A few hours of driving brought us to Omaha, one of the hidden jewels of our trip

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Road Trip Part 2:

Over continental breakfast, Emily and I discuss what to do about the last episode of Sopranos, which was to air that night. Though Emily is not a fan of the show, I very much am. The complication was that, lacking either cable or ready access to friends with cable, I'd missed the last two episodes. My first instinct was to hold off on watching the finale until I'd seen these others, but Emily pointed out how difficult it would be to avoid hearing about it. That made sense, so we planned to arrive at our HBO-equipped hotel by 9PM central, since Sopranos comes on at 10 on the East cost.

A few hours of driving brought us to Omaha, one of the hidden jewels of our trip. I was expecting some small, backwater, sleepy town, especially after our experience with Cleveland. But what we found was a really hip, vibrant, and charming downtown marketplace. There seemed to be a really nice mix of people enjoying the public space, plus bookstores, music stores, and restaurants. We lunched at a delicious cafe that served a wide variety of freshly prepared meals, picked up a few CD's as our selection of road music was growing stale, and then headed just north of the city to a prarie safari.

For just $5/person, we got access to a scenic drive and footpath through habitats populated with elk, buffalo, wolves, black bears, and cranes, many of which came within feet of the car. It was very cool, but we lingered a bit longer than planned and ended up having to floor it to reach our final destination of North Platte by 9PM. We made it with minutes to spare, and I turned on HBO only to find the Sopranos nearly over. Since when did it start airing at 9PM/8PM central? Infuriating. There weren't a lot of restaurants to choose from, but we found a very cheap diner called Penny's that offered decent food and all-day breakfast. I was hoping to have my coffee poured by a bee-hived waitress in her early forties, but instead our server was a young Asian woman with a lot of scars on her face. The chef was a white guy in his early twenties with one arm in a sling, which made us wonder about how Penny treats her employees.

Now wanting to see the Sopranos finale more than ever, I changed our hotel reservation for the next night to a different place just outside of Denver that had HBO. This time we made it to the city with plenty of time to stop for burritos and browse an amazing bookstore called The Tattered Cover. I love bookstores, and this rates with Powell's in Portland, Chicago's Seminary Coop, and Somerville's McIntyre & Moore as one of the best I've visited. The flagship location is in an old theater building and preserves the feel with bookshelves spread out across the balconies, mezzanine, pit, etc. Old rows of folding chairs provide places to sit and read, and the basement offers the largest collection of quality bargain books (ie stuff someone would actually want, provided their interests were specific enough) I've ever seen.

I'm going to make a whole separate post about my reactions to the Sopranos finale, but for now I'll just say I was pretty disappointed and felt kind of dumb for going to such great lengths to see it. Funny enough, though, we were seated near a large group loudly discussing the ending at dinner, so Emily was proven correct that I would not have avoided hearing about it. Denver's downtown mall, much like Omaha's, was quite charming and offered a variety of appealing restaurants. It was a bit more fashionable, though, and not in a good way. Maybe this was a function of the kind of people going out to dinner on a random Monday night, but the place had kind of a snobby, obnoxious undertone to it. We had a good time, nonetheless.

The weather in the morning wasn't great, so we elected to skip any more Denver sightseeing and head on to Moab, Utah. The drive through the Rockies proved one of the highlights of the trip. I-70 led us up, over, and around soaring peeks and the rushing Colorado River. Though they didn't offer any amenities aside from bathrooms, the rest areas were generally scenic and made a stop feel less like an interruption and more like a genuinely relaxing break from a long road trip. We stopped for lunch in Vail, which seemed like a cute place, though obviously full of snobby leisure class folk. My favorite was a well-groomed WASP with sweather knotted around her neck sipping red wine with lunch at a pizza parlor, though the 9-year old girl walking alone from upscale boutique to upscale boutique loaded down with shopping bags was pretty classic, too. The second half of the drive was pretty bland, though there's something remarkable about a rest stop in the middle of the desert. For hours you are driving along, bored out of your mind by ramrod straight roads and unchanging scenery that seems to exist like a screensaver on the windshield of your car. Then you step out and all of sudden you are in the middle of nothingness, staring for miles in any direction (something no city boy has much opportunity to do), and everything is quiet and the wind is blowing and the sun shining and you feel very calm and apart from the world. The boringness disappeared abruptly when we turned off I-70 towards Moab. We were quickly plunged into gorgeous canyonland, with lots of red rock facades and natural rock formations. Moab itself was also a pretty cool place, home to a vibrant outdoor adventures community.

The next morning, we woke at 6AM to visit Arches National Park before beginning our last, long day of driving. The park was great, full of scenic vistas and opportunities to scramble up close to amazing natural arches and other rock formations. We could have spent a lot more time there, but we still had one of our longest drives ahead of us. I hadn't realized how nice the drive through central Utah would be, but this was another hidden jewel of the trip. For one thing, it was much greener than I'd expected, and not at all flat. Rather, we were constantly climbing and descending peaks and plateaus, provided with plenty of opportunity to admire breathtaking vistas along the way.

After stopping for dinner and heavy traffic through the city, we didn't arrive at Emily's new digs until 11PM. It's in the middle of a cookie-cutter development about half an hour south of the Strip, one of literally hundreds of completely identical houses. The adventure tours company for whom she's working keeps the place for its guides to use when they are in town, but that happens rarely. Although she is technically renting just one of three bedrooms in the house, Emily will often have the place to herself for a mere $400/month. At the time, however, we are exhausted and in no mood to get lost trying to find the place, which is of course exactly what happens. When we finally arrive, her new roommate is not there to let her in, nor is the key where it's supposed to be. As we're waiting for him to return, three carloads full of trashy teenagers, many of them tripping off their asses, suddenly appear. It was surreal, watching these random kids stumble around, fall over, argue with each other, and talk about how many shrooms and pills and what not they've swallowed. It was also extraordinarily annoying, as they twice came within inches of hitting our car while driving around. Aaargh, I just want to go to sleep. The new roommate shows up, introduces himself, helps unpack, etc. He seems cool. After dozens of trips up and down the stars, I finally get all of Emily's stuff into her new room. We half-inflate an air mattress, and I collapse, exhausted.



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