I was just 10 years old when my dad was accepted to the University of Nebraska to complete his Masters degree. I didn't want to leave the sunny beaches of Southern California, but as a kid, moving halfway across the country sounded exciting. I know better now.
I vividly remember driving through the seemingly endless cornfields, wading thru the city streets with snow up to my waist as we walked to an evening matinee and the fanatical "Big Red" fans who made the town of Lincoln look as if the apocalypse had whenever a football game was in town.
And there was one other thing: the runza.
It's a delicious hot pastry, filled with ground beef, onions, and cabbage, and was brought by German-Russian immigrants to the United States. It's a close cousin to the Kansas favorite, the bierock, and it's m-m-mmm good.
I loved eating runzas at the eponymous Runza restaurant. We were on a pretty tight budget in those days, since both of my parents were attending college and working full time. We didn't get to eat out very often, but when we did, it was a pretty big deal. We tried different places all the time, and eventually stumbled across the runza, which quickly became a family favorite.
My childhood memories of this savory predecessor to the Hot Pocket were fond ones indeed, though at the time I really wasn't even sure of what was in it. That never stopped me from wolfing them down, three at a time. All I knew was that I loved them, and every time I got the chance to select the restaurant, I picked the Runza.
The two years in Lincoln flew and the days of the runzafests were over. My dad graduated and was offered a position as a college professor in California. I hadn't had a runza since - until recently.
Now as an adult, I work for CNN as a photojournalist. I get to travel all over the country covering a variety of news stories, yet somehow none of them in Nebraska... until now. I was recently assigned to cover Vice President Biden campaigning in Council Bluffs, Iowa which is just a stone's throw from Omaha, Nebraska. I'd gone 40 years without a Runza and this was an opportunity I wasn't going to miss.
The first thing I had to do was see if they were still in business, and if so, how close would it be to where I was staying. I punched it into GPS and one came up just a few short miles from the airport. I saved the destination.
After a few of days of shooting, I headed back to Omaha for my flight home and the long-awaited runza reunion. As I pulled up to the restaurant, I started to wonder if runzas could really taste as good as I remembered. Sometimes things change as we grow up, especially our tastes. I used to hate fish, now I love it. The same goes for vegetables. Was I in for a disappointment? There was only one way to find out.
I stepped out of my car and the scent emanating from inside made my stomach growl with anticipation. I hoped the taste would live up to it. I stepped up to the window and ordered a plain runza; there are now many varieties to choose from.
Moments later they called my number and I unwrapped the piping hot, meat-stuffed pastry and took a bite. The moment of truth was here. Was the runza all I had built it up to be?
I'm happy to report that it was even better than I remembered. It was fresh, hot, and delicious and I could easily imagine getting hooked again. I closed my eyes and took another bite. It was just like stepping back into 1973.
I have plenty of fond memories from my childhood, some of which I'll probably never get to relive again - playing with lawn darts or rapidly banging click-clacks together - but that's okay with me. If I ever feel like I need a blast from the past, I know where to find a runza.