Somewhere in Middle America…
Well, I’m here. I’ve been here for a while now.
You know… Omaha Steaks. The Cornhuskers. Wait, they’re in Lincoln. But Omaha has the College World Series. And umm… Omaha Steaks.
My family moved here when I was in seventh grade, but we (my mother, father and sister), have each since scattered to stake claims in other states across this vast country. My mom is currently conquering the arid, rugged, natural beauty of the west; my dad is likely freezing his nuts off in the frigid north; my sister’s getting sun-drunk on the sandy surface of our southernmost beaches; and I’ve been hugging tight to the east coast for quite some time now.
Justin’s family, on the other hand, is still here. His parents were born here (or thereabouts), and many of his siblings will likely stay here and raise their own kids here and their kids will probably grow up to raise their own kids here as well.
It’s that kind of place.
It eats families like mine alive, but the strong ones – the ones with a backbone and the will to survive – tend to thrive in a place like this.
You know what I forgot until I came back? Everybody here is all cornfed and happy. They’re polite. Seriously. You’d be hard-pressed to find a rude Nebraskan. And Omaha is positively exploding with culture. It may take a while for the trends to get here, but once they do, the citizens are not deprived. Even the vast suburban expanses are peppered with strip malls and commercial developments offering every convenience imaginable, from sushi and pad Thai to acupuncture and pedicures. You can usually find what you crave within a fifteen minute drive.
The homes are huge.
It’s truly the epitome of the typical American Dream.
I’ll let you decide whether that’s a good or a bad thing.
But I will tell you that for me, just for today, it was a good thing. Because I had a craving. A craving that could only be filled by a restaurant franchise found here in Nebraska, with maybe one or two that have wandered into a couple of the surrounding states.
Yes, it’s fast-food. But I’m still in full-on Christmas Vacation binge mode and you can’t make me feel guilty. I won’t let you.
And this, my friends, was pure indulgence.
Picture, if you will, a fluffy pastry pocket. Warm, doughy, and baked to perfection. The pastry pocket is stuffed with a variety of ground beef, cheeses, and any other ingredient they have available whose taste you wish to explore. Today for me, it was a lovely mushroom and swiss combination.
And the fries? Crinkled perfection.
This is a Runza sandwich. (For some reason mine was split down the side instead of the traditional pocket. If any native Omaha-ans are reading this, could you please explain this phenomenon? Is this a new thing they’re doing, or is it some freakish accident unwittingly prescribed to my sandwich by a knife-wielding Runza kitchen newbie?)
If you ever find yourself inexplicably wandering around this flat state I once called home, you simply must go find yourself a Runza restaurant and buy a Runza sandwich.
Then you must eat it.
But now that the Runza is safely (I hope) making its way through my digestive tract, I’m discovering there’s not much else here for me. To Justin, this is still home – the place that fills him with feelings of nostalgia and warmth and recognition every time he returns. His parents still live in the home in which he grew up. The familiar smells of his dad’s cooking are still found in the same kitchen; the lighthearted sound of his mom’s laugh is still found in the same halls.
If this is something you have, then you know what I’m talking about. If this is something you don’t have, then you really know what I’m talking about. Missing something you can’t get back is a bit harder than missing something you can. And it’s a hell of a lot harder than missing something you never had.
I lose a little interest here every time I come. I never drive past my old house. I don’t visit the same bars or restaurants. I don’t see anyone from high school. My phone doesn’t ring anymore when I’m in town.
Is that strange? Or is that healthy moving on?
I don’t know how I feel about it anymore.
I don’t feel about it anymore.
In their song so aptly called Omaha, I think the Counting Crows said it best about this place that to me, once felt like the center of the universe – a thriving fairground with bright lights and brand new roller coasters and the best funnel cakes in three states but has since, only in my mind, turned to a state of dilapidated neglect and disrepair:
I think you better turn your ticket in
And get your money back at the door.