Nebraska shouldn’t be this loud.
At least, that’s what I thought in the midnight hours between Sunday night and Monday morning before the so-called "Great American Eclipse."
The sounds from the I-80 Lakeside Campground near North Platte, Nebraska, were a contradiction of what I knew about the Cornhusker State. As we laid in the back of our long-term 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan and attempted to sleep through a circus—or perhaps impromptu music festival—I revisited my understanding of the state.
For me, the long stretches of empty interstates were only broken up with greasy cheeseburgers devoured in the back of an Astrovan during my childhood. My uncle was a long-time resident of Everytown, Nebraska—or more specifically, Dalton, Nebraska.
Uncle Steve was conflicted and Dalton's quiet probably appealed at first. Its rugged loyalty to him didn't hurt, and neither did $2 whiskey and waters at a bar called “John’s.” But it’s not time for that story.
Dalton, and the rest of Nebraska as far as I knew, could only be loud as the wind blowing through the tall stalks of corn or wheat, its only natural fences for noise.
The tens of thousands of people that crowded into the state, North Platte, and this campground should be enough to stop the wind—but they chose to make their own noises instead. At 2 a.m. Outside our Pacifica.
To be fair, they were first. We had arrived, from Denver, at around 10 p.m. looking eagerly to wedge into a clearly overcrowded campsite and doze discreetly into the night with a warming glow from the van’s built-in Blu-ray player.
“To hell with them,” I told my girlfriend and our restless dog. “Try to go back to sleep.”
It was an impossibility, mostly. Our campsite was close enough to I-80 that we could not only hear the traffic on the interstate, we could smell it too. A dirty-sweet mixture of exhaust and oil cut through the muggy Nebraska night like mace. It hit our faces when we arrived and never left our noses as we tried to sleep.
At 6 a.m. we gave up and woke up. Each breath in the morning felt like a glass of water poured through a coffee filter made of flies.
Oh yeah, coffee. Coffee would be good now.
Total solar eclipse in Aurthur, NebraskaEnlarge Photo
As we drove in the early morning, the charms of Nebraska cut through the fog. A moth, which may have been the size of a cat, jumped through the window and into my lap. The flies that found refuge in our van during the night had stayed for the morning drive, and burrowed into unlikely and uncomfortable places. The sandy soil that had thankfully clung to the ground and not into our lungs as traffic drove past in the night now caked into the Pacifica’s unusually deep piles. The Pacifica's built-in vacuum next, coffee first.