On Podcasts, Hy-Vee Chinese and the Weekend Commute

"I called Shotgun. Find your own seat." - Costello

The trip from Lincoln to Broken Bow and back again is a six-hour drive, and for the past 10 months, Mel and I have made that trip nearly every weekend. Each Friday evening, around 5:00, I fold down the seats in the back of my Pontiac Vibe, throw in our bags, a spare bottle of wine (or three) in case of a family emergency, lock the front door and – with Costello panting in the passenger seat beside me – head downtown to pick up Mel. When Mel breaks free from her office building and finds us parked outside, Stello tries to wag his tail but he cannot…because he’s sitting on it…because he chose to sit in the front seat where it is abundantly clear to everyone but himself that he does not properly fit. Nevertheless, he has committed to this position. When Mel opens the door to join us, Costello does not move.

Ten minutes later, we are still in downtown Lincoln. We are still parked outside Mel’s office building, only now, Mel is sitting in the passenger seat and Costello is sitting on Mel and the center console and me. Then we head back to the apartment, because we forgot our phone charger. What time is it? Are you hungry? Should we just make a sandwich before we leave? What? You ran without me today? Do I have time to run? Half an hour later, we’ve finished our evening run and if all goes well, we’ll merge onto I-80 in less than 15 minutes. Halfway between our apartment and the Interstate, we remember what we came home for in the first place: the phone charger. By 7:00 and not a hair later, we are well on our way to the Interstate, which will then usher us away to Broken Bow. Did you turn down the thermostat? By 7:30, we are almost out of our neighborhood.

Photo Courtesy Hy-Vee

By 9:00, we have arrived at our first checkpoint: Grand Island, Nebraska. What a strange name, you’re surely thinking, for a city in America’s only triply landlocked state! For years, we just assumed it was named after what most people feel when driving through it: Wouldn’t it be grand if this “place” was confined to an island, never to be seen or heard from again? Turns out we were wrong! But lets not waste our time here on technicalities. Anyway, in Grand Island, we’ve made a habit – like most young professionals – out of stopping for cheap, Midwestern Chinese food at the HyVee Grocery Store. We both order the Manager’s Special. Mel gets the lo mein and Chicken with Vegetables. I get the General’s Chicken and the Sesame Chicken, because I eat like a fourth grader. By 9:00, it is not the freshest Chinese food in Grand Island, but I’d like to see you try getting a table at Hunan’s at 9:00 on a Friday night!

[Note: We’re sorry Grand Island! We’re mostly – but not really – kidding. We know your city has spawned many great things and people, like the late great Henry Fonda, and your grandpa’s favorite Irish Tenor, Joe Sweeney, of The Lawrence Welk Show fame. And who could forget internationally renown Medievalist Mary Martin McLaughlin, editor of the classic anthology, The Portable Medieval Reader (Viking 1949).]

We eat our Chinese food in the car, because we figure the only way to make eating grocery store Chinese food more depressing is to do so in the parking lot of a strip mall. Keeps us grounded, you know? When we finish, we lay very still. I lean my greasy forehead against the window, and when we feel like it’s safe to move again, we pull out of the lot and hit Nebraska Highway 2, a straight shot to Broken Bow, still 1.5 hrs away.

Now, to the important stuff: driving six hours each weekend gives us a great opportunity to consume our favorite podcasts, and to find new ones, too. Truthfully, we tend to rotate through the same three: This American Life, Radiolab, WTF w/ Marc Maron. We also listen to plenty of NPR news, and old episodes of Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Fun fact: We once spent the entire drive from Lincoln to Broken Bow waiting for Terry to finish her question. Turns out it wasn’t a question at all—she was just thinking. And yes, we obviously listened to Serial, and yes, obviously Adnan did it, right? Or maybe he didn’t. Just kidding? Oh yea, no. What do you think? That’s what I think, too.

Help us out: What else should we be listening to on the road? We love music, but these days we need a story to keep us awake. Hit us up in the comments section, or post your suggestions to our Facebook page!

Photo Credit: Eric E

When we first started making these trips, we returned to Lincoln each Sunday night, but it always seemed to cut short our working time. Several weeks in, we tested an early Monday morning departure. Having a second full work day helped immensely, but the 5:00 a.m. departure was hellish. Nevertheless, we're still doing it. Before the sun has risen on Monday morning, we’re pumping gas at the Casey’s General Store in Broken Bow. Let it be known: We love Casey’s. When we see that soft yellow glow, it feels like home. When we first met, Mel admitted to me that she likes nothing more than Casey’s pizza, which apparently they're famous for. And personally, I think Casey’s coffee is better than the coffee at Pump & Pantry. I understand that is controversial and will probably alienate a good portion of our readership, but it’s the way I feel. Perhaps the best part of Casey’s is their old-fashioned cake donuts. Never had a bad one in my life. And that is why it pains us to admit that the Casey’s in Broken Bow, at least during their earliest operating hours, does not offer old-fashioned, chocolate iced vanilla cake donuts. We’re begging here, Casey! Please! Just a few chocolate iced vanilla cake donuts....with sprinkles. We’ll do anything. Anything.

We typically arrive back in Lincoln by 8:00 or 9:00 Monday morning, feeling groggy but fairly accomplished. Elsie looks a little better. Sometimes a little worse. But she’s one step closer each week to hitting the road, and Terry Gross is one step closer to figuring out where to place that question mark.

2005 Pontiac Vibe. Not the most comforting set of bumper stickers when you're driving through rural Nebraska.