Archive for April, 2016


Terminus & Gateway

Terminus & Gateway#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 18
(For links to previous segments, scroll to the bottom)

We leave Omaha behind, crossing the Missouri River into Council Bluffs, Iowa, where we’re tracking down a giant railroad spike. Map App Sally is completely unreliable at this point, having sent us to the Omaha Zoo over and over again and calling it a different landmark each time, but now she’s getting worse: Terminus & GatewayShe’s developing an attitude. Warnings pop up on my phone that it’s dangerously hot and I need to shut down immediately or else, so I do and set it down on the air vent by my feet. Now I’m navigating the old fashioned way with my eyes and a map while Brent uses his chill, un-snarky phone.Terminus & Gateway

We find the 56-foot yellow spike easily, but we’re pretty confused about where we are. Council Bluffs is nowhere near Promontory Summit, Utah, where we learned as kids the Union and Central Pacific railroads were joined together. The wide, grassy expanse around the spike is deserted, and the railroad tracks behind it don’t seem to be connected to anything, giving this place an awesome and quiet creepiness. Terminus & GatewayIt’s also convenient for lounging in the sunshine on the tracks while we take it all in and puzzle it out—until Brent and his camera turn on me. (I need to take that camera away from him.)Terminus & Gateway

I return to the spike, Brent and camera in tow, and we push our faces as far as we can between the fence rails around the base in order to read the signage there. All it says is something about the “Eastern Terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad.”Terminus & Gateway

Terminus!” Brent and I extract our faces from the fence and look at each other in horror. Fans of The Walking Dead understand our terror at this veritable end of the line as we look for Rick and Daryl to be in a jam and for Carol to start blowing things up. When none of that happens, we instead do zombie imitations in the yard around the spike. Then we run for it, straight into the cornfield beside the Jetta, and do our best man-and-woman-with-pitchfork (American Gothic by artist Grant Wood) faces.Terminus & Gateway

We hightail it away from Terminus, and I find that my phone is still too hot to handle. Meltdown seems imminent as Brent drives us toward a bridge and insists I take pictures of it through the moon roof because he’s too busy driving to do everything. I insist I’m busy, but he doesn’t listen. He gives me his camera and I think, “Heh, heh, heh,” but after a little more protest (sheesh, I’m turning into Sally), I do as I’m directed, snapping pictures of the red and yellow spikes on the Broadway Viaduct as one of us says, “Are you getting this?!?” while the other one says, “Slow down! I got it!”

Terminus & GatewaySafely across the Viaduct, I can now figure out what the heck just happened. According to the Googs on Brent’s cool phone, the artwork on the bridge is called the Council Bluffs Gateway, designed by artist Ed Carpenter who worked for four years with the installation team getting the red and yellow 111 light poles tilted into place. Nighttime images of the Gateway are even more stunning.Terminus & Gateway

Next, I read some golden railroad spike history and find that there’s a controversy over whether the rails were joined at Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869 or at Comanche Crossing near Strasburg, Colorado on August 15, 1870. As for the spike at Council Bluffs, Iowa, the Googs says it’s possibly a relic from the movie Union Pacific commemorating the eastern Mile Marker Zero.

A movie relic?? Despite being tricked (Terminus strikes again!), we continue our eastern drive full of pride to think about our country’s unification by the railroad line, wherever/whenever it may have happened officially. Our transcontinental railroad allowed for the expansion of ideas, business partnerships far and wide, massive distribution of foods, and travel and exploration across this great land of ours.

As for our own exploration, Brent and I are hunting down a Volkswagen spider…

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

(For previous Stories from the Road, click here: Segment 17Segment 16, Segment 15, Segment 14, Segment 13, Segment 12Segment 11Segment 10, Segment 9, Segment 8Segment 7, Segment 6, Segment 5, Segment 4, Segment 3, Segment 2, Segment 1)

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Omaha Familiar

#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 17
(For links to previous segments, scroll to the bottom) 

Omaha FamiliarWe follow Sally the Map App’s cranky instructions for finding a giant spaghetti fork and find ourselves, instead, at the Omaha Zoo–smack dab in the middle of the zoo parking lot with no fork in sight. Brent uses The Force instead and we find a Little Italy village of houses near downtown and park the Jetta in the residential courtyard.
Omaha FamiliarTo our left is a 13-foot stainless steel fork with spaghetti in its tines. We sit in the car for a moment, deliberating, and one of us deduces that, “Look, if they didn’t want us to take pictures of it, they wouldn’t have put it there.” I’m not sure which of us says that, but it sounds an awful lot like me. That settles it, and we get out of the car. For most of our shenanigans up to now, we’re pretty much on public property or have the owner’s express permission. Today we’re in someone’s yard, without permission, in the interest of discovery and trying not to look like troublemakers. We walk a fine line.Omaha Familiar

The fork is named Stile di Famiglia in Italian, or Family Style in English, named for the serving style of passing and sharing large plates of food around the dinner table. It was made by artist Jake Balcom, and commissioned by the Homeowners Association of the Towns of Little Italy. It’s whimsical, and evocative of a time when “several Italian family restaurants defined the social life of the neighborhood,” according to an Omaha public art website found by the Googs.
Omaha FamiliarEven the neighboring houses with their large windows, flower boxes, and close placement to each other resemble a gathering of intimate friends around this fork and pasta.

We peel ourselves away and start our search for a bronze Chef Boyardee, but Sally sends us to the zoo again, a backtracking, we discover, of about 20 blocks.

“We’re seeing a lot of this parking lot,” Brent says as he turns us around.

Omaha Familiar“I’m checking us in on Facebook,” I tell him. “There, we’re at the zoo parking lot,” I show him my phone. Now it’s official. We vow to plan a return trip to Omaha just to see the zoo and especially the Desert Dome, which is visible for miles as we drive in Omaha.

Omaha FamiliarAgainst Sally’s protests and our own excitement at spending a day at the zoo, we head toward downtown, stop in the beautiful Visitor’s Center where they let us touch things, and find Chef Boyardee outside the ConAgra campus in its wide plaza, the ground of which seems to be winking at us—the ConAgra Foods logo.

Omaha FamiliarThe story goes that Chef Ettore “Hector” Boiardi was born in Italy, and followed his brother to the Plaza Hotel in New York City where Ettore worked his way up to Head Chef. In 1915, he directed the catering of President Woodrow Wilson’s wedding at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. But the Chef’s story, according to Wikipedia, is only getting started.
Omaha FamiliarThe Chef opened his own restaurant in Cleveland where he was known for sending his guests who would ask home with milk jars filled with his spaghetti sauce. In the 1920s, he helped his inlaws, who owned a chain of local grocery stores, to engineer his canning process and put his Italian foods on the shelves locally and beyond with the help of their wholesale partners. To keep up with demands, they opened a factory in 1928, and ten years later, production was moved to Milton, Pennsylvania where greater quantities of tomatoes and mushrooms could be grown.

Omaha FamiliarThen—hear this–during WWII his factory was commissioned to produce army rations for the Allied troops, requiring the factory to run 24/7 and earning the Chef a Gold Star Order of Excellence from the U.S. War Department. When the war ended, it was decided that they sell the company rather than reduce production so that no jobs would be lost. That’s decency in America, and it’s a chord deep inside each and every one of us.

There’s a lot more to the Chef’s story: the unacknowledged Order of Lenin award, the sale of the company, investment in steel mills, money lost and gained, television commercials… How it came to Omaha the Googs wouldn’t say, but then, don’t all things eventually come to Omaha?Omaha Familiar

ConAgra Foods acquired the brand in 2000, and in 2011, artist John Lajba completed this 6-foot bronze statue of the Chef that he describes as possessing “class and a lot of charm.”

The bronze Chef is purposefully placed. He’s not in the plaza center and is not up on a pedestal, but is standing, ground level, on the edge of the circular plaza, facing any and all activity that may gather there.

Omaha FamiliarWith the statue’s kind face and with our familiarity having grown up on all things Boyardee, Brent and I find ourselves hugging the statue as if we’ve run into a long-lost relative on the streets of Omaha.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

(For previous Stories from the Road, click here: Segment 16, Segment 15, Segment 14, Segment 13, Segment 12Segment 11Segment 10, Segment 9, Segment 8Segment 7, Segment 6, Segment 5, Segment 4, Segment 3, Segment 2, Segment 1)

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