Chimney Rock, NE

Warm, sleepy, rural Nebraska. The vast parking lot outside the Hy-Vee shimmers in the early morning sun. Pear-shaped retirees wheeze like old locomotives behind shopping carts piled high with diet soda, their chugging and sucking breath adding texture to a soundscape of chirping birds, electric cicadas, and distant traffic. Inside the store the environment is cool, dry, and white. The oleaginous grooves of Pablo Cruise play from hundreds of tinny speakers, a soft rock current flowing just beneath the mantle of consciousness. Plastic wheels roll across linoleum with a sound that is simultaneously sticky and bubbly. In the back of the store there is a giant freezer overflowing with colorful microwave dinners. The sign hanging over it reads: Meal Solutions. Who knew that, in the dead center of the first world, meals had been problematized.

The truck stop is the size of a bowling alley. It offers food, showers, and the usual assortment of zebra-striped seat covers, chain link license plate frames, and bumper stickers proclaiming: "Annoy a liberal: work hard and succeed." A special glass case near the cash register harbors cheap pocket knives, a few CB radios, and a collection of Nebraska shot-glasses. It also contains a few small fighter jets that have been locally crafted from spent .50 machine gun bullets.