Durham Museum, Meat Dresses and Purgatory: Nebraska

Well, after Kansas’ rather quiet display, I promised something more entertaining than fields in Nebraska. So here we go:

Nebraska FieldsWait, wait, come back. No more fields, I promise.

I’m spending the day in Omaha, Nebraska, at the Durham Museum, which is housed in the fantastic art deco structure that used to be Omaha Union Station:

Omaha Station ExtThey’ve maintained or restored the stations superb entry hall:

Omaha Station IntThroughout the hall there are statues of passengers from days gone by, but approaching them will cause them to start talking in a way that isn’t at all creepy.

Durham Museum - Girl StatueSure, little girl, why don’t you tell me about waiting for your daddy with your disembodied, ethereal voice. I’ll just be here, looking for some holy water.

Durham Museum - Woman StatueYes, hello, one ticket away from the demonspawn child, thank you.

Below the Great Hall is the museum proper, featuring an exhibit on Women of Rock (as in the music, not some type of geology). Unfortunately no pictures were allowed, so you’re going to have to take my word for it. There was an excellent collection of memorabilia from such greats as Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin, but one item stood out in particular: Lady Gaga’s meat dress. Someone had tried to preserve it. The slabs of meat sown together. The results are… dubious. What was left looked like some sort of red fibreglass costume for a midget.

Meat Dress She’s the one making Cher look understated.

One of the permanent exhibits highlights the history of transportation in the Midwest, featuring a streetcar:

Durham Museum - Street CarWith some helpful advice:

Durham Museum - Alighting AdviceIs it me or is it obvious that the conductor pushed her?

As well as the streetcar, there are a series of train carriages joined together, each from a different era, so you can see how they’ve changed over the decades. It starts off with the feel of your grandmother’s living room on wheels:

Durham Museum - CarriageThrough to a bar car from the 50s/60s, with fine upholstery, plenty of space and – were it running – waiter service.

Durham Museum - Bar CarriageNext is a slightly more Spartan, but still roomy sleeper car with fold-down beds:

Durham Museum - Sleeper Car Durham Museum - Sleeper Car

Unfortunately they didn’t manage to have any from our latest era of train transport, the cattle car:

Cattle CarEven so, it’s made a profound impact on Bertie, who’s decided to become a train conductor:

Bertie the Conductor“I’m going to ride the rails,” says Bertie.

“But Bertie, they’ve shut most of the rail services.”

“Oh. Nuts to this then, get me an SUV.”

(Special thanks to Leo, the incredibly knowledgeable museum employee who let me borrow the hat)

Durham Museum - Carriage ExtHaving established that the rails won’t take me, it’s time to head out West by car. As I leave Omaha, coincidentally, Counting Crows “Omaha” starts playing, but it’s too late you avian abaci, I’m gone. I spend the night in Lincoln, NE (while Kennedy spends it in Monroe, Maryland—wait, how does that go again?). The next morning I gear up for a few hours of purgatory. I’m driving in straight line across the barren fields of Nebraska. The day is cold and as windy as the Welsh rugby team after a curry. I drive the same road for hours while gale force winds knock into my car, taking patchy bits of snow with them. Tumbleweeds (proper ones!) rocket across the road. A red car in front of me hits one and gets it caught in his grill, forcing him to pull over. Not all cars who attempt this endless road make it:

Wrecks Off the HighwayIn fairness to Nebraska, they do try to change up the monotony. At a rest stop, they’ve commissioned some art. Either that, or the aliens have invaded:

Art InvadersThe road goes on forever and you get the sense you’re stuck in some never ending déjà vu. You pass truck after truck, then you stop to get gas, then you pass the same trucks again. After hours of this, you’re on the edge of madness when, just to push you over, this comes on shuffle:


Just embrace it.

As night falls, we cross into Mountain Time, cross into Wyoming and start meeting worse weather. The roads are patched with compacted snow and ice. Somewhere near the border, we pass a truck that has jack-knifed going the other way. Although the accident looks recent (a few minutes later, I see that they’re only just closing the westbound lanes), the sheer number of trucks that have already come to a halt is staggering. Amongst them are maybe half a dozen cars, but for the most part it is 18-wheeler after 18-wheeler. Trucks are a constant companion on the road, but until then, it hadn’t quite occurred to me the vast numbers of them that carry goods around the country.

An hour or so later I arrive at Cheyenne and call it a night.

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