Insight Along Nebraska's Byways
By Bill Moore
Cornfields feature prominently in the romantic fantasy, Field of Dreams.
That is Iowa. This is Nebraska. Yes, we too have corn, lots and lots of it, and you'll see plenty of both in the background of the video, but we also have vineyards -- nowhere near as many as California -- but enough to support a handful of local labels. It is towards the annual wine tasting at Arbor Day Farms that we're heading as my wife, our miniature Schnauzer Rascal and I cruised along Nebraska 34 east of Lincoln.
Our saga... okay, minor cross country jaunt... begins here in Papillion, ranked by Money magazine the third best small town in which to live in America (up from sixth place last year). The plan is to drive the 2010 Insight Honda has loaned us for ten days down to Nebraska City, one of the oldest cities in the state for a wine and beer tasting event at Arbor Day Farms. The city is the home of Arbor Days, a celebration established by the founder of Morton Salt, encouraging the planting of trees on the then largely-treeless plains. The city of 7,000 is a quiet, tree-lined community whose Central Avenue terminates at the banks of the Missouri River. It is also home of the Lied Conference Center, where the opening photo in the above video was taken.
The day is about as perfect as you could ask: fluffy loaves of white clouds stretch to the horizon in all directions. The temperature is 72 degrees and climbs to 75 degrees by late afternoon.
After a quick trip to downtown Omaha to drop off a DVD and a short detour into the revived "Little Italy" where new loft and row homes are going in, we stop back by the house to pick up Rascal, our five year-old miniature Schnauzer. West of town, we pick up Interstate 80 for a short drive down across the Platte River and stop at the SAC Museum. Just as we discovered back in Omaha when driving by our Zoo, where there wasn't an open parking spot to be had, the aviation museum was also busy, it's parking lot full. I took a couple of hasty photos and then drove back to I-80, less than a mile away.
As I discovered when we did a similar trip up to Minneapolis in the first Ford Escape Hybrid, the CVT in the Insight seems happiest at 65 mph. With big, V-6 and V-8 SUVs roaring past me at 80+ mph (the speed limit is 75 mph) I push the cruise control up to 70, but soon depart the helter skelter of heavy trucks and speeding cars at the Greenwood exit and turn south on Nebraska 63 for a far more relaxing 11 mile drive south towards Nebraska 34. As the two lane road rises and falls over swells of low hills, we past the miles of corn fields for which the "cornbelt" is famous. The stalks have tasseled and stand six to seven feet high. It should be a bumper crop this year.
At Nebraska 34, labeled "O" Street on my Garmin GPS, we turn east and head towards US 75, some 30 miles away. With the cruise control set at 60 (the official speed limit is 55) we savor the quiet of the cabin and the solitude of the nearly empty highway. We pass only the occasional car, slowly briefly to drive through the tiny town of Union, population 90; its principal attraction, like so many other rural towns in America's vast grain basket, its concrete grain elevator that will be bulging later this fall to overflowing, based on the condition of the corn and soybeans we pass.
It is during this brief interlude that the above video is shot.
I need to correct one statement in the video. I say that the Honda has not included a display showing the state-of-charge of the battery pack. This isn't the case, however, though it isn't as obvious as on my 2000 Insight. The SOC is integrated into one of eight vehicle information screen you can toggle through on the steering wheel. It shows an illustration of a conventional starter battery and the level of charge is indicated by how "full" a hypothetical fluid is in the battery. The higher the "fluid" level, the more the charge.
At the intersection of Nebraska 34 and US 75, we turn south for the short drive to Nebraska City. Following the instruction on the Garmin, we end up on a dead end street in a nice subdivision. This isn't where the wine tasting is, so I ignore the Garmin and based on memory head towards the center of town. It's been decades since I've been in Nebraska City, but eventually, I find the center of town. It's the typical wide street lined with aging two and three story brick buildings. The city has become a sort of magnet for artists so there are small art boutiques where hardware and family grocery stores once occupied. Central Avenue literally terminates at the Steinhart Grain Terminal, on the banks of the Missouri River.
We stop to take photos and let Rascal do his business.
Judy reprograms the Garmin to find Arbor Day Farms and we wend out way through town, eventually turning right into the expansive Arbor Day park complex of expansive tree-shaded lawns and a golf course, at the center of which is the Lied Conference Center. A short distance away is Arbor Day Farms and after stopping to check out the grand lobby of the Lodge, we turn into the Farm and drive slowly into the parking lot of the Apple House. A duet of pant-suited women sing romantic ballads while visitors lounge in the sun, wine glasses in hand. We've found the wine-tasting finally.
I ask Judy what she wants: white or red. "White" she replies as she leads Rascal to a nearby picnic table.
Inside the Apple House, a line has formed. Today they are sampling some locally vinted wines with French sounding names. You can taste four different wines for $5 and keep the glass. By the time I reach the counter, I ask the sommelier what's available.
"Since it's our 'happy hour'," she replies, "we're now offering your choice of the featured wines for $2.50 a glass."
My timing is perfect today. "I'll take one of the red and one of the white." I don't recall their names, which is just as well because while the wines are palatable, they are hardly memorable. This is the kind of wine I'd make. The red lacks body and apparently was bottled just last week, or so it seems. The white is sweet like a Riesling but without the character. Maybe its the soil here, the climate, the vintner or all three, but we've yet to find a Nebraska-vinted wine that matches comparable wines from California or Chile and Australia, for that matter.
Still, the weather is perfect and the setting couldn't be lovelier. I am not sure why Nebraska City isn't on that Money magazine list, but it really should be.
The next question is, where do we have dinner? I've had a hankering for a hamburger all day, so I suggest we drive back to Papillion and eat at the Red Robin, which turns out to be huge mistake. The restaurant will be packed and noisy, but the burger will be okay. Still, as we buckle ourselves into the Insight for the drive home back north on US 75, we relish the grand sweep of the country that races past and my wife, who was raised in the Pacific Northwest, notes that even Nebraska has a charm and a beauty all its own beauty.
To view a set of nine photos for our tasting trip, click the 35mm slide image below.
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