Monday, October 3, 2011

The Day After

September 23: As always, there is a day after, unless y0u die, then yours is canceled. My flight home wasn't scheduled until five a.m. Saturday morning, so since I was not yet hanging with Kenny (those bastards!) there was the matter of twenty four hours left to kill before departure.
The baking and alcohol dispensing industries both required Dan's services, meaning Meggan was left alone to administer the one day grand tour of Council Bluffs and Omaha. She first took us to Hot Shops, where Dan's brother Chris plies his trade as a metal-worker with serious artistic chops. He is the man responsible for the iron work outside O'Leaver's.
Housed in an old warehouse, Hot Shops is basically a gallery exhibiting an ever-shifting and varied series of pieces from local painters, photographers, sculptors, and other artistic types. There are also work spaces where creators like Chris craft their handiwork.
Following an hour of awestruck wandering amidst the genius of creative minds we picked up Sherman (Dan and Meggan's canine) and headed over to the Hitchcock Nature Center. On the way I saw my first black squirrel. Council Bluffs is famous for the rare coloration. The city protects the squirrel vigorously. It is illegal here to "taunt, maim, kill, annoy or otherwise disturb a black squirrel." You should also not taunt super happy fun ball.
After a short drive we arrived at Hitchcock Nature Center. The preserve houses some of Iowa's largest remaining tracts of prairie and also happens to lie square in the center of the loess hills. We went for a stroll (no rest for the wicked) and I took a long deep breath, grabbing one last glimpse of the Iowa outdoors while Meggan chided Sherman for running off for the seven thousandth time. Towards the end we came upon a sorry sight - a beautiful yellow and turquoise snake trapped alive in the mesh net which coated the ground.
I don't know what the purpose of the mesh was, but I found it bitterly ironic that in a place meant to preserve nature mankind had managed to trap and possibly destroy the very thing we had meant to protect. Without my knife I felt powerless to free the poor beast. We instead traveled back to the park office and informed the woman on duty of the serpent's predicament. I'd like to say there was a happy ending, but the animal's fate is unknown, I can only hope the ranger was able to free him in time.
Our next destination was the Grenville Dodge house. Council Bluffs has a fascinating history dating back to a visit from the Lewis and Clark expedition, who conducted a palaver here in 1804 with the Otoe and Missouria Indians on the site where the town would one day be built. The council part of the city's name derives from this historic meeting between the explorers and the doomed aborigines.
Dodge was one of the earliest settlers to move into the area, making his home here in the 1850s. A previous attempt to settle farther west in Nebraska was rebuffed by hostile Comanche tribesmen who signaled their displeasure with flying arrows and spears. Taking the hint, the young man and his wife moved to the healthier environment of newly formed Council Bluffs.
In his twenties G.D. was already a serious mover and shaker. He set up a banking business with his family and became a player in the railroad game as well. The young man had been involved in surveying since the age of fourteen and had recently received a degree in civil engineering before leaving his birthplace in Massachusetts and heading out to the frontier.
The Civil War presented Dodge with the opportunity of quick advancement. He started the conflict as a colonel. During the next few years he accomplished the rare feat of living while also earning respect and friendship from luminaries in the military establishment such as Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan. As a result Dodge became one of the Union's youngest major generals, helping Sherman to burn and loot all the way to Atlanta before a shot to the head convinced Dodge a job commanding the Department of Missouri might be more his style.
Once the rebels were defeated the general moved back into civilian life, becoming the chief engineer of the Union Pacific. 1866 was an incredibly exciting era to be involved in the company. Union Pacific was in the process of building the Trans-Continental Railroad, which would be the first to connect the Pacific coast with the rest of the country.
After the golden spike was driven to celebrate the completion of the project, Dodge became a globe trotting surveyor for other amazing engineering achievements such as the Trans-Siberian Railroad and a railroad in France which he built despite the participation of the French. He also spent many years as a representative of Iowa in the United States Congress.
When Grenville Dodge died in 1916 he was the last Civil War general to begin the below ground decomposition process. How do we summarize such an amazing career? Some say the general was a bit off his rocker thanks to the head wound he earned in 1864. Others point to his involvement in the Credit Mobilier scandal as a mark against the man. There are even those who speak of his lobbying for the railroads in Washington while he was a lawmaker as a questionable conflict of interest. Although I admit others are entitled to opinions that are wrong, I feel Dodge was a really swell guy.
After signing our non-disclosure agreement, promising not to bash General Dodge in any written form, Meggan and I were allowed into the Dodge residence, which had been turned into a museum. The mansion was purchased in 1869 thanks to proceeds from insider trading which we refer to here as sound investing.
There were many interesting baubles and trinkets inside, including some original wallpaper, which would really have blown your mind if "Better Homes and Garden" is your idea of a magazine. During our tour my interest in home furnishings waned, as my stomach was gnawing upon my lower intestines, bringing the normal attention span of zero to an even lower rating if you believe in those sort of imaginary numbers.
Meggan had said something earlier about dim sum and the reckoning had finally come, steamed Chinese delicacies were our due. The meal did require a trip west into Omaha, however, all the way to Gold Mountain on 730,000th street, which I believe is only twenty miles east of the Colorado border.
The drive proved worth the effort. Squid, roasted duck, spare ribs, and a fantastic turnip cake, the revelation of the meal, all danced on my palate like Sugar Plum fairies enjoying one last prance before the inevitable agonizing drowned doom within my acidic insides. We picked up some to-go items for the poor imprisoned Dan and went to visit him at O'Leaver's.
Soon after the day disappeared into hazy night a last celebration in the far west commenced. Dan escaped his shackles behind the bar and joined us, along with his parents, for a last cocktail or two before saying goodbye.
The moment slipped by all too quickly and before I knew early morning had come. I was whisked away to the Omaha airport and back into the waiting arms of my friends in Greenville. Suddenly the last few months felt like a great long dream. If so, I can't wait until April when I can go back to sleep.

o miles/1796 total miles

Thanks to recent donors:
Peggy Byrd and Harlan Newton
Colin Stewart
Greenville Area Blue Star Mothers
John and Dot Bishop
Ed Kemp
Dan Kemp and Meggan Gibson
Monty and Teresa Hoyle
Mark and Melissa Normington
Paul and Sally Hoover
Josh and Katie Gillespie
Cindy Walsh

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