Before we dive into the Lenten season of penance and reflection, we have one last shot at doing something worthy of atonement.
Hello, Mardi Gras.
Most of us can’t make it to the Big Easy for the big party, but Omaha’s celebration isn’t so bad. (The one at the Crescent Moon, for example, is terrific.)
But Mardi Gras gets us thinking more generally about New Orleans and all there is to love there. How can Omaha compare?
No, really, how does Omaha compare? With help from a few N’awlins natives or aficionados (“The Bottom Line” host Mike’l Severe, World-Herald reporter Betsie Freeman and former sports designer Jay St.Pierre), we took a side-by-side look at the two cities.
New Orleans: 369,250 (in 2012)
Omaha: 421,570 (in 2012)
New Orleans: The mile-wide Mississippi River cuts through the city, emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. And don’t forget Lake Pontchartrain!
Omaha: The Missouri River forms the barrier between Omaha and Council Bluffs. And don’t forget Carter Lake!
New Orleans: New Orleans was settled by the French, ceded to Spain, then brought back under French control before being sold to the U.S. According to the 2010 census, 60 percent of the city is black, while 33 percent is white; 5 percent identified as Latino.
Omaha: Europeans settled Omaha early, giving rise to sections of town known for their ethnicities: German, Polish, Italian, Czech, Greek and Irish, in particular. While the city is currently 73 percent white, African-American (14 percent) and Latino (13 percent) populations make up sizable segments.
New Orleans: It’s typically hot and humid in New Orleans, with short winters. There’s almost never snow here, and it rarely gets below 25 degrees. Sounds nice. They do get those hurricanes, though.
Omaha: The best word to describe Omaha weather is “extreme.” It’s super cold in the winter and super hot in the summer, with about five days each of spring and fall. We do get those tornadoes, too.
New Orleans: Gumbo, rice and beans, jambalaya, crawfish, po-boys, pralines, muffulettas … when you eat your way through New Orleans, you can’t go wrong.
Omaha: It’s hard to find a bad steak in Omaha, that’s for sure. And we did invent the Reuben. And we always have the Runza.
New Orleans: The hurricane is, of course, the quintessential drink of the Big Easy. You can almost always find some tourist walking around Bourbon Street carrying this rum concoction. But the Sazerac and the Ramos Gin Fizz cocktails also call the city home. And, of course, absinthe, that supposedly mind-altering green drink long associated with the city (and originally found in a Sazerac).
Omaha: Craft beer?
FORTUNE 500 COMPANIES
New Orleans: The only one of these big businesses based in New Orleans is Entergy, an energy company that came in at No. 261 in last year’s rankings.
Omaha: Omaha has five big businesses, starting with No. 5 Berkshire Hathaway (of which The World-Herald is a part). The others are No. 138 Union Pacific, No. 209 ConAgra, No. 243 Peter Kiewit Sons and No. 394 Mutual of Omaha.
New Orleans: Public officials are, shall we say, a bit more colorful in New Orleans. Former Mayor Ray Nagin was just found guilty of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and other favors while in office, while former Gov. Edwin Edwards spent eight years in prison for his role in a bribery and extortion scheme. In a report released last fall, the Justice Department found that Louisiana was the most corrupt state in the nation.
Omaha: Nebraska’s politicians are just a whole lot less interesting (which is good, right?). In that same Justice Department report, the state ranked 41st for corruption. Our biggest recent scandal was the former lieutenant governor’s late-night phone conversations. It’s enough to make us long for the days of then-Gov. Bob Kerrey dating Debra Winger.
New Orleans: The city is divided into cool, hip neighborhoods that are like small towns, including the Garden District, Uptown and the Marigny.
Omaha: The city is divided into cool, hip neighborhoods that are like small towns, including Dundee, Benson and Midtown.
New Orleans: The French Quarter is what we think of when we picture New Orleans, with its colorful walls and ironwork balconies. Take a stroll around Jackson Square, eat at Arnaud’s, get a hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s, see the sights of Bourbon Street, then finish off with a beignet and café au lait at Café du Monde.
Omaha: The Old Market is Omaha’s signature entertainment district, with its myriad bars, restaurants and shops. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the cobblestone streets for a little romance, and dine outside on a summer’s night at one of the many restaurants with patios.
New Oreleans: The birthplace of jazz has boasted Louis Armstrong, Al Hirt and Pete Fountain, among many other greats. And even now, you can find amazing live jazz and blues on street corners throughout the city.
Omaha: Omaha also has an impressive jazz pedigree — Preston Love and Buddy Miles, among others, played with some jazz greats. But music in Omaha now is more defined by Saddle Creek.
New Orleans: New Orleans is a football town. With the Saints, LSU and Tulane, there’s enough football to keep pigskin lovers happy. There’s LSU baseball for those who prefer homers to TDs. New Orleans has also hosted a few football national championships and NCAA Final Fours.
Omaha: Omaha is a football town, with occasional breaks for baseball and basketball. Big Red football is still the dominant force, though attention will shift to Creighton (and Nebraska) basketball during the winter. Omaha hosts the College World Series every year (sometimes with LSU!).
New Orleans: New Orleans is a Catholic town. It’s home to a prominent Jesuit university (Loyola). The St. Louis Cathedral overlooking Jackson Square is the oldest continuously operating cathedral in the U.S. There are other religions represented too, of course (including voodoo!), but more residents worship at a Catholic church than anywhere else.
Omaha: Omaha is a Catholic town. It’s home to a prominent Jesuit university (Creighton). St. Cecilia Cathedral is on the National Register of Historic Places. There are other religions represented too, of course, but more residents worship at a Catholic church than anywhere else.
New Orleans: At churches, they’re strictly religious events. That means no alcohol.
Omaha: They’re religious, but they’re also social. That means beer!