Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Best Laid Plans...

So, needless to say, things were going great. 

Monowi proved to be every bit as kitschy and cool as we'd hoped. Let's face it, a population of a single person is pretty neat, and listening to that person talk about how she came to be the sole resident of the town is almost mesmerizing. But there were other things to see further down the road, and we intended to see them.

With Nebraska in our rear view mirror, we headed toward Sac City, Iowa. Now, Sac City is a veritable photograph of small town America, and about 2,000 people call it home. So, while driving th


BAM!

 

Without warning, a suicidal deer literally launched itself into the travel lanes from the median of US-20. I was traveling about 75mph and only saw it at the last second. I stood on the brakes and swerved in an attempt to avoid hitting it.

I learned two things that day. First, anti-lock brakes are a thing. When I hit the deer, the car had slowed to about 50mph. Now, don't get me wrong, that's still a significant speed at which to hit a deer, but it's a Helluva' lot better than hitting it at 75mph. 

Second, I learned that, while I was only a split second away from missing Bambi completely, I was also only a split second away from hitting it squarely with the front end, and that could've been disastrous:

 


 

All things considered, we were monumentally fortunate. First, and most importantly, we were uninjured. In what could've been a tragic series of events, we lucked out and completely escaped injury. Secondly, the amount of damage to the car was, in the grand scheme of things, pretty minimal:

 



 
It could've been a lot worse...
 
Always the best part of a good deer strike...
 

Sitting on the side of an Iowa freeway wasn't exactly the place to start filing a claim, so I decided to wait until we got to our hotel that night. Once ensuring the car was operable we continued on our way, all the while our misfortune nagging me at the back of my mind.

As unfortunate as we'd been, we weren't ready to let it destroy our trip. Iowa held more to see, after all, and we were going to check it out. We continued on our way to Sac City, because Sac City is home to an undeniable monument to the unwavering ingenuity of the American spirit. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the world's largest ball of popcorn:

 

Nowhere else but America...

I know, I know. I can hear the collective gasp of my 11 followers as they try to digest the majesty of such a creation.

Weighing in at 9,370 pounds, the ball was created by 250 volunteers working for almost 13 hours. They used 900 pounds of popcorn, over 2,500 pounds of sugar and 1,400 pounds of syrup. Now, my New York public school education tells me that falls far short of the claimed 9,370 pounds, but I'm not about to go up against the Sac City Visitor's Bureau, so let's just accept the almost 4-1/2 ton claim and move on, shall we?

Weight aside, this thing is pretty damn big. Its diameter is 8 feet, and the circumference measures in at 24 feet. The ball is so big and so heavy that it wasn't placed inside the building you see above. In fact, the building was constructed around the popcorn ball.

And, as much as I kid and make jokes about this sort of thing, it's important to not lose sight of the larger point, that being that something like the world's largest ball of popcorn is just another example of the sort of unique things you can find along the road in Anytown, USA.
 

What had turned into a ridiculously day ended in a hotel room somewhere in Iowa, on the phone with USAA reporting my accident. I wasn't going to be getting the car repaired until I got to Ohio, but I wanted to make sure it was reported.

And, as unfortunate an event as it was, I was damned and determined to not allow it to sully the rest of the trip. It is, after all, just a car, and cars can be replaced. We had more things to see, and I was not about to let one emotionally distraught deer ruin everything.

We had more to see the next day...


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Monowi, Nebraska...

Rested and ready, we got on the road at a relatively reasonable hour. There were a few stops we wanted to make, and neither of us is a fan of feeling rushed. For what I believe was the first time since leaving Oregon, we felt... relaxed.

Our first stop was one I've been looking forward to for a while now. It wasn't some big attraction, nor did it have the majesty of a bunch of old cars buried in the dirt. It was nothing more than one little roadside town, somewhere down the road between here and there.

Monowi.

Even before we got to Monowi, we had to make a stop. My daughter has this uncanny ability to look down some lonesome, barren street and tell if it's worth checking out. We did this, just a few miles away from Monowi, in the town of Lynch. Thinking back, I don't think Lynch, Nebraska even has a traffic light. It's probably he tiniest town I've ever been in:

 

I soooooo wanted to see what was behind that door...


At first we weren't sure what this was, then we figured it out. It's a movie theater...


When was the last time you saw a gas station with one gas pump?

Now, don't get me wrong, I did "small town" America, but this was ridiculous. We drove through Lynch for a good ten minutes and didn't see a soul. To me, it seemed like something lifted from the pages of a Stephen King novel as opposed to just being a small, northeastern Nebraska town. The census says the population is 206. Well, if they're there, they didn't show themselves.

From Lynch it was only a short drive to what truly is the smallest town in America, Monowi, Nebraska. There was little to see along the way (I mean, c'mon, it's Nebraska), but we did find this 1940's era pickup which had certainly seen better days. There's nothing special about this, it just looks cool. And, if I had to guess, I'd imagine it's been sittin' there since the 40's too:



From the dilapidated truck, it was just a quick drive down the road is the smallest town in America, Monowi, Nebraska.

By the way, the correct pronunciation is "MAHN-OH-WHY".

Monowi was founded as a railroad town in 1902, and saw its most robust years in the 1930's, when the population swelled to around 150. Over the years since, though, as cities afar were experiencing growth and offering better job opportunities, the younger folks started to pack up and move on. By the year 2000, there were only two residents left: Elsie and Rudy Eiler.

Monowi, Nebraska - Population: 1...

 

Rudy and Elsie met in the fourth grade, and were married for just shy of 74 years when Rudy passed in 2004. Since then, Elsie has served as Mayor, clerk, treasurer, librarian and bartender. She pays herself taxes and even grants herself her liquor license:

 

Elsie Eiler, the sole resident of Monowi, Nebraska...

Elsie's a woman of slight stature and quiet confidence. As we walked in she welcomed us quietly with a "Sit where you want" as she moved to serve other customers. We took a seat at the table closest to what serves as a kitchen and looked around.

It's more tavern than restaurant, but there was no shortage of customers seated at tables as opposed to the bar. Many, it seemed, were regulars, those who stop in not only for a bite to eat but also to check on Elsie. She is, after all, 87 years old.

Monowi, at one time, was also home to a chapter of the Night Owls Motorcycle Club. No one seems to really recall when a chapter last called Monowi home, but it's clear it's been some time:


The Night Owls (former) clubhouse in Monowi...

One thing in town which Elsie takes a great deal of pride in is Rudy's Library. When he passed away, Rudy wanted his 5,000 volume book collection to be made available to anyone wishing to have access to it. It was with this in mind that Elsie opened "Rudy's Library" in 2004, in a small building along the main drag:

 




 

When we finished lunch, Jess and I went over to the counter to thank Elsie. Up to now she'd been very quite and quite reserved but, when I asked if she would oblige us for some photos, her face lit up and she couldn't say "YES!" fast enough:

 

Elsie Eiler and me at the Monowi Tavern...


Elsie and Jess...

We chatted for what had to be another 20 minutes when we finally decided to let Elsie get back to the growing number of diners in the tavern.

Hindsight being what it is, we probably should've explored more in the town. Allegedly there are four traffic lights, but I saw none of them and, honestly, I can't see a reason for them being there. But there were things for us to do and places for us to be, so we turned the car east to see whatever lay down the road...


Sunday, May 2, 2021

Valentine, Nebraska...

We decided that, after a week of going and going every day that we would slow it down a little bit, and give ourselves  a break. We decided to make Valentine, Nebraska a two day stop. We'd be able to decompress, recharge and maybe even get some laundry done. We even got that stop at Carhenge in (and you should totally go if you get the chance!).

We got to our hotel and got settled in, but we wouldn't be staying long as we were both pretty much famished. Now, there's not exactly a whole lot to choose from when it comes to dining options in the thriving metropolis of Valentine, Nebraska, so it came as a relief that the restaurant we chose, The Peppermill, was outstanding. Jess got some tasty chicken thing, but I had to go for the brisket. Now, no offense to any of my barbeque-makin' friends, but this was probably the best brisket I've ever had, and it's hard for me to envision brisket that could be even moderately better:

 

Dinner at The Peppermill in Valentine, Nebraska...

 

It was the end of a very long day, so when we returned to the hotel it wasn't long before we were calling it a night. There would be no alarms set, no long drives started; nothing, and that was a nice change.

The next day, after knocking out some laundry, we decided to explore  little bit. Now, make no mistake, Valentine is a very small place. The population is right around 2,700, give or take, and it's almost a game trying to figure out what all of those people do for a living. There's no industry to speak of, and the next town down the road is quite a ways down the road.

But what Valentine has is character. It's got character to the nth degree. The "small town feel" is everywhere you look:

I wouldn't be surprised if the town grocery store was also in this building...


The local Security First Bank, complete with brick relief sculpture on the outside wall...

Monument honoring all of Valentine's war dead...


Valentine's World War I monument...


Storefront on Main Street...


Storefront on Main Street...


I have a similar hat at home which I don't wear. Seemed like overkill...


The Skylight Bar & Grille...


Valentine is known as "The Heart City" and there's no shortage of hearts and heart-like motifs throughout the entire town. So popular is the town that every February 14, the post office is inundated with cards and letters to be postmarked with a heart and the town's name.



So, if and when you find yourself in the middle of Nebraska and needing a place to stay, you could do a lot worse than Valentine, where the people are friendly, the red meat is amazing and even the Super 8 is cozy and warm...










The Best Laid Plans...

So, needless to say, things were going great.  Monowi proved to be every bit as kitschy and cool as we'd hoped. Let's face it, a pop...