CSI: Columbus, Nebraska

Today, I’m starting a new regular feature here: Wednesdays For My Wife. Mary, who everyone has heard about by now, asked me last night if I could write a story for her on the blog every week, chosen from my wide array of funny stories from childhood, from adulthood, and from my years traveling on business. I thought that was a reasonable request; I mean, she’s been after me to write my stories down for fun and profit for some time, and I haven’t exactly been good about it. Her suggestions will help drive the project, and keep me on track, more or less.

Mary’s profile picture from Facebook. She made that scarf.

I know I’ve told this story before here, and have referred to it any number of times, but rather than sending you digging through the archives to find it (I’m not even sure I remember where it is), I’ll write it again and see if I can make it funnier than before.

My job as a software installer for the company I eventually spent twenty years with required extensive travel, often to small cities and towns in the Midwest. On this particular week, I was set to make a two-day trip to visit a client in Columbus, Nebraska, about ninety miles due west of Omaha. About a week ahead of time, I called my efficient travel agent and set up a roundtrip flight to Omaha, where I would rent a car and drive to Columbus, and asked her to book two nights at the Holiday Inn Columbus. She said she would take care of that, and a few days later I had my tickets.

The day I’m supposed to leave, I get a call from her: the Holiday Inn is booked (they had been watching the hotel for a cancellation), do you have a second choice? I call my client, and he tells me there’s a Super 8 Motel a couple of blocks from the Holiday Inn. I call my travel agent back and tell her to book me into the Super 8 for a couple of nights. She says she’ll call me either with a confirmation or to request another hotel.

I don’t hear from her by the time I have to leave, so I go to O’Hare to catch my 6:00 PM flight. When I get to the airport, I learn that the plane I’m supposed to take to Omaha has been delayed, and to go to the gate, where they’ll have updates. This was in the days before voice mail, and the administrative assistant that took my messages has gone home for the day, so I don’t know if they had any luck getting me a hotel for the night. By the time the plane arrives, it’s almost 8:00 PM, so we don’t leave until 8:30, meaning it’s almost 11:00 when I finally land, get my baggage and rental car, and strike out on the road to Columbus.

I get into town and go to the Super 8. The place is dark, and there’s a sign on the door to ring the bell for assistance. After ringing the bell, and a wait of about ten minutes, the proprietor comes to the door in her bathrobe and curlers. I tell her my name, and she says, “I’m sorry, we don’t have a reservation for you, and we’re booked solid.”

She was nice enough to check a couple of other hotels and finally calls the one a block from her, finds out they have a room, and sends me down there. I thank her, and a short time later I pull into the parking lot of the hotel, which is across the road from a brightly-lit and very active roadhouse.

I think I got about four hours of sleep that night, and looked pretty rough when I showed up. The client, a really great guy, asks me what time I got in, and I tell him the story. When I tell him where I’m staying, he and the guy who works with him break out laughing. “What’s so funny?” I ask, and he tells me this story, a perfect demonstration of law enforcement in a small town.

One Friday night a few months before, a very attractive young woman arrives at the roadhouse, and, after dancing with half the guys in the place, departs with one of them for the hotel across the street (the one where I’m staying) so that the two of them can engage in a mutually-satisfying act of procreation. They hadn’t been gone twenty minutes when a gentleman shows up looking for his fifteen-year-old daughter. He shows the bartender a picture of the girl, and it’s the girl who just left. The bartender, afraid of what the man will do, tells him where his daughter is.

The man does what you would expect any reasonable, responsible, church-going, Midwestern father with a fifteen-year-old daughter who has just heard that his little girl is engaged in an intimate physical relationship with a total stranger at least twice her age: he thanks the bartender, leaves the bar, drives across the street to the hotel, and asks the proprietor where his daughter and her date are staying. He then gets his shotgun out of the car, finds the room, kicks the door open, sees his daughter doing the nasty with the man she picked up, shoots and kills both of them, and leaves.

The proprietor hears the shots and calls the Columbus Police Department, who show up a couple of minutes later and start processing the crime scene. They find a shoe print in the mud outside the room (it had been raining) and assume it was made by the perpetrator. But, there’s a problem: the one guy in the Columbus Police Department who knows how to make plaster casts of shoe prints has gone on a fishing trip and isn’t expected back until late Sunday night. So they came up with a novel solution: place an inverted bucket over the shoeprint, and station a junior member of the Columbus Police force on a lawn chair to watch the bucket and make sure no one disturbs it or the shoeprint beneath. All weekend. In the rain.

When my friend finishes the story, I’m laughing so hard I forget entirely that I was ready to kill my travel agent. It turns out she had gotten news that her mother was seriously ill and had left work, forgetting to make my hotel reservation and just about everything else. I was still upset about her leaving me high and dry, but I could understand and forgive her, now that I had had a good laugh.

13 thoughts on “CSI: Columbus, Nebraska

  1. Mary is a wise woman. I would love for my husband to write down all his stories…he has so many of them! His daughter tends to remember most of them, so at least we have an oral history tradition going.

    Small town police departments can indeed be funny. We always enjoy reading the police beat in our local paper (one was a five-year-old boy calling 911 looking for his girlfriend).


    1. I’ve been working on the family tree on and off for a couple of years, and now I wish I had asked about it while the old people were still alive. Live and learn.

      Jay Leno used to have a feature on The Tonight Show where he’d read the police reports from the newspaper. Some of them are hilarious!


  2. Both stories illustrate in bold glory life as it is for humans sometimes – ha! Great stories, both. Glad yours had no casualties (long as the travel agent’s mom was okay). Your wife has talked you into something wonderful, I think. Write on!


  3. My goodness that seemed like a rather tragic story, but I guess there is humor to be found in any situation no matter how dark.

    I recall playing Columbus at least once, but it wasn’t a stop every year of my touring life. We played a lot of towns in Nebraska though. I grew to like the state quite a bit.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out


    1. I guess it was pretty tragic, but I think it’s the idea of a police department so small that they only have one guy that can do plaster casts, and how they dealt with the problem, that I found hilarious. I can just imagine the conversation between the lead detective and the poor cop that drew bucket duty…

      All in all, Columbus was a nice place. Friendly people, and the Holiday Inn had a hell of a band when I stayed there.


  4. Once again reminds me of what life was like before smart phones. Smart phones have ruined the plots of every television show and movie made in the 20th century.

    Also reminds me how miserable it can be to visit small town America. I used to work for a company based in Ohio and the best hotel in town was a Knight’s Inn. Ick.


  5. You tell the greatest stories. Truth is often stranger than fiction. If you ever write a crime novel, be sure you incorporate that incident into it.


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