In the rest of this edition of the Metro Guide you will find all the wonderful things to experience in the Omaha area. But the truth is, there are things that the area is lacking. Below is a list of what you cannot find in Omaha, for good and bad.
The city is devoid of any real mountains, with the exception being a couple of hills runners must traverse near the end of the Omaha Marathon. Mountains would provide beautiful scenery and frequently offer skiing, not to mention opportunities for all the out-of-work sherpas around the metro. Mountains would also offer a vivid, colorful backdrop for Alexander Payne movies, at least the ones not filmed in black-and-white.
The good news for lovers of tall summits is that compared to the flatlands of Lincoln, Omaha is pretty much Mount Kilimanjaro.
On the other side of the river the defining geological feature of Council Bluffs is the Loess Hills, formed thousands of years ago, about the same time Mall of the Bluffs opened.
MAJOR LEAGUE SPORTS
I realize Omaha is a big event town, what with the College World Series, U.S. Olympic Swim Trials, Creighton basketball, Berkshire Hathaway shareholders annual meeting and the Benson Beer Fest. (Quick quiz: Which of the aforementioned allows you to get in free for life with an event tattoo? Hint: It’s not Berkshire.)
But we don’t have a major league pro sports franchise. While there has been talk of one day expanding TD Ameritrade Park to land a major league baseball team I would think our best bet would be an NHL team, considering the small-scale riot/bacchanal/toga party that is your typical Omaha Lancers game.
AN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Eppley Airfield is a strong, bustling airport, but I’m talking a major international hub with frequent, direct flights to Paris, Frankfurt, Bermuda and all those other idyllic places where they serve lousy food and hate Americans.
To me, not having an international airport is a blessing in that I’ve got an excuse not to have to take that family vacation to the Canary Islands. (“What — and drive to Chicago and then fly for 12 hours? When I have the Kearney Archway practically in my own backyard?”)
As a matter of fact, most Americans despise international airports. I say that as a former resident of Los Angeles who would have rather visited a landfill on a 110-degree day in the middle of an earthquake than go within 20 miles of Los Angeles International Airport, which is sort of a smog-covered maze with overpriced coffee huts.
I’ll take the Missouri River with its mysterious, mud-shrouded waters over an ocean any day. I love to stand atop the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge and imagine the make and model of the junker automobile that might be passing below unseen at that very moment. I’ll always have fond childhood memories of Dickson family holiday outings to the shores of the Mighty Missouri to count the number of discarded tires floating past.
The Missouri River also provides the ability to offer legalized Council Bluffs boat-top gambling, which is better than swimming with a school of pseudo-intellectual dolphins any day.
A SUBWAY SYSTEM
If you have never experienced a city subway system, count yourself lucky. The rails that ferry commuters underground are frequently unimaginable dens of horror with strangers pressed jowl-to-jowl in tight quarters on rainy, soggy days like so many wet moles. Granted, the Omaha bus transit system is not perfect, which may be the greatest understatement I have ever typed. But it’s still better than most subways I have sampled.
A WORLD-CLASS AMUSEMENT PARK
Big amusement parks offer excellent employment opportunities, if your idea of “excellent employment” is walking around in a Goofy costume while kids pull your tail. Omahans do have fairly easy access to Kansas City’s Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun, the latter of which provides the type of relaxation that only being surrounded by thousands of screaming children in snorkels can bring.
Personally, I’d rather do six months in a Turkish prison than spend a summer Saturday afternoon at Oceans of Fun. I do miss good old Peony Park (by law you must now always refer to it as “Good old Peony Park”) with its man-made beach and the last challenging mini-golf course in the world.
I’ll preface this one by saying if I have to enter a casino I find the ones in Council Bluffs to be more enjoyable and user-friendly than most casinos in Las Vegas.
Still, our area does not have the casino mega-resort, the kind of place featuring high-stakes Pai Gow poker and buffets with 27 types of bacon and 34 varieties of Key lime pie. The kind of place where the cigarette scent is so heavy that spending two hours gambling has the same effect on your lungs as if you’d smoked for nine years.
A VERY TALL BUILDING
Omaha has the Woodmen Tower, where a surreptitiously placed camera allows us the opportunity to watch peregrine falcons roost 24 hours a day, although I have to admit the longest I’ve ever lasted in a single day is 17 hours.
But we don’t have a Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), a Stratosphere or that monstrosity in Dubai. I’m pretty sure Monstrosity is its formal name, which narrowly beat out Giant Eyesore and Enormous Steel Latrine.
LOTS OF BIG CELEBRITIES
With the exception of Warren Buffett and Alexander Payne (at least part time) the city is lacking in the sort of instant name-recognition national celebrities that places such as L.A., New York City, Nashville, Chicago and even Austin, Aspen and Santa Fe can boast of.
Speaking as someone who once saw Will Smith cut to the front of the line in the NBC commissary circa 1995, I have to say that big celebrities tend to be overrated. It’s nice not to be awoken by breathless morning phone calls from friends shrieking, “Guess who I just saw at the bank?! Sinbad!”
I’ve met a handful of celebrities in my time and found approximately 98 percent of them to be disappointing. Celebrities tend to be even more full of themselves than regular people nowadays, if you can believe that. Don’t lament our lack of celebrity for one second. Just sit back and enjoy living in a city where one doesn’t have to endure 200 looky-loos cramming into a Starbucks because Lorenzo Lamas’ stunt double just ordered a latte.
For Brad’s latest musings, go to Omaha.com/dickson