Frankly, I’m not sure if this is OK to do. I’ve tried doing a bit of internet research, and I can’t figure out how much of a book or magazine I can excerpt and still be legit. If anyone knows, please feel free to tell me. And if you’re Bill Bryson and you don’t want me putting up so much of your book on my crappy site, feel free to tell me that, too.
In any case, today’s excerpt is about Nebraska. Personally, I really can’t say enough bad things about Nebraska. I know that this is a sticking point with some of my friends, since many of them have relatives who were unlucky enough to be left behind in Nebraska when their families migrated west towards a more promising future in Colorado. And I definitely hate Nebraska’s football team. This is for two reasons: 1) I hate Nebraska and, 2) I hate football teams in general.
As an extra aside, this rabid dislike of Nebraska came to an interesting head when I went to the University of Colorado, because my university’s team routinely played in games against Nebraska. But, you see, I also hated Colorado’s team (see Reason 2 above). This meant that I had to strike a delicate balance and occasionally root for the home team, if only to blow those corn-husking bastards out of the water.
I’ve probably introduced this quote enough, so I’ll let Bryson take over from here:
(From The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, page 207-208):
“I was headed for Nebraska. Now there’s a sentence you don’t want to have to say too often if you can possibly help it. Nebraska must be the most unexciting of all the states. Compared with it, Iowa is paradise. Iowa at least is fertile and green and has a hill. Nebraska is like a 75,000-square-mile bare patch. In the middle of the state is a river called the Platte, which at some times of the year is two or three miles wide. It looks impressive until you realize that it is only about four inches deep. You could cross it in a wheelchair. On a landscape without any contours of depressions to shape it, the Platte just lies there, like a drink spilled across a tabletop. It is the most exciting thing in the state.
“When I was growing up, I used to wonder how Nebraska came to be lived in. I mean to say, the original settlers, creaking across America in their covered wagons, had to have passed through Iowa, which is green and fertile and has, as I say, a hill, but stopped short of Colorado, which is green and fertile and has a mountain range, and settled instead for a place that is flat and brown and full of stubble and prairie dogs. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? Do you know what the original settlers made their houses of? Dried mud. And do you know what happened to all those mud houses when the rainy season came every year? That’s correct, they slid straight into the Platte River.
“For a long time I couldn’t decide whether the original settlers in Nebraska were insane or just stupid, and then I saw a stadium full of University of Nebraska football fans in action on a Saturday and realized that they must have been both. I may be a decade or so out of touch here but when I left America, the University of Nebraska didn’t so much play football as in engage in weekly ritual slaughters. They were always racking up scores of 58-3 against hapless opponents. Most schools, when they get a decent lead, will send in a squad of skinny freshmen in unsoiled uniforms to let them run around a bit and get dirty and, above all, to give the losers a sporting chance to make the score respectable. It’s called fair play.
“Not Nebraska. The University of Nebraska would send in flamethrowers if it were allowed. Watching Nebraska play football every week was like watching hyenas tearing open a gazelle. It was unseemly. It was unsporting. And of course the fans could never get enough of it. To sit among them with the score 66-0 and watch them bray for more blood is a distinctly unnerving experience, particularly when you consider that a lot of these people must work at the Strategic Air Command in Omaha. If Iowa State ever upset Nebraska, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they nuked Ames.”