Wednesday, April 05, 2006


One of the most beautiful sights in the world is central Nebraska along the Platte River in the spring. Thousands upon thousands of sandhill cranes make their annual migration pit stop there for several weeks. They forage in the leftovers in the grain fields before they wing their way to the northern nesting grounds.

This is such a big deal that my former employer, the state’s largest newspaper, used to sponsor celebrity bus tours out there in the spring so that people could get to “Know Nebraska.” Bus tours into the “outback” of Nebraska . . . OK, it ain’t Monte Carlo, but it beats the Pella (Iowa) Tulip Festival.

So who were these awesome celebrities with magnetic drawing power that made people just line up – line up, I say – to go on these wonderful bus tours? And rub elbows with celebrities and look at birds? Probably the least-qualified people in the universe: newspaper reporters . . . including me. Why? Because we come cheap, that’s why.

It was my one and only chance to be a celeb, though, and I blew it. They didn’t tell me that this particular celebrity bus would be leaving Omaha at something like 3 in the morning so that we could get out to central Nebraska before dawn. That’s when the clock radios on the sandbars on the Platte River start going off. That’s where they roost. At dawn, the mysterious, primeval scene is reenacted as thousands of noisy winged dinosaurs fly up for the short commute to the fields.

Well, it is extremely difficult to get that celebrity pastiche at 3 in the morning. So I didn’t exactly look the part. Plus, I get carsick sometimes. Riding for three hours in a smelly, cramped bus with a bunch of people with morning breath and bad coffee was a trigger.

When we were almost there, bumping down country roads, I stifled my increasing nausea, took the mike, smiled my best celebrity smile, and tried to be happy, peppy and positive as I gave the little spiel about the cranes and so forth.

But I was standing up backwards. And we went over a series of really big bumps. It was like shaking a pop can. My head started swirling . . . and the bad coffee started re-percolating . . .

. . . and I threw up all over the front of the bus.

It was artful, though. Artful! I don’t think I got any on anyone. It was just . . . spectacular.

Which is exactly what the folks were there to see. Something spectacular! They were . . . CRANING their necks, all right. THE OTHER WAY!!!

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