only (no music) on Monday. I visited Monday afternoon around 5:30 to soak in the karma of the place. This is a long, narrow club - about as wide as three or four bowling lanes and as long as a single bowling lane. The stage area is small, but not ridiculously so. It can accommodate a band with 5 or 6 members with ease. The dominant decorating touch is the unique wall treatment - the Zoo Bar is plastered with old promotional posters dating back to its opening date (in 1973), and the featured artists are the "who's who" of the blues - B.B. King, Charlie Musselwhite, Lefty Dizz, Magic Slim, Luther Allison, James Harman, Eddy 'the Chief" Clearwater, and on and on. The second generation owner (youngish fella, close-cropped hair) was tending bar - he was friendly in a quiet way. There were only a few patrons hanging off the bar - clearly regular customers given the banter they exchanged with the bartender. My wife and I had a couple of drinks, small-talked with the bartender and bought Zoo Bar t-shirts.

We stayed at a strange motel near the interstate. It had an olde English motif (including a large plastic knight on horseback in the parking lot). The accommodations were adequate, but the place was haunted by a strange long-term resident. A long-haired late-50's guy, an amputee in a very speedy motorized wheelchair, buzzed around the place at all hours. I have a story about this man, but will save it for another day.

On Monday afternoon, we loaded up the rental truck with Connie's paintings; Connie drove the Volvo. We hit the road at 5:30 a.m. for the long drive back to Chicago. The posted speed limit was 75 MPH in Iowa; most people ignored that and put the hammer down. I am sure many of the folks that passed my truck were pushing triple digits. The gasoline conservation message has yet to reach the travelers on Interstate 80. We were home in time for dinner, our rumps and backs sore from the hours of sitting in the vehicles as they covered the 567 miles between Lincoln NE and Evanston IL.

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