You guys, this is actually Eric on a beach.
We arrived in Omaha on Thursday afternoon, picked up our Kia Spectra rental (the most conservative gas drinker I’ve ever driven), and since we didn’t want to be the first ones at the reunion, killed a few hours in Omaha’s Old Market District.
And this is where I fell in love with the Fairfield Antique Mall. It’s twenty thousand square feet of pure nostalgia – a set decorator’s heaven, in sixteen big and little rooms. I could have put together every set I’ve ever designed from this one store alone.
I came ridiculously close to buying two working fans from the 1920s, and a beautiful blue-green, glossy finish typewriter from somewhere in the ’50s. There were license plates I wanted from 1919 and ’73. There were gorgeous crocodile purses and gem-dotted brooches. Dresses, complete living room sets, and valises. Player piano music. The first Coke bottles. An early Barcelona chair in perfect condition for $375. The prices on almost everything were way under market, and that’s when I started fantasizing about my vintage goods business. But I woke up to outrageous shipping fees and too many flights to Nebraska. And then we moved on.
We went in to someplace that called itself a “European Café”, where I forgot where we were and ordered the Worst Creme Brulee Ever. Mmm, sticky, starchy cream and a thick, burnt caramel-like substance. Why didn’t we choose the adorable ice cream shoppe around the corner?
My real mistake was not ordering a drink. Not only did I have the worst milk-breath, but my body is used to consuming upwards of 120 ounces of water every day, and all I’d had to drink was a smoothie fruit juice for breakfast, and a small cup of water on the plane. Which means that I’m soon to be the victim of Worst Creme Brulee’s good friend, Worst Bladder Infection. However, at this point, I’m still blissfully unaware, walking around Old Market in the hot sun, sweating out the remaining liquid in my body.
We left after a trip to Drastic Plastic, the best kitschy music store I’ve ever seen. Scarface and The Big Lebowski action figures, T-Rex t-shirts, a seriously extensive vinyl collection, and skater stickers under the glass counter.
On the road, it felt like we were stuck on the 101 in LA. We sat in rush-hour Nebraska highway traffic I didn’t even know existed for almost an hour. And finally, we found ourselves at the Mahoney State Park gate. “Three days’ permit, please.”
Here we go.
The strange thing is, I wasn’t really nervous. Just wiped out at this point, kind of a pre-zombie. And with my mental state, this is where things start to blur.
I know there was a gauntlet of people to meet. People who were seated in the dining hall eating their food, happy and talking to one another, until I came by for an interrupting meet and greet wherein few words were exchanged, and it felt like a rewind button had been hit for every person. Play: conversion we just had.
After that, there was our own weird meal. We were served by a waitress who looked like she was working a camp mess hall, and spoke like she was in fifth grade. My taco salad, the safest thing on the menu, came with ketchup-like packets of sour cream. The cheese it promised was a Kraft single, the lettuce it boasted was shredded iceberg, and the chicken I’d asked for was, at best, ketchup-seasoned horse meat.
And then there was the price. $7.99. In Nebraska.
The next and last meal we ate at the lodge was breakfast, $20, nine hours later. It was the last meal there for a reason.
The entire trip, I’d been conserving my space on my tiny compact flash card (the 4Gb card arrived the day after we returned), so I don’t have photographic evidence of Fairfield, Worst Creme Brulee Ever, or much of anything else before Friday.
So in lieu of photos, imagine the weekend as a combination David Lynch-Christopher Guest film, as viewed from the inside out, with an endless supply of interesting characters and scenery.
There was the game room from 1992, which was illuminated solely by black lights overhead. Beady little kids with their eyes in the electronic glow of ancient arcade games, shielded from all that nature outside. Thomas and I played blinding billiards under the black light, while two strange kids whispered in the darkest corner of the room with their four hundred pound father.
Eager to leave the neon era, we climbed to the top of the observation tower to view the surrounding prettiness: lake and trees and clouds. But the structure was built like a Tokyo skyscraper. And I was much too distracted by the vibrations to concentrate on anything other than running back down the stairs.
So we moved on to paddle boats.
And then a seriously amazing middle-of-the-country barbecue lunch at The Smokehouse, where I ate Way Too Much Chilli And Potato Skins, along with half a bottle of “Liquid Gold,” their proprietary honey mustard.
The rest of the trip was a marathon of eating. That night, we went to El’ Bee’s and had some excellent enchiladas, one plate of which could have been split between three hungry people.
The following morning, I fell off the gluten-free wagon to join in the compulsory traditional pancake breakfast. That afternoon, almost the entire group faced off in a single softball game which was prefaced by an a capella version of the Star Spangled Banner sung by the entire family.
The game was fun, the park was lovely, and the meals were good, but as the sole first-time Reunioner this year, I was a magnet for all things uncomfortable. (Awkward Cake.) Thanks to the in-laws photo, I now know what it’s like to face paparazzi – Fl-Flash-Fla-Fl-Flash-Flash-Fla-Flash.
(Triple the number of cameras you see here; this was shot from the hip.)
However hard it was for me, though, it’s impressive to see a group this large still making these things happen, year after year, four generations later. And all these people are genuinely welcoming, friendly, and I was pleased to meet them.
I am very glad that you only have one first reunion.
- Maintain regular schedule and go to Italian class
- Get out at 9:00 pm, hungry
- Eat an entire Chipotle burrito bowl (of which you usually save at least half) at 10:00 pm
- Lie on the couch in pain while watching gymnasts twist and twirl
- Half-sleep until 1:30 and go to bed, celebrationless
(Friday is hereby designated Second Anniversary 2.0)