Nebraska, Midwest: The Flyover Zone By: Laura Winton

So here I am, on another bus, caught between the chemical smell of the bathroom and the jerks who got on in Des Moines at 5:00 am and talked all the way to Omaha – for 3 hours—and played their too-loud-for-that-hour-in-that-small-space music. And I realize that the problem with my accursed novel that I have been writing one year out of every ten for the last 30 years is that it isn’t what I had assumed it was about. It is about buses. All of the best, most interesting parts of it, are about buses.

And as I travel through Nebraska, another new state for me, as will be North and South Dakota, I realize why the coasters East and West think of this as the flyover zone. Because it all looks alike. Indiana bleeds into Illinois bleeds into Iowa into Nebraska and Kansas, as well it should, because the geography, the land, doesn’t recognize borders as they are drawn. It has its own natural borders and so part of Iowa bleeds into part of Minnesota. Pat of Missouri bleeds into part of Illinois. All the towns look virtually the same, from the red and brown brick buildings, the run down and dilapidated buildings, once manufacturing now left for dead in the “new economy” and in that way, even the man-made part of the landscapes seem to be linked, connected, even natural. This is how it is in this part of the country. Settlers, immigrants, whatever you think of them, built these towns and now that they have outworn their usefulness, the ones that can, leave. The bus depot in Lincoln is both garage and warehouse, put up with a large square multi-use aluminum building, one built not for any specific purpose. Generic. The area around the bus station looks just like Tomah, Wisconsin, with it’s one- and two-story generic motor lodges.

The bus depot in Omaha looks like the “new” bus station in Chicago, only smaller and slightly more dilapidated, but with the same metal seats and the same lockers. The Chicago station was built 20 years ago, and so is not really new anymore. But it replaced a much larger and more distinctive one, one that had Burger King and other restaurants inside and was actually pleasant to sit in. And so this bus station will always be the “new one” to me. The one that looks out of place amid all of the new condos built out of the old warehouses, and that will probably be driven out yet again within the next 10 years. People who can afford condos don’t want bus riff-raff wandering around their neighborhoods.
I remember when my parents sold their business and bought a half-acre of land in Florida, on which they put a double-wide mobile home. My mom used to say sarcastically, jokingly, and not without pride, “we’re trailer trash now.” People who can afford condos just off of downtown Chicago do not wait trailer trash or bus trash going through their trash.

I take a swig of soda as we get back onto interstate 80 westbound for Grand Island, Nebraska toward my ultimate destination, Albuquerque.

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