The next morning it was snowing. Wendell called a mechanic he knew, because I had failed to get the nut unscrewed to check the transmission fluid level. Not that I didn't try. I just couldn't get the thing to budge once I crawled under there, because it had been put on so tight.
So I stop by the garage, and the mechanic gets it up on the lift, unscrews the nut and finds the fluid level is fine. Hmmm. Maybe it was overfilled? Who knows. I stop worrying about it. For now. And head northward. Past the place where we ran over the dead deer. Through Cushing again. There is slush in the middle of the road, and on the sides. It's wet in the tracks in between. But it's not icing up. I stay in the grooves. Only place where it looks a bit like a slip and slide situation is crossing a bridge. I take it slow. The snow plows are out in force.
Eventually I hit Interstate 35 again.
I didn't pick Lincoln as a destination by playing pin the tail on the donkey. I had met Josh Hoyer, a talented singer, pianist and writer, when I was in New Orleans a while back.
I was in New Orleans because songwriter Diana Williamson is in love with the place. I like it a lot myself. She had sent me a lyric she was working on, which was basically a collage of New Orleans imagery. I tweaked it a little and added some music, and we called the song "Love Song To New Orleans".
At some point Diana decided to put together a compilation of New Orleans themed songs. And she decided to use our song as the title song. She had a contest to select the other songs on the album. One of them was written and performed by Josh Hoyer and his band, Son of 76 and the Watchmen.
Diana got the album together, had it mastered, got the artwork done, and got distribution for it. She decided to have a release party in New Orleans. And that's where I met Josh and Dominic Fusca, who also had a song on the album.
We did a few shows... the Jazz Heritage Room, Peaches Records, and a bar called Checkpoint Charlie. My wife came with me. Mostly it was a vacation, which is a rarity in our marriage. We stayed at a funky cool hotel in the French Quarter, went on the swamp tour, crossed the Mississippi on a ferry at sunset, ate too much, drank somewhat excessively, heard some mighty fine local music, etc.
During the course of all this, Josh said to me hey, I book this place in Lincoln called The Zoo Bar. I'd love it if you'd perform there sometime.
When I got back to California I was putting this tour together. I called Josh and set up a date in Lincoln. He got me a small guarantee and a motel room for the night.
Thus, I was driving to Lincoln, Nebraska in a snow storm.
It was coming down pretty hard. But the interstate was clear. Only real problem was semi-trucks screaming by, throwing slush all over the windshield and rocking the van in their wake. Wendell had checked the weather map on his computer before I left. It looked like it would clear up about the middle of Kansas. Man, I hoped so.
Wichita was nasty as I filled the tank. Snowin', blowin' and cold. I forged on. Interstate 35 veers northeast toward Topeka. I took 135, which goes due north, and turns into 81, and eventually intersects Interstate 80 which takes you east to Lincoln.
Sure enough, half way through Kansas, hallelujah and praise the munchkins, the sky opened up. Amazing things, those satellite images. The wind, which had been gusting mightily the whole way, let up soon after. What remained was a beautiful clear sky, and an endless horizon. What a difference a half a day makes! Kansas transformed from being one of the most desolate and miserable of places to being one of the most magical.
I reached the Nebraska state line as evening fell. The heater in the van was trying its best to keep up, but the cold was giving it a run for its money. I had a comforter over my lap. There was snow covering the ground even though the sky was clear, and big patches of ice.
I pulled into a gas station, and got out. Sheesh. Brrr.
The lady behind the counter smiled as I paid her for the gas. Not a trace of a twang came out of her mouth as she rang it up.