It is called the Cornhusker State and I have a little bit of history with it.
This is one of those stories.
When I left the Twin Cities to go back to California, I made the trek by car and my path took me through the city of Omaha.
I had been told by a friend of mine that if I ever found myself in Omaha, there was an Italian restaurant that I simply HAD to go to because they had the best pizza. Now I had spent four years in the Chicago area and, trust me, they know pizza in the Windy City so I was fairly certain I had already sampled some pretty damn fine pie. However, I was going to please my friend and partake of his suggested establishment.
As I exited Interstate 80, I had my radio tuned to the local National Public Radio (NPR) station to keep abreast of the current global situation.
The day I drove into Omaha was January 16, 1991. The time was somewhere around dinner time.
The regularly scheduled broadcast was interrupted by the announcer declaring that the United States had begun its military attack on Iraq. Operation Desert Shield had become Operation Desert Storm.
While trying to navigate Omaha’s streets (in a pre-GPS era) and while keeping an ear trained on the radio, I realized that I was in the locale that was also the home of Strategic Air Command (SAC).
If there was one place that was a prime target for Iraqi SCUD missiles, SAC and its home at Offutt Air Force Base was high on that list.
Now, before you scoff into your sleeve, remember that you are reading this after twenty-six years of hindsight and know that Saddam Hussein’s threat of a rain of missiles upon America was bluster and hot air. But, in the time between Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait (which started this whole Desert Storm kerfuffle) and the American-led coalition’s drive to remove Iraqi forces from its smaller neighbor, the media was filled with reports of how Iraq boasted the fourth largest army and how its SCUD missiles could potentially reach America.
So, all this fear and other war-related anxiety about what the future held played through my head as I was seated at the specified posh Italian restaurant suggested by my friend (and, yes, saying “party of one” is truly a lonely, depressing request to make).
I ordered and watched the television sets in the corner of the bar. I tried to read Dan Rather’s lips to see if we all were going to be okay.
The pizza arrived and it was…fine. Now whether my taste buds were compromised by my anxiety over my belief that I was eating in a city with a giant bulls-eye painted on it or whether the pizza really was just…fine…is a matter of debate. Either way, I ate half the pizza as quickly as I could, had the other half wrapped up in a to-go packet, and I departed the restaurant and Omaha as fast as my blue Chevy Sprint could take me.
I spent that night in Grand Island, Nebraska, which to my knowledge was not home to any military installation.
It would take me two more days to make it back to California. It is interesting for me to note that while most people who were around for the first Gulf War will remember those first days based on the televised images such as the night-vision green of anti-aircraft volleys fired over Baghdad. For me, however, my memories of those initial days of Desert Storm are mostly audio-based. My car radio was my information pipeline as I drove through Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. The reporters of NPR were my companions as they filled me in on the latest happenings of the conflict. It was one of the troubles of my drive when I would lose the signal from one NPR station and would have to desperately scan and search the frequencies for a new NPR broadcast.
The other advantage to being on the road during this conflict was that as I travelled through all the various cities of the American Midwest and Southwest, I picked up the local newspapers. Somewhere in the bowels of my hoarded collection of periodicals are the front pages of a dozen newspapers blaring in large black letters the advent of war.
After departing Grand Island, I did have my leftover pizza for lunch. I decided the pizza was much better as a cold snack than it had been as a warm dinner.
That’s my story.
P.S. As for my other adventures in Nebraska…well, those are tales for another day.