Day 2: Endless Nebraska
Illustration by Graham Roumieu
We pulled out of Chicago yesterday morning a little later than we should have. Rush hour was in full swing, which wasn't such a bad thing, because Chicago has to have one of the finest looking downtowns in America. The buildings are stately, yet beautiful, and it all seems to have been laid out coherently--not as haphazard as New York City. In all, we saw a lot more of downtown Chicago than we should have because our trip computer, who had been reliable up until this point, got pretty confused. She had us driving in circles, turning right down one way streets, and told us to pull onto highway on-ramps that were a hundred feet above our head.
But that would be the only complaint about a car that has, thus far, been nothing short of fantastic. The best thing is the Bluetec engine, which is a new fuel efficient diesel technology from Europe that we can finally use here, now that the government has got around to taking most of the sulfur out of the diesel fuel. The E320 CDI gets 27 miles per gallon on the highway. It took us about a single tank of gas to get from New York to Chicago. It's a big tank, mind you, but it's a big distance, too.
More importantly, the car has serious power. Diesel engines are known for torque, and this engine is one big ball of torque. Punch the accelerator down at a standstill and the seat-suck lasts a a full eight seconds, by which time you're doing a good 80 mph. And then there's the ride, as smooth as a cold slab of butter sliding across a hot iron pan.
By noon, we made Davenport, Iowa, where Jack Kerouac stopped in at the diner at the bus station for a slice of pie and ice cream. We wanted to go to the very same diner but, alas, it is no longer. The bus station was ripped down some time ago and replaced with a newer one that looks a lot uglier than the old one, even though I have never seen the old one. There was a diner at the old train station-maybe the one Kerouac visited-but it's closed now. I was told there still is a diner across the Mississippi, in Rock Port, Illinois.
But the news is mainly good for Davenport. It is one surprisingly handsome town. As you drive in, the streets are lined with big old mansions-beige brick must be local, because you see it everywhere-and as you cruise down towards the water, the streets become crowded with gorgeous old stone buildings. Graham looked around and said, "There must have been money here at some point." There's a new building, too, the Figge Art Museum-a big, geometric glass building that must look quite impressive from Rock Port. I wished we had time to check out that gallery, but we didn't.
Aiiiiiiiii! Welcome to Nebraska
Here's a typical snippet of in-car conversation in Nebraska:
"There's something really big way over there to the left."
"I don't even thing I can form words anymore."
Dead animals, beer and steak. What the
Heartland does best.
We cruised into Cheyenne around midnight and pulled into a Best Western and then went to bed, listening to the sad sound of the train whistles off in the distance.