Feb 16, 2010

Des Moines to Lincoln

Sunday 14th - Day 7

The Weather Channel is like Crystal Meth. It’s that addictive. It could be worse than Meth, I’ve never tried it but a friend of mine (let’s call him Lavern) has and he says World of Warcraft is harder to kick than Meth. Well, I think my Weather Channel addiction must be up there with Laverne’s Warcraft habit. I watch it every morning before hitting the road and every night before hitting the pillow. I love it so much I wonder why there’s no Weather Channel in the UK? I guess the answer is because the weather isn’t extreme enough. Here, it is. And this morning in Des Moines we woke up to another blanket of snow. But as we weren’t staying in a motel… no Weather Channel. But despite the layer of fresh snow lying on top of the season-long accumulation on the ground, and despite the big soft fluffy flakes floating down, our host Tim said we’d be ok and Interstate 80 would be clear.

So we set off with the temperature gauge at 16 F and poor visibility. We crawled through downtown Des Moines but saw very little of it before hitting a scary, slushy Interstate 80.

Now forgive me for going on about the weather but it is insane at the minute. The Weather Channel is calling it February Fury. Places in the south are getting snow. Places like Dallas. And even eastern seaboard cities who get bad weather are getting record snow falls that they can’t cope with. The federal government in DC have been staying at home because of snow, just like school kids. But here in the depths of the mid west they’re used to snow, they know how to deal with it, right? Well if that’s so then how come the interstate between Des Moines and Omaha Nebraska is littered with vehicles that have slid off the road? A lot of American motorways don’t have a central reservation they have a meridian. That’s what they call the 25 foot wide grass strip that runs between the traffic flow. And on the other side of the hard shoulder there’s a ditch or a borrow pit. This does mean that if you screw up you end up marooned on grass or, in this weather, submerged in snow drifts. On the 136 mile stretch between Des Moines and Omaha we must have seen 15 cars in the meridian or the ditch. What gives? Don’t these folks change their driving style when the weather’s bad? Fuelled by Fear and concentration I was gripping the wheel with a white knuckle intensity and sitting up ram rod straight. Yesterday the only road casualties we saw in Missouri were dead deer (man I wouldn’t want to hit one of those) but today these farm boys seemed to be flying off the road with gay abandon.

Then we saw Omaha and it looked so grim and hideous, like someone took all the 10 ugliest Arndale shopping centres and slapped them together. It occurred to me that the car crashes weren’t accidents, people were doing it on purpose to avoid going to Omaha.

Omaha despite, or maybe because of, the grimness has quite a few songs written about it which have been recorded by artists as diverse as Groucho Marx, Johnny Otis, Big Joe Williams, Stan Freberg, Moby Grape, Preston Love, John Stewart, Damian Jurado, Waylon Jennings, Chicksaw Mud Puppies, Counting Crows and Pat Methany.

But we didn’t intend to stop there ever. The main reason for visiting this state was this:

The song is inspired by the actions of Lincoln, Nebraska native Charles Starkweather, who, in 1958, went on a killing spree during a two-month road trip with his teenage girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate. Their story also inspired the movies The Sadist (1963), Badlands (1973), Natural Born Killers (1994) and Starkweather (2004). And a made-for-TV movie Murder in the Heartland (1993) is a biographical depiction of Starkweather starring Tim Roth. (They also so fascinated the young Steven King that he kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about them.)

The song is also the title track of my favourite Springsteen album. I wanted to drive from Lincoln right across Nebraska listening to Nebraska. However the weather didn’t want us to get there. After Omaha the number of abandoned vehicles increased. Not so much because of falling snow but because of winds blowing snow drifts across the highways. Nebraska is a flat state, it’s part of the northern plains and there’s not much to stop the wind. Some sections of the road were temporary white outs. The smart and the scared (I was the latter) were crawling along in the inside lane. The young and the dumb were whizzing past us on the outside. And no doubt causing the kind of accidents that eventually caused the state troopers to shut the highway. Just 20 miles from Lincoln we were all shepherded onto exit 186 only to spend over an hour crawling to a town called Ashland. Sometimes the traffic would be stationary for so long the drifting snow would start to build up on the side of the car. We tried a back road but that was worse. The drifting snow was so bad it was like going through a car wash, but with snow instead of water. In the end we turned around and headed back to towards Omaha and checked into the first motel we saw. It was like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in there. By 4pm the motel (which was so crappy it didn’t even have a lift/elevator - not a big deal I know, but if you’re an overweight American it is) was full. It turns out that the Interstate had closed because of a fatality on I-80. A semi had crashed into a car killing the 20 year old woman who was driving it.

No comments:

Post a Comment