Day 44 – A Day of Nebraska Driving

We woke early so we could pick up my Aunt and go to breakfast together before packing the car. That was necessary because once the car was packed there was no room to pick up anything! She was waiting for us and we went to the Hy Vee lunch counter where they make a hot breakfast to order. We all had pancakes and bacon and sat together for one last eucharist before we had to move on along the trail.

Back at her apartment we said our good byes and hugged, knowing it might be a few years before we would see each other again.

We put gas in the car and left Sioux City, crossing over the Missouri River into Nebraska. We got on Highway 20 and didn’t take a turn until we reached our destination in Valentine and the Niobrara River National Park Visitor Center.

It was nothing all day but driving through Nebraska, yet we marveled at the golden and scarlet leaves adorning the trees along the landscape. Since it was just a driving day, we started listening to “No Ordinary Time” by Doris Kerns Goodwin and we are hooked already. She is an excellent writer and helps pass the time.

We arrived at our destination just as it was about to close for the day. Strangely, we felt a little road weary, but soon realized it was not necessarily from the road, but from all the early mornings we had set trying to make room for all our reunions and gatherings with friends and family over the last week.

We quickly looked through the tiny museum at Niobrara and watched their film about the river region and then went directly to our motel. We were checked into a room only to find out it was still being cleaned. My driver went back to the front desk while I waited in the hall with the luggage. He came back with another room assignment only to realize that room was not yet cleaned at all! One more trip to the front desk.

The manager arrived on the floor to determine the problem. She had a few words with the cleaning staff and then informed me, “I’m going to assign you this room again because she’ll be done cleaning in about ten minutes.”

I stood there wondering what I was supposed to do . . . wait here in the hall for ten minutes? My driver came back and said, “I guess we have this room and she’ll be done soon.” It was the oddest experience we’ve ever had at a motel. It was well past 5:30 and they were still cleaning rooms . . . and actually cleaning the room we had just been assigned!

My driver offered to stay with the luggage and suggested I go out for a walk. I needed a walk! So, I went down the main street of Valentine, Nebraska – “The Town with a Heart” – only to find most of the small businesses closing up for the day. With the room finished, my driver joined me on my walk of Main Street and we decided we would just find a place to eat without getting back in the car.

Well, that didn’t happen. We got back in the car and went back to the highway to The Pepper Mill Grill, because as the one person we asked said, “We do beef here.” The Pepper Mill Grill was spacious with lots of tables open and we were shown a booth and given menus.

Before we could even open them the waitress was back to take our order. We conversed a little with her to try and determine what might be best to order. She wasn’t very conversational. “Most people come for the steaks,” she told us matter-of-factly.  Well, ok, since that’s just about all you have on the menu, that would certainly make sense.

We ordered steaks and baked potatoes. After a short wait our plates arrived and we settled in to enjoy our meals. I had just picked up my knife to cut off my first bite of steak when the waitress was back asking “How is everything?” I wanted to say “Hard to tell, since I haven’t even taken a bite yet,” but I refrained. Working as hard as I could I somehow could not cut a piece of my steak. It seemed tougher than it should have been. I finally realized it was the knife that wasn’t working. So, I shared my driver’s knife as his seemed to be working fine.

About five minutes later the waitress was back asking if we wanted dessert. “Well, maybe when we finish dinner,” we answered. She came back shortly with our check and said, “No rush, just whenever you’re ready.” My driver looked up as she walked away and said, “What if I wanted dessert?” We exchanged glances and realized this was seeming a bit like a comedy routine.

After we had leisurely finished our dinner, we decided to share a piece of their signature lemon cake. It sounded so good in the menu description. Finally, the waitress came by and we asked for a piece of cake. She scooped up our check and trotted off. It was becoming very clear “The Town with a Heart” needed a new ad campaign. Our lemon cake came, along with a revised check and we were happy we would be moving on as soon as the morning dawned.

Now, maybe we were just tired and not very receptive. In addition, I was itching all over (and looked like I had chicken pox) due to the tiny stinging beetles that attacked us during our cemetery walk yesterday.  So, we decided we needed to just pack it in and spend some “down time” in our very clean room this evening. That’s what we needed after a day of driving through Nebraska.