It has been years since I’ve traveled the great expanse of North America by car. Normally, we fly from Los Angeles to Chicago and then drive around the Midwest. But this year we are driving, and it’s great fun to see the local sights, billboards, bumper stickers, diners, and all the confusing Americana that we normally miss.
Here’s something we saw in the historic Haymarket district of Lincoln, Nebraska.
At one end of a public space in an area of old factories and warehouses turned into restaurants, condos and (a really good) bookstore is this brick mural. It’s both interesting as intricate brick work, and extremely ideological. It put me in mind of the Currier and Ives lithograph “Across the Continent.” But instead of looking out into a suggested, but incomplete future, this one looks back on a sanitized past. Perfect history for a contemporary commercial zone. The old Haymarket and train station were places in which real distribution took place. It was a market both in the sense of money exchange and in the sense of stuff and people moving about. Now, like every other rehabbed urban nightlife district, the only exchange is money for things immediately consumed on the spot (food and beer, mostly). So the mural has just the faintest suggestion that the train is going to displace the buffalo–no suggestion that the people on the train are coming to shoot the buffalo. And of course, no Native Americans at all. The 19th century was more honest about its imperialism.