This is the second part to my column from last Saturday. In part one, I recalled the events and the journey leading up to my first trip to Nebraska that began on September 10, 2001.
During the bus trip to Los Angeles, one poor lady had an “episode;” her daughter explained that she was afflicted with Alzheimer’s. This was sad, but a few passengers didn’t understand and they proceeded to call her crazy.
Upon arriving in LA, I rented another vehicle and saw as much of the California coast as my few days would allow. I marveled at the tall palm trees in places like Santa Monica and Beverly Hills; they looked as if they were touching the sky. The Hollywood Hills were bigger than I had ever imagined. Rodeo Drive was smaller than I had thought it would be. From all that I heard about it, I felt that Malibu was somewhat overrated, but I did enjoy the beach there and watching the surfers. The Pacific Coast Highway was amazing, and I drove it all the way to the majestic Big Sur Headlands. The film studios were still closed (I so wanted to tour Paramount), but I did get to watch a taping of the Jay Leno show (guests were Arsenio Hall, Leelee Sobieski, Cake, and Nicole Kidman did a “walk on”).
Eventually I re-boarded Greyhound and went on to see Utah; I loved photographing areas there! After a stomach-churning, white-knuckle grip-rip roaring bus ride through the Rockies, I reached Denver, and after a few hours of enjoying Oktoberfest, I was ready for flatter lands. So, on a whim, I boarded the bus bound for Omaha.
I had heard of the city because of the LSU Tigers baseball team had gone there for the College World Series a year or so before, so Omaha sounded like a good idea. Most of the ride though western and central Nebraska was in darkness, but daylight was upon me as I neared Lincoln.
Upon reaching Omaha, I set out walking the downtown area. I loved the train museum, and I captured many wonderful photos of the downtown area. At that time, I would never have imagined calling Nebraska home. But Omaha made a lasting impression upon me.
Around nightfall on my way to the bus station, I decided to go to Oklahoma City to see the newly-opened memorial to the victims of the 1995 federal building bombing. What a time to take that tour!! No one left with neither a dry eye nor without a thought about the victims of September 11. The memorial is well-done. I will never forget it, and someday I will go to see it again. After spending the day in Oklahoma City, I boarded the bus bound for Baton Rouge; I had my future in Massachusetts beckoning me.
I am confident that I saw the country in a way that no one else did in the days following 09/11. There were numerous stories, perspectives, theories, feelings and ideas that I was able to hear from all over the country. While on that bus trip, a few realizations came to me. I like to consider these things “life’s lessons:”
1. I learned to not take life for granted, because it is too short and no one ever knows when they will have their last breath. Live in the moment, live life to the fullest. No one is promised a tomorrow.
2. I should feel fortunate for what I do have, because there are people much worse off than I have ever been or (hopefully) ever will be.
3. NEVER judge people by the way they look or the way the way they dress. (I had always known this, but during the bus trip, this thought was reinforced). The occasional bus passengers who were of Middle Eastern decent were the calmest and nicest people of all the passengers. The couple of “crazies” who I did see were both white American men; one knife-wielding man in Vegas and one extremely drunk belligerent guy in Colorado.
4. Everyone takes something away from a long bus ride, but what you choose to do with it is what makes all the difference. People and conversations during those long days and nights traveling across the western states. made an impact upon me. And I hope the advice that I gave a few of the teenagers made an impact upon them. I somehow think that it did.
5. Everyone spends a great deal of time looking for some beautiful flower garden, without realizing that it may be blooming right outside their own window. There are so many things to see and experience in this great country of ours, why can’t everyone just realize that? You just have to stop and smell the roses. Americans are blessed. Never, never, never take the beauty of this great land for granted, and never, never, never take for granted our freedom to see and experience that beauty.
The day after I returned to Baton Rouge, I left. I haven’t been back since, and I really do believe that a visit is long overdue. Sometimes a person has to take a step back into the past before he or she can truly move forward; maybe something can be found that was lost along the way, while enduring the many detours in life.
Lisana Eckenrode can be contacted at [email protected]