Starting point: Madison, WI
End point: Omaha, NE
Distance traveled: 442 miles
I left at 6 AM sharp, tired and under-slept. Still I resisted the urge to drink coffee right away, knowing full well that the longer one can hold off that first cup, the better the overall result will be. I held off for about an hour before I stopped at a gas station in Belmont, WI. There I noticed this ingenious bit of viral marketing on the bathroom wall:
Could anything be more brilliant? This person has her target audience dialed in. Imagine how many scores of truckers and cattle feed suppliers snapped that exact same photo this morning?
It reminded me that I have my own guerilla self-promotion to do on this trip…
Today’s drive went fairly smoothly. I made it to Omaha in just under 7 hours and still had enough time and energy to check out a bit of downtown and the historic Old Market district, basically a collection of vintage shops and classy restaurants on a stretch of cobblestone streets. It’s a pleasant neighborhood and I don’t have anything bad to say about it.
My first genuine destination was the Imaginarium, a jumbo-sized thrift store whose A-frame out front boldly asserts, “It’s not hoarding if your stuff is cool”.
And man, their stuff was cool. I spent a good hour and a half gawking at ancient beer cans, vintage auto parts, animal bones, a prosthetic leg (!), 1940s phonographs, and even personal photos of (presumably) deceased families. I’ve been to a lot of thrift markets before but what sets the Imaginarium apart is the sheer scale, the breadth of how many categories of weird, cool shit one could find here. Not to mention a lot of the prices were surprisingly reasonable.
I also checked out a place called the Old Market Emporium, a massive collectibles shop whose own outdoor sign proclaims, “It’s not just a store, it’s an experience.”
And yes, it’s an experience all right. An experience rooted in crass nostalgia. Whether you’re a fan of Star Wars, DBZ, Michael Jordan or McDonaldland characters, this store has something for you…
I’ll admit the sheer quantity of goods they feature is impressive, overwhelming even. People seem to love this place and it’s a staple of the Old Market shopping scene. But honestly this type of store just doesn’t do it for me. I can’t help but feel it’s a glorified toy store for adult nerds. Their goal is to amass as many pieces of Intellectual Properties as they can and sell them back to you in Mint Condition.
I get that there’s a market for that, but I’d way rather spend my time and money at a place like the Imaginarium. Why would I want a pristine set of Spawn action figures when I can buy a framed photo of a regional baseball team from 1924, or a cow’s skull, or a rusty old can of motor oil that probaly got sold during World War II? The latter items might seem strange and useless to most people, but to me they have soul. There’s a story behind them, even if no one is left to tell it.
Overall it was a pleasant day and an auspicious start to the trip. I don’t know what exactly I’m going to do tomorrow but I have plenty of options. There’s a lot of Omaha left to exhaust.