Stopping in central Nebraska for the night after driving from Chicago today. In three eventful days there with Abby and Shifra, I: went to a wine tasting, a Ben Lee concert, and a sketch comedy show; drank at four bars and ate at three restaurants; bought a business suit; and tagged along with Abby to a breast cancer support group of middle-aged evangelical African-American women in a megachurch on the South Side. That last one was a highlight — I don't think I've ever been more out of my element before, at least not in this country.
When I pulled off I-80 in Kearney this evening, I gassed up, got some food, and drove down the main drag to see what there was to the town. Like many western towns, you get the sense that there's not much left of this place other than a five-lane concrete road lined with fast food franchises, motels, and gas stations. But it turns out that not only does Kearney still have a downtown, it still has businesses in many of its storefronts even as so many other downtowns out here sit vacant as the local Wal-Mart Supercenter's parking lots overflow. Of course everything except the bars was closed when I drove through at 7:30 p.m., but the town is obviously still proud of its old bank buildings, five-and-dimes, and especially a big white-columned building that houses MONA, the Museum of Nebraska Art.
I guess Kearney is still thriving in comparison to some other towns because of the steady stream of road-tripping families who stop off here to check out the historical monuments — in particular the ridiculous Archway Monument they built across I-80 in 1999. Build a big pedestrian bridge, add a gift shop, and call it a tourist attraction? Hey, whatever works.
(Researching links for this post, I learned a great little tidbit about Kearney's name. It was built on the site of Fort Kearny, and the city of Kearney derives its name from the original fort, but due to a postal error an "e" was inadvertently added and then never changed." — http://www.kearney.net/history2.html)