I don't ever want to see Nebraska again, but to be fair: Nebraska started it.
Nebraska -- or Kansas, as I sometimes call it -- saw me coming all the way from Iowa and cracked its knuckles with a hungry grin like a boardwalk huckster.
What brought me there? Sheer desperation.
Months earlier, I'd resolved to see Montana's Glacier Park as I made my way across the Northern U.S., but now parts of it were closed or frozen over.
I had no plans for -- or connections in -- the middle of the U.S., and spent days debating how I'd get from the Great Lakes to Yakima, WA, the next place holding people I actually knew.
I looked at the map, drawing and re-drawing routes through Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Montana, and Colorado. Tucking Glacier Park into my "check you later" list, I stared grimly at Omaha and began searching Airbnb's for one-night stops on my way to Denver.
Airbnb was a last resort, and I'd used it only once or twice in the few months I'd been traveling.
What's one night?, I thought.
I showed up at my hosts' doorstep in Omaha after 8 hours in the car, unimpressed with what I'd seen of Nebraska so far and actually wishing I were back in Iowa.
Nothing a hot shower and one night in a bed couldn't cure, though. Hop-scotching cities every couple of days was starting to wear on me.
I wasn't concerned about missing significant sites or scenes: early on, I'd adopted the mindset that it will all be there when I return.
What got to me was the lack of sleep. The weekly roulette of cots, couches, palettes, and the occasional mattress was wearing me down. I missed remembering where the bathroom was when I got out of bed.
But this was different. This was Airbnb. I was paying for amenities like a bedroom door and plumbing. Maybe tonight would be the end of my weeks-long insomnia run.
The door opened and a tall, thin man with an aversion to eye-contact stammered a hello. I'd mainly been in touch with his wife when booking the room, but he seemed alarmed to see me. He introduced me to their many (many, many) cats and friendly dog and showed me to my room.
Alarms were going off in my head. Something seemed wrong. Maybe it was his nervousness. Maybe it was the disarray and dirtiness of the house. Maybe it was the stench of cat urine that saturated the air, which I could feel absorbing itself osmotically through my skin and threatening to remain there evermore.
By the time I walked into my bedroom, I was glad I'd only brought in my backpack, which stayed glued to my back as I closed the door and began to smell every surface like a bloodhound.
Cat piss. Everywhere. The bed. The chair. The closet.
I excused myself to run some errands and holed up in Omaha's finest Target/Starbucks, frantically checking cheap hotels in the area and wondering what I'd find for the night at close to 9pm.
After I sent up a bat signal, a kind friend guardian angel-ed me and gave me travel points to stay at a hotel in downtown Omaha.
Crying with the relief that can only come from knowing all of my worldly possessions wouldn't reek with the ammonia-stench of cat urine for the coming weeks, I bailed on my Airbnb citing allergies and went on to revel in all the luxuries a mid-level Hilton could afford.
Lying in a gloriously odor-free bed, I mused about the loose ends presented by that Airbnb experience. Where the hell did those stellar host reviews come from? How is it possible for animal-havers to experience such extreme olfactory deterioration? Why did he seem embarrassed -- almost guilty -- when he opened the door?
The only logical conclusion I could draw was that their glowing profile was a ruse for secretly recording me while I slept, changed, and performed the sundry nose-pickings and butt-scratchings that made up my daily ablutions.
Clearly, their friends and accomplices submitted rave reviews to get in on the action and attract unwitting ingenues destined to have their most private moments looped in grainy black-and-white 8mm film.
No matter, I thought. By this time tomorrow, I'll be in Denver. What else could possibly go wrong in just one day?
Oh, Nebraskansas. How could I have been so optimistically naïve?