It all started when an annoyed former Omahan complained about us on Facebook.
“Dear Nebraskans,” sneered my friend, who grew up in Fargo, N.D., and now lives in Minneapolis. “Four to eight inches of snow does not equal 'snowmageddon.' ... Just relax and watch how the world doesn't end.”
Ouch. An iceball straight to the heart.
But could she be right? Were we overreacting to all the doomsday forecasts, with our grocery-shelf pillaging, our school cancellations? Were we all babies compared to those rugged Northerners with snow running through their veins? Were we all a bunch of wimps?
I had to find out. And thus I ventured six blocks from home Friday morning into the frozen wilds of 40th Street to get some answers.
The Rev. Mike Gutgsell was the first to reject the premise. There he was, shoveling St. Cecilia's sidewalks with two others after saying morning Mass.
Are we wimps, Father?
“I don't think so,” he said cheerily. “Not around here.”
Down the street, Alison the Baker had gotten up at 4 a.m., shoveled her own driveway and opened Sweet Magnolia's Bake Shop an hour later, throwing the cinnamon rolls and scones in the oven before shoveling the bakery walk.
Stacey the Waitress got to Lisa's Radial Cafe next door at 5:30 for the 6 a.m. opening.
Across the street, Kumar the Grocer had driven his wife to work at 5 a.m., then spent the next two hours shoveling outside the Druk Asian food mart.
In fact, everywhere I looked, people were shoveling. And happily.
“I love the snow!” gushed Clete DeWispelare, with no hint of sarcasm. Clete had dug out his own 12-year-old Chevy Malibu and then shoveled out two other snowbound cars to surprise his friends.
Nearby was McKenna Kuhn, a Central High senior who on this snow day could have slept in. Instead, he unwimpily shoveled his stairs.
“We're pretty tough,” he said, “when it comes to the snow.”
I dropped in to poll the diners at Lisa's Radial Cafe, interrupting umpteen breakfasts. The votes came in 23-2, not wimpy.
“We need the moisture,” said public utility worker Mike Ariza.
“It could be a lot worse than this, like the blizzard of '75 when the city was shut down for three days!” philosophized neighborhood resident Carol Christianson.
“We are NOT wimpy!” declared day care worker Diana Villafuerte, whose Honda Civic had spun off snowy Interstate 480 the day before. She said she gunned her car out of a ditch, up the snow-covered slope and back onto I-480 for her drive home.
Far from wimpy, said three guys who work up to 12-hour shifts inside a 36-degree cooler at Roberts Dairy. “The weather doesn't bother me,” said Jon Rathjen. “It's fun. I love it.”
North High teachers enjoying their snow day at a nearby table were quick to say they were friends of winter, not foes.
Maybe we're biased. Maybe outsiders see the real us.
A 20-year-old venture capitalist from Los Angeles (in short sleeves!), two plasma sales reps in town to visit hospitals and a Wisconsin native all assured me that Omahans aren't wimpy.
“You had a decent snowstorm,” said Jeanne Corrado, whose suburban Denver home sits a mile above Mile High City.
“I know people in Wisconsin,” said Robert Hancock from suburban Milwaukee, “who can be complete wimps.”
He pointed to Jo the Waitress. “Jo is the least wimpy person I know.”
“It probably helps,” Jo Durham said, “I'm half-Alaskan.”
Waitress Stacey Pirtle did confess that she thought we were kind of wimpy. She didn't approve of her school, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, calling a snow day, for example.
And North High history teacher James Ahern pointed the finger at me.
“The media are wimps,” Ahern said. “We're just along for the ride.”
This was a popular view, after weather reports blanketed the news all week long.
On the other hand, it's kind of chicken-and-egg: Sure, the story got plenty of play. But it was also the most popular story day after day on Omaha.com.
I reported back to my northern friend that we Midlanders are no less stoic or less grateful or have any less joie de vivre about this season of darkness and cold.
So what if we stock up on milk and beer? That's just Darwinism.
So what if we call off school? Common sense.
And the grumbling when a snowplow hasn't graced our streets? We're just impatient, eager to go about our lives.
You have to go farther south to find real wimps.
Take Jake Anglin of Jenkins, Mo., which is practically in Arkansas.
The 22-year-old bartender was the only one in the breakfast bunch at the Radial to confess to wimpiness.
In fact, he embraced it.
“It's my firm belief,” Jake said, “that snow belongs in three places: the North Pole. The South Pole. And the mountains.
“Nebraska does NOT qualify for any of these. I HATE the snow. I'm a wimp!”
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