Dec 28

Since finding myself living in Nebraska, I’ve felt a touch of compassionate empathy for those poor folks involved in the tourism industry in Nebraska.  I mean, we are a world in search of adventure.  Nebraska is no grand adventure.

Life is actually usually pretty boring, if we sit back and think about it.  I remember, after going to see the latest installment in the Spider-Man big screen adaptation behemoth, my teen-aged son saying to me, “Man, being Spider-Man would be cool, huh?  I mean, after watching Spider-Man, real life seems kind of boring.”   Yes, boy, I thought, real life seems kind of boring.  And he is a teenager.  Just wait until you are an adult, with bills and responsibilities and a job, which if you are like 70% (and I believe this percentage may be a little low) of the population, you will hate. That’s why people get lost in television series about zombies and movie franchises about vampires and book series about young wizards, that’s why people get all tied up in “a galaxy far, far away” — because real life is boring.  That’s why grown men and women lose themselves in the utter ridiculousness of “sport fandom” — because our lives are pretty boring, so we need to live vicariously through people who we view as having “exciting lives.”  So, when we go to spend our hard-earned and hard-saved  vacation money (or rack up credit card bills we have no intention of actually paying off in our lifetimes), we are searching for some relaxation, some adventure, and getting away from our boring lives. Why would anyone in his or her right mind search out wind, allergens, the smell of feedlots, and the miles and miles of mind-numbing cornfields of Nebraska as a place to spend their vacation dollars?  Nebraska is a place you pass through on your way to somewhere that has something to offer.   No one in his or her right mind…

My thoughts are often with those poor folks who have jobs that require the promotion of Nebraska as a tourist destination.  Talk about some of the hardest jobs in America.  I’m actually surprised that Dirty Jobs hasn’t featured Nebraska Tourism in its spotlight…

Mike Rowe walks into the State Tourism office in Lincoln.  He is immediately greeted by a weary young woman who welcomes him with a weak, sweaty handshake.

Mike: Well, this looks like an office job.  It can’t be that bad.

Woman: Yeah, it’s an office job.

Mike: So, what do you guys and gals do here?

Woman: We try to convince people to spend their vacation dollars in Nebraska.

Mike (rolling up his sleeves): Well, Nebraska can’t be that bad.  What are some of the things in the state that people would want to come see?

Woman: … Kool-Aid was invented here…

Mike: Okay, that’s a start.  And we have a museum for that?

Woman: Well, no.  There is a display for Kool-Aid in a museum in Hastings, but no stand-alone museum.

Mike: … okay… what else we got!

Woman: We have corn, and cows.  Growing is big here.  We grow corn and meat and beans and stuff.

Mike (hamming it up, winking at the camera): How about pot?  Could we promote pot?  Some states are legalizing it!

Woman: The state is about 99.7% Republican…

Mike (coughing): … okay… uh… celebrities?  Any living celebrities people would want to visit the home towns of?

Woman: … Larry the Cable Guy…

Mike (tearing off his microphone and yelling at his producer): Nebraska?  Who in the hells idea was this?  They are FIRED!  We are out of here…

Woman (weeping): … Oh please, God, don’t leave me!  Are you hiring… anything… somebody has to wash the crap off your clothes after you crawl out of the sewers… I’ll do that…

Okay, Nebraska tourism might be too much for even Dirty Jobs.

Now, with Nebraska tourism being on my mind more than not, I am constantly looking for ways to help those poor folks involved in the industry.  So, when I came across a small article in the local Star-Herald newspaper, my grand plan began to formulate.  Nebraska might not be the logical choice for people in their right minds… but what about nutjobs and whackos?  We might be the place for those folks, and there are a lot of those folks… and they have money too.

The article in the Star-Herald was about a vampire in Serbia.  Now, you may be asking yourself why a small newspaper in Scottsbluff, Nebraska is carrying a story about a vampire in Serbia.  Well, it’s Nebraska.  Not much happens here, but there are pages to fill.  Now, from what I could glean from the story, the locals don’t really believe there is a vampire on the loose in Serbia.  The locals are just playing up the sensational story for — you guessed it — potential tourism dollars.  The residents of Zarozje, Serbia, want the nutjobs and the whackos to come spend their hard-earned vacation money in search of the elusive vampire.  This will probably work.  People go to Transylvania because of Dracula.  People visit the Loch Ness in hopes of spying the monster.  Weirdos and psychos head to the Pacific Northwest with the intend of snapping a picture of Bigfoot.  Now, if only the good folks of Nebraska had something freakish going for them… other than the freakishly boring everyday stuff…

Now, I’m thumbing through another edition of the Star-Herald and I see a piece on Stephen King giving a speech at the University of Massachusetts… and the Golden Tourism plan is devised for the great state of Nebraska!

Stephen King has used Nebraska in a few of his stories.  Children of the Corn takes place in and around the fictitious town of Gatlin, which would be somewhere in the western part of the state near the real-life Hemingford.  The real-life Hemingford is the namesake for Stephen King’s Hemingford Home, which was the residence of  Abigail Freeman in The Stand.  Hemingford Home is also where Wilfred James killed and was haunted by his wife in 1922.  Stephen King doesn’t seem to have a problem imagining strange things transpiring in Nebraska.  We should SELL THAT!  Screw vampires!  Screw hairy guys with big feet!  We’re talking killer children in the cornfields!  All of a sudden, those stupid cornfields seem to be more than a source for allergy issues.  Guys murder their wifes and bury them in old wells around here, folks: come and SEE IT!  Come to Nebraska and try not to get caught up in the ultimate battle between good and evil!  Try to keep your SOUL!

Oh man, this is tourism gold.  I mean, you walk into the local Walmart at an hour of any given day and about half of the dudes walking around look like they could have potentially buried their wives in wells.  Nebraska could be the freak-out capital of the world.  Farmers could have mazes going through their cornfields and hire some of the local illegals to chase tourist with machetes.  There could be bloody body parts scattered along the trails. The whole state could become like the worlds largest haunted house!  People would come from near and far to be freaked-out in Nebraska.  Oh sure, the new breed of tourist this campaign would bring in might not be the most mentally sound of people, but money all burns the same, right?

And I even have the new state slogan.  Screw “The Good Life”, because we don’t want to mislead people with false advertising.  Our new slogan would be:

Nebraska:  Something’s Just Not Quite Right…

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Mar 18

What is the hardest job in the world?

Is it a rocket scientist — ensuring the trajectory of space bound thingies and other such sciencey stuff?

Is it a brain surgeon — holding all consciousness and memories (in essence, the entire “being”) of an individual between her fingers as she attempts to save a life?

Is it perhaps the President of the United States — deciding where to send our soldiers to die and who in our economy will suffer and how to make nice-nice with the rich and famous?

These are all good answers, but none are truly the hardest job in the world. The hardest job in the world recently had a vacancy, and it was recently filled.

Scotts Bluff County recently filled the hardest job in the world.  Congratulation to Brenda Leisy…
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holder of the hardest job in the world.  Brenda was hired by Scotts Bluff County as the county’s tourism director.

Tourism director: one who tries to get tourists to stop and spend their had earned money in our area by convincing said tourists that there is something worth stopping and spending money on here.  Like I already pointed out, this is (in my opinion) the hardest job in the world.

Scotts Bluff County has little to offer.  It’s kind of… what’s a nice way of putting this… boring here.  There are many who disagree with me, but I’m sticking to my personal guns on this.  There is nothing to do here.

“Oh, there’s a lot to do here!” scream the long-time residents who hate anyone speaking the truth about their beloved Nebraska.

“Like what?” someone may ask.

“Well… uh… you can go for a walk on the pathway by the river!” says the Nebraska-lover.

“I’ve done that before,” someone may say.

“Do it again,” says Nebraska-lover.

“Uh… why?” someone may ask.

“Maybe you’ll see a goose… or something,” says Nebraska-lover.

“I saw a goose the last time I walked the path,” someone may say.

“Well, go to the top of Scotts Bluff National Monument,” Nebrasaka-lover recommends.

“That’s fun to do about once every two or three years,” someone may say, “and I did that last summer.”

“Go fishing,” says Nebraska-lover.

“Fishing here sucks,” someone may say, “unless you like catching tiny trout and sunfish, which is all I ever catch.  I suck at fishing, thus I don’t really like fishing, and can you imagine trying to get my 8-year-old son to sit still long enough to catch a stinking blue gill?  Yeah, fishing isn’t for me.”

“There is good hunting,” says Nebraska-lover.

“No there’s not,” someone may say.  ”All of the good hunting is on private land, and landowners here would rather shoot you than look at you.  You have to have some sort of backwater relationship with a landowner to access that landowner’s land, and I have no such relationships.  Hunting here sucks.”

“Well,” says Nebraska-lover, a hint of doubt becoming evident in her eyes, “there’s always… uh… what about a trek in the Wildcat Hills?”

“Oh yeah, a hike through sage brush and cactus,” someone may say, “with the seasonal threat of rattlesnakes and the ever-present threat of mountain lions.  Doesn’t sound like my cup of tea.  Besides, you keep mentioning all of these outdoor activities, and Scotts Bluff County is notoriously bad for allergens.  Spending time outside in the wind with snot running down my face and claw marks on my eyeballs from all of the scratching doesn’t sound very fun.”

“We have… uh… we have a mall,” Nebraska-lover says, as if she just remembered.

“Yeah, the mall,” someone may say.  ”The mall here is about, what, 1/4 empty?  And it’s a small mall in the first place.  Walking around the mall is good for about 15 minutes of wasting time.”

“Our downtown business areas in Scottsbluff and Gering…” Nebraska-lover tries to say.

“… suck,” someone may finish.  ”Parking downtown is horrible, there are very few shops that interest me or are within my price range, and very few of the downtown businesses have public restrooms, so you end up peeing in the freaking alley if you gotta go.  I have an 8-year-old boy.  My son now believes that it is acceptable to pee in an alley… which I’m sure is going to benefit him in his adulthood.  Thanks, downtown businesses!”

“Well… uh… we have… uh…” Nebraska-lover stammers, “we have a lot of bars and liquor stores.”

“Yes,” someone may say.  ”Yes we do.”

“I could sure use a drink,” Nebraska-lover says.

“I’m buying,” someone may say.

There really isn’t much to do around here.  You have to keep your kids uber-involved in sports and other activities to keep them away from the drugs, alcohol and sex.  The teen-pregnancy rate in the area is high, as are the teen alcohol and drug usage rates.  Why?  Because there isn’t anything to do here.  Adult alcoholism and drug use also run rampant in Scotts Bluff County.  Why?  Because there isn’t anything to do here… and there are many adults who are trying to numb the pain of watching their hopes, dreams, and aspirations float down the North Platte River.

I know that in the past, the county’s tourism department has stressed how important it is for “front-line” employees (employees in low-paying jobs who actually deal with potential tourists) to present a positive, excited portrayal of the community to aid tourism.  This may be hard for a hung-over, pregnant teen to do while she is trying to figure out where she is going to score her next hit of meth.  The only positive thing many front-line employees can think about is how in the hell they are going to get out of here, so it may be hard to convince them to speak positively about their communities.  Front-line employees can’t figure out what to do with their free time, so how can they be expected to help tourists find something to do around here?

Congratulations once again to Brenda Leisy!  She has the hardest job in the world, and I wish her all of the luck I can muster.  She’s going to need it…

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