I just got back from my first official vacation as a grown-up from my grown-up job. I used it to see places I like and people I love up north in St. Joseph, Mo., and Lincoln, Neb. Of course the camera was brought along, too.
First was St. Joe, where one of my best friends now works. Before he got off work I spent a couple of hours getting acquainted with a town that’s about the same size as Fayetteville but lacks the heavy dose of college.
St. Joe sits right on Missouri’s edge along the Missouri River. Like towns across the Midwest, railroads sustained it. Now the wedge between the rail and downtown, mostly neighborhoods, is in pretty rough shape. But religious statues stand solemnly in many yards and kids found plenty to do in the afternoon.
A woman named Karen asked what I was doing walking around with a camera in a way that was somehow friendly and demanding at once. She’s raising her grandkids, she said, and didn’t like creeps. “Like that guy,” she muttered darkly, pointing to a white man walking in the middle of the street. But Karen was good-natured, busily clearing weeds and leaves from her front yard and chatting with her good friend Patty before picking up those grandchildren from school.
Later my friend took me to a restaurant that had the greatest calzones, bulging with cheese and thick dough that shone with garlic butter. The next morning, it was on to Lincoln.
It was the weekend of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln football team’s spring game — essentially showing (or finding out) what next year’s team can do in front of 40,000 people. Games in the fall will bring more than twice that many.
If you’re not familiar with Husker football, I’ll tell you one thing: It’s an institution. There are no professional teams in the state, and you won’t find anyone who doesn’t at least have a relative or friend bleeding Husker red. In short, even the spring game is exciting here, and my hotel was packed (though a wedding or two also helped).
If you don’t know, I played trombone for the Cornhusker Marching Band for four years, including the last two as section leader. I almost wished I had brought my trombone along. But the most important part of this trip was my friends. I can’t even say how great it is to see them. I hadn’t been up to Lincoln since August, and my pulse was up the moment I stepped out of my car. Energizing is the first word that comes to mind, but that doesn’t really cover it.
On Sunday the 80-degree and sunny weather gave way to an epic cold front that dumped the hardest rain I’ve ever encountered and sent temperatures into free fall. Pelicans had arrived for their annual migration at the Bellevue lake where another friend lives.
By Sunday night, the unthinkable happened. It snowed. Good to see you, too, Nebraska.
Thanks for looking,