The pie might have been a Mrs. Smith’s for all I knew, but it didn’t matter. It tasted fantastic, especially since it was served to me at a diner in Iowa. Henry’s in Crescent to be precise.
In the corner was an old farmer multi-tasking: playing slots while watching All My Children. On another TV, the Action News at Noon was being broadcast from Omaha. Every few minutes they’d cut to the weatherman for an update, but the forecast wasn’t changing: rain was coming.
Everyone in Henry’s was wearing a hat except for me. I had on a golf pullover and felt a bit out of place. And I was acting funny too:
- Asking the waitress for a pen, then jotting down notes.
- Ordering onion rings and pumpkin pie, and asking that they be brought out together.
- Inquiring whether Henry’s sold hats. (“No”, said the waitress, “just shirts.”)
When done, grateful for my experience at Henry’s and to compensate for my funny behavior, I gave the waitress a hundred percent tip. She was surprised and thanked me twice. I’m guessing none of the hat wearers matched my generosity today.
Years ago, I started joking that my life wouldn’t be complete until I’d eaten pie from a diner in Iowa. It was a cool sounding statement, but it was more than just a joke. It meant I hoped to someday have the freedom to wander about the middle of America, and the fortune to satisfy a frivolous craving. And that’s exactly what Henry’s represented: freedom and fortune.
Henry’s was just the first of three points of interest I was aiming for today. When I realized business was taking me to Omaha, I began researching possible side trips.
After Henry’s my next stop was the Ice Age. Thousands of years ago, when ice covered the middle of America, a tremendous amount of silt accumulated beneath the glacial grind. When the ice receded, this silt was lifted by the prevailing winds and deposited on the eastern shore of the Missouri River. In some spots the silt piled up more than 200 feet. These piles, known locally as the Loess Hills, are a prominent geographic feature in an area otherwise flat as a skillet.
A few miles north of Henry’s on the Old Lincoln Highway is the 1,000 acre Hitchcock Nature Center. A climb to the top of the observation tower was a fast way to absorb the scale of the Loess Hills which stretch more than 200 miles along the Missouri River and can be as much as 10 miles wide.
Leaving the hills, I headed for another geographic peculiarity. North of Omaha an 800 acre oxbow lake was formed about 50 years ago by the meandering Missouri River. This lake and surrounding land is now the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge. Instead of an observation tower, there’s a series of gravel roads leading to various viewing points. At the Missouri River Overlook, where I stopped to take some pictures, ranger Larry Klimer and I struck up a conversation. Enthusiastic and genuine, ranger Klimer had interesting answers for all of my questions, which focused mostly on the river and Lewis & Clark.
Unfortunately, our discussion was cut short when the rain arrived, as predicted by the Action News team. After a quick wet handshake, Klimer and I set out in opposite directions. It was time for me to head to my downtown Omaha hotel. My points-of-interest tour had come to an end.
Or so I thought…
For dinner, I was craving pizza and beer so I wandered several blocks and came upon Old Chicago Pasta & Pizza on Harney Street. I sat at the bar and immediately fell into an hour long conversation with a friendly and inebriated couple from Council Bluffs. They were regulars at this place and on a quest to complete the World Beer Tour, which involves ordering all of the 110 brews offered at Old Chicago’s.
They were proud and knowledgeable of the Omaha area and provided some passionate insight. Though I would have been perfectly content to dine alone, I enjoyed the company. It was an unexpected fourth point of interest and a nice way to end a really cool day.