I don’t think I’d ever been to Las Vegas, even to change planes at the airport. The flights for Southwest Airlines that day were full and on the second leg of my journey, from Las Vegas to Omaha, I was the very last person to board. With no assigned seats that meant I would be searching for a middle seat.

I got all the way to the back of the plane, a fight attendant leading the way, when she spotted a seat and revealed it to me like a game show hostess presenting the winner’s living room set. I saw that the seat was between an elderly woman at the window an a man on the aisle who looked like he was 400 pounds. He was the size of two guys and should have two seats. If the stewardess hadn’t showed that seat to me so dramatically I may have just turned back around.

But I wedged in, thinking I’d have this guy leaning on me for three hours when the other flight attendant announced, to no one in particular, that a middle seat had opened up about three rows ahead. She caught my eye with a serious look and quietly asked if I’d like to move there. I did move saying only ‘scuse me to the overweight man.

Down below the Nevada desert slowly turned green as we finally hovered over eastern Nebraska. The plane was pointed at the Omaha airport. There was a river below. The Platte? The Missouri?

That night I took a taxi to downtown Omaha from my motel to a place that was like the Gaslamp District in San Diego, only a little smaller. It was full of restaurants and nightclubs. At a restaurant my waitress told me her family had come to visit her – at work – and she hadn’t seen them in two years. I later asked her about them because I thought she wanted me to. She told me her big sister had died in her early 30s, and her daughter was still with her dad, and they had come along to visit Omaha.

I told her as she collected my payment that it wasn’t fair when people die so young. A tear formed in her eye as she walked away and out of my site. I wanted to tell her I was sorry I said that and give her a hug. But I only walked out of the restaurant.

The heat outside was oppressive and my AC in the motel was loud. But I slept and the next morning got ready for RAGBRAI, the ride across Iowa. I thought I’d see Omaha again one day. I may never see Vegas but that’s okay.

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