Saturday, June 6, 2009

Update From the Road

June 5, 2009, Nebraska City, Neb:  Because of Nebraska's new smoking ban, Randy Powell, 76, on a warm, dry, sunny afternoon, has to go outside a local bar to have a cigarette. Powell, a retired Lincoln Public Schools employee, his furrowed brow and wrinkled face deepened with thought as he reflected on today's economy and compared it to the 1960s and 1970s when he was actively working, actively borrowing money. 

"I'm more scared today because I don't know now how it will turn out," he said, his cheeks pulled in, as he sucked down another drag from his smoke. He thinks it was easier to borrow money back then. "The kids today have it too easy. They already have too much money," he said with a slight hint of disgust in his voice. Powell believes most folks have gotten themselves into trouble by borrowing more than they should. 

He lives on $1700 a month, a combination of his school pension and social security income. He lives by himself in a three-bedroom house. Until four years ago when his wife died, they shared a 44-year marriage. He has no children, but the former Army vet has a reputation. "I'm known all over town from my work with the American Legion, the VFW. They all know me," he said with a smile. As for his future, he paused and said with a little optimism, "At my age you think more about just living." (Photo by Bruce Thorson)

June 5th, 2009, Nebraska City, Neb:  There's something I've always loved about the river. As soon as I learned to drive, I would sometimes go out by myself and explore downtown Omaha, and ultimately end up by the river. 

I worked downtown for a few summers, and sure enough, during my lunch break, I'd drive down there and watch the water. Despite my fascination with the Muddy Missouri, I had never been on a boat in the river until yesterday. 

Rick and Christy Kuhlmann from Nebraska City, along with their friend Shelley Pinney invited me to jump on, and of course I said yes. Cruising upriver, I had the same sort of feeling I get when I'm in a convertible; I wish I had long hair, down to my waist for a day, or at least didn't cut mine so short for the summer. 

In the half dozen boats we flew by, Rick and Christy knew everyone, perhaps too well. After we had sped past one boat and I had popped off a couple frames, Christy turned to me. "You're lucky she had her top on," she said, pointing to the boat we had just left in our wake.

It's a community of sorts, Rick said. They meet up with people upriver, tie their boats together, and then float down until they feel like stopping.

Rick said he thinks Nebraska City has a better boating scene than Omaha. There, it's too crowded for his liking. 

The recession hasn't really slowed the boaters down at all. Rick told me some of them were hurting last year, so they set up sort of a boat-pooling system. One week Rick and Christy would have friends on their boat, the next week they'd go on their friends' boat, and so on. This year, however, they're back to their old routine. (Photo by Clay Lomneth)

June 3rd, 2009, Florence Neb:  As corporations continue their layoffs and local governments look to re-organize, the simple things in life still flourish. After traveling to a few camp sites, to set up our trailer, I've noticed that the amount of people spending their time recreationally does not seem to be dwindling. People are still willing to spend money on leisure, instead of stuffing it in their bed mattress.

A day of fishing breaks the monotony for Mariah Francis, 16, and her sister Emily, 8. With a live worm and a little luck they hope to catch their first fish. "It's a cheap way to spend your day" says Mariah as she casts out her worm to the middle of the cove. As the lake winds around through bends and channels, people scatter along the shore hoping to find their own part in the good life. (Photo by Kyle  Bruggeman)

June 3rd, 2009, Florence, Neb: A Nebraska Family

I walked down to the lake-side and was greeted with a warm, "What do you want?" The type of question which warranted a very nervous introduction.

The tall man with a beard and a ponytail chuckled.  "Just kiddin'".  

His name is Jared Carnes.  

Jared Carnes has a typical American family.  He didn’t know his father. And hardly new his mother, but today, at the self-proclaimed youthful age of 38, he sits with his girlfriend.  She has two adopted children, both kids fishing at the lake in NP Dodge Park in Florence, Ne.    

Carnes considers the children his own, and treats them that way.  The family, all with different last names ranging from Carnes to Hutchinson to Sawyer, puts some worms on their hooks and casts out into the still water.

It was getting late, the sun just passing the point in the sky where it would paint the whole area a soft orange.  The grass was a pleasant green and the air was warm with a smell of Carnes cigarette smoke.   

This place felt a thousand miles away from the bustling city and the shrinking economy.  It was a peace with itself.

Carnes and his family said they were not too affected by the economic downturn, but fishing was an easy way to spend an afternoon.

"(We are) Not going to pay $15 dollars to see a movie," Carnes said.  

The sentiment was shared by most of the people we met in these first few days.  

A Plattsmouth bookstore owner told me, that he wasn’t selling many books.  But he followed it with a hearty laugh.

"Wasn't before though either," James Ball said.  

So far, through Nebraska City, Plattsmouth and Florence, we have seen many faces, heard many stories, and seem to be learning why Nebraska is "The Happiest State in the Union."(Photo by Patrick Breen)

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