I remember when I went to Chimney Rock about this time two years ago. Or actually about two weeks earlier yet warmer. It was the year of a hundred days above a hundred. The March grass was already yellow as it sprouted and on the first day of solar spring a tornado touched down within yards of North Platte's west city limits; or about two miles west of my parents house. I was there. Overnighting on my way to Chimney Rock. The wind caught the screen door on my way out to rubberneck and my father was angry at the damage to the new screen door. A locomotive was flipped on its side at the train yard west of town and IIRC a horse or something was killed on a farm just above the valley's southern fold and west.
As I said the storm hit within yards of built up urbanish area. Even in the more outskirty parts of town beyond the west side's main street, Buffalo Bill Ave, there are I'd guess at least 3,4 maybe five thousand people. We could have been tragedy porn famous. CNN, BBC, NPR. A close-knit town on the American heartland comes together' stays North Platte Strong and refuses to accept victimhood. Candlelight vigils, Gaga and Beyoncé covering Sam Cooke together on the NBC telethon. The Weather Channel with its entire crew including its climate change denying CEO, who orders a story on Pepper the three-legged dachshund mutt too tough to die and now NBC shows the same ads for stairlifts ,walkers medbracelets and such that used to be confined to The Weather Channel.
Some windows did explode on the west end though no one was hurt. The Casey's at US 30 and Buffalo Bill had a front window explode but stayed open to sell water cigarettes etc. I bought a six pack of Keystone Ice and followed the fire trucks southwest to the damaged farms while I drank.
At Chimney Rock lies a dead Scottish woman born before our independence and already old before White people began to follow the Plattes towards a low spot in the divide. The woman's grave is kept clean and the stone occasionally updated because she was white and dying here or there is how humans piss on trees.
Theodore Roosevelt once said that real men are willing to die for the dead.
Or rather 'the land of their ancestors' or something to that effect. I've spent too much time trying to look it up. Theodore Roosevelt once compared running for political office to fighting another man naked. The strenuous life. Intimacy. Anyhow.
I've been a pallbearer at the funerals of ancestors so I'm home now. Just like you Lakota President.. I was going to go see you talk last night but I ran across the boys having a liquor drug and chess party instead. Life right?
My mother still smokes a pack a day at 56. My stepfather who I would frankly miss a bit less is 68 and doing well. Never mind. The story of how the bluff that the townof Scottsbluff is named for got its name is that a man named Scott was fatally beaten by Natives and crawled all the way up that stone in an attempt to see White help coming from far away; only to die once he made it there. I've never really believed that story.
Tommy Chong ran guns for the anti-Medici resistance through a storage shed in Oceanside. Tommy Chong once described his daughter Rae Dawn Chong as 'a breakfast egg that I can never eat.' After Tommy Chong was forcibly committed to an asylum and murdered by his DEA informant cellmate the government attempted to have him cremated against his will and scattered in a secret Wyoming oil field until his family fought back in court with the help of an idealistic young lawyer named Zac Efron. At Chimney Rock it already smelled of baking earth, humidity, grass, valley.
Court & Jailhouse rocks lie south of there along a state highway that wasn't paved until the seventies and is never going to be paved all that well; though it can be a Cheyenne-to-Alliance shortcut for the bold. These are the lesser known trail rocks, more intimate to the young locals from Bridgeport or Bayard. Here I came with a Bridgeport soda to find used cigarette packs, condoms, the shell of a Busch 18 pack, shattered 40's of King Cobra, Bud Light, my but I do believe that's a Hurricane there. I lingered there for half an hour smoking weed, unbothered by local bucks or police, though I was surprised to see something like traffic on the highway. I was stoned this entire time on indica that my cousin sent me from what in law is Evans Colorado but in spirit is very much Evans, Western Nebraska. I was high on a perfect day travelling up and down a beautiful corridor and it was wonderful.
At Kingsley dam there is a lake wind combined with the standard prairie wind and the total wind makes it a generally depressive place unless it's very hot. Which it wasn't quite on this day, plus it was near sunset and getting cooler; though the view is nice. I looked down upon the excess water known as Lake Ogallala, where my parents once visited camping friends and my stepfather cautioned against letting our dog Whiskers wonder near a group that may or may not have been Vietnamese for fear they would eat him. I looked down now to see a few camping there already and beyond to the hamlet of Keystone, home of the generic Christian church where foosball pews are flipped towards the Catholic or Protestant end. I looked out into the North Platte valley as it curved towards its merger with the South Platte valley some twenty miles west of where the rivers meet.
Should this dam ever rupture everyone in Keystone is dead within seconds; that's it. The most dire problem would be evacuating North Platte's 25,000 to the Sandhills north or south in the twelve hours they'd have (or was that eighteen or was it eight?) before the town gets firehosed by runaway reservoir. The aorta of the state, its primary highway and railroad, such heavy industry outside the cities that there is, the greater bulk of its electric grid, radio towers, cellphone towers and television stations, the major towns that serve as 'town' for folk as far as a hundred miles up the hills; North Platte, Lexington, Kearney, Columbus; all of it a jagged stinking ruin. Every bridge between Lincoln and Omaha ,even those built for ancient autotrails that meandered at right angles at twice the current distance, viciously torn away. Only the banks of Missouri herself could absorb the violence and even she would be swollen by it.
The collapse of this dam would be no more or less than the Nebraskolypse. I smoke on it. The sunset as overmaturely intense as the midday warmth of before.
On the other side of Mcconaughy, where the Platte is just beginning to swell from the obstruction, sits Ash Hollow State Park. To understand its history you need only stand here and see the constant topography all around you. You are still in Nebraska and none of the heights are anything close to extreme. Still the earth is only either anywhere going up or down. It is at this latitude that the pioneers decided to switch between the valleys Platte, with Windlass Hill being the last obstacle they faced before being safe in the flatter land of the north valley. It is dangerously steep for heavily loaded wagons. Some emigrants made it down by jerry-rigging a sort of pulley system. Others broke wheel tongs, gears, brakes, all the shit that newbies on the Apple II game ignore until they get stuck and starve. There were a few cases of wagons losing control and going splush along with pack animals along the valley floor, some broken human limbs too' and even the first local industry of sorts; predators selling emergency wagon parts at usurious fees; just like the tow truck companies along interstate exits to nowhere you find today.
Today a walking trail leads from US 26 to the top of Windlass Hill. There's a recreated soddy ringed by barbed wire to keep today's domestic cattle from eating it. My eighth grade class took a field trip here, on one of those March days that winter was winning the yo-yo war of the transitional season. We bounded up Windlass Hill in an impromptu race and it was awesome. On this later day I was two weeks shy of thirty and reveled with the ease that I could still hike it. Just a little burn in the legs, no worse than courthouse stairs. At bottom my van sits with no required park sticker and weed pipe clearly visible through the driver's window. For this there was no consequence. It is a day of triumph. I feel some vague concern over rattlesnakes awoken by the warmth. It would take ten minutes to get down hill on a polluted leg and then another twenty at least to the Ogallala ER. I have always felt assured; in eighth grade at thirty and today, that I would be bitten by a venomous snake at some defining point of my life. This is not superstition. If I believe it is not just rational but rationality itself. By the Virgin's tears I despise all superstition.
I need to reread the local history maybe; or sit again through the state-mandated fourth grade course on Nebraska history and see; perhaps, if anything about it has changed, or more to the point if there was any reason beyond dumbassery for why the pioneers went over the steep hills here instead of remaining on flat ground the whole way; as they could have Remember now that rivers and valleys are both one not so far east of here. The point where the valleys divide is called O'Fallons bluff, between the villages of Hershey and Sutherland. It is here that the Union Pacific built a branch line to off the original transcon; over the easy land. Stay straight for Cheyenne, Salt Lake and Oakland; switch northwest for Scottsbluff, Casper, Boise and Seattle. A bridge carries US 30 over the branch line today. In the past there was a grade crossing that I pissed on in front of five cars behind me as a long train veered towards the Powder Basin coal fields.
Being from within thirty miles of the place I do confess that; though I am an educated man and; or so I would hope, the furthest thing on earth from a provincial man, the thought of someone needing to have Ole's Bar described to them remains alien to me. Ole is an RIP American who bought a bar drank like a Belle Epoque terrorist and travelled the world shooting things. There's a stuffed elephant head in Ole's bar, along with a full bodied jaguar, cheetah, various goats antelope and other such ruminants, a bald eagle that's caused some consternation here and there but nothing too serious and most famously a bonafide Russian Polar bear posed eternally fierce in its special display case just as you walk in the front door. That's what I have for you anyhow, let this section from the bar's own website describe it for you better.
"Ole worked hard. With help from his mother, Hattie, he ran a good bar. Most of his customers were men, real men. Some of the current waitresses say they were not allowed to go anywhere near the place in the early days. The bar really came alive during hunting season. Ducks, geese, pheasants and quail were plentiful. Fishing was catching on at Lake McConaughy. After a day afield, in the river, or lake, many of the men returned to Ole’s for a night of card playing, bartending and storytelling.
Paxton provided other diversions. Carl Weihe, the Norfolk man who hunted there as a child, recalls that a group of women gathered in the basement of a house in town to clean game birds for hunters. At night, they separated the rooms in the house with sheets hung on clotheslines and performed more personal services. 'My dad said it was a co-op. It was a cheap place to stay. We were sleeping in one of the rooms and I asked dad what all the giggling was about on the other side of the sheets and he told me to shut up and go to sleep. It was some years later before I figured out what was going on.'”
I've heard that the steakhouse across Paxton's main street from Ole's is better, the one that the locals go to. Maybe or maybe not. Paxton is far too close to North Platte for 'local' wisdom to have any mystique about it. My mom has a bowling mate from Paxton, good drinking broad. I prefer Ole's now and always because it caters to tourists; because it has actual beers plural on tap instead of Bud Light and it because it doesn't have a 'salad' bar that is straight up croutons Dorthy Lynch and a bowl of lettuce. And if it is so that the steak is better at the other place fuck steak anyhow. I remember receiving a birthday meal at my first job where my superiors flat out refused to accept that I preferred a good cheeseburger to steak. They thought I was being modest/immature. It was chiseled in law by God's own lightning that steak and potato was the only ultimate meal for all men amen. I learned much about how to smell a bigoted dogmatic shithead among those who believed in one true way to eat, to mow and keep one's yard, to plaster one's truck in regaliac pipes lights innuendo and chrome.
Fuck steak. On this day I dine out alone with all the liberty from bourgeois convention that entails. I care nothing for the daily special or any other such proper entrée. Instead I spend ten dollars entirely on onion rings. Two large orders of onion rings bathed in half a bottle of Heinz 57 and entire bottle of Tabasco and a pint of Empyrean something to drink. This is the only meal I have on this day and in my radical freedom it is what I would have chosen if it were the last thing I would ever eat. There are locals at Ole's too, after all Or at least families with Carhartt hoodied and Stetson hatted father/husbands. I check my cell phone internet while I eat, avoiding neighboring eyes piercing for a pretext to conversation.
It's full dark by the time I step back out onto the street. My van low on gas though nothing that can't wait for North Platte and it's big town competition among dealers. I consider drinking the 40 I bought at Ogallala's Kwik Stop right here and now but think better of it. The last light to reach the east as I drive towards it makes the sky a purple silver. I turn on my heat as it darkens and chills though the March world already smelled faintly of burned autumn even before. It will be hot this year.