Oh my, Omaha!

I went to Omaha with as clean a slate as one probably could. I knew virtually nothing about the state aside from the fact that the Cornhuskers are also in the Big Ten with my Buckeyes. And, well, that was pretty much it. Granted I still don’t know much more, but I am happy to report I enjoyed my time there and left feeling like there were still a lot more things I didn’t get to see or do.

This is a little different style than my usual posts — a collection of some of the things I did and saw in a sort of half-assed order!

Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

Located at 705 Riverfront Drive this is an easy, relaxing attraction that can take up as much or as little time as you want. I had an entire evening to kill but was also pretty tired so this fit perfectly. I parked in the lot by the river and then followed a family up to a small water play area where kids were splashing around in the jets, enjoying the break from the impossibly sweltering heat.

Just past the play area is the path leading up to the bridge. The Bob Kerrey bridge is a 3,000-foot walkway taking you from Omaha, Nebraska, across the Missouri river into Council Bluffs, Iowa. It was quite windy up on the bridge which alleviated some of the 97+ degree heat but didn’t make for great photos!

I did, however, see the mighty steel cords vibrating furiously in the wind and marveled for a while on the incredible art of engineering before continuing on my way. It was a beautiful walk and I meant to come back one night and experience the view of the city lights from the river but alas, I did not.

I went back to my car, drove across the river and spent a few hours killing time the grown up way — gambling and drinking at the Harrah’s Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa. By the way, small town casinos … boy oh boy, that is some prime people watching!

(Also, it’s time for another trip to Vegas!)

Joslyn Art Museum

This museum has a pretty amazing exterior. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Rigid and imposing, but oddly beautiful for its simplicity. Inside, its Café Durham is open from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday – Saturday and I worked from here on Tuesday. The café area is very bright and cheery, an excellent working space with a steady low din from other diners and museum goers nearby; just enough background noise, but not overwhelming. I was surprised and delighted to find a Chihuly exhibit on my way to the café, recognizing it from my visit to the Chihuly Gardens and Glass in Seattle a few weeks ago.

On my lunch break, I neatly packed my office into my backpack and wandered around the museum for awhile. It was a nice size for me. Small enough that I felt like I saw most of it, (I’m not a museum gal so I tend to move at a rather fast clip), and a good variety of pieces.

Living it up like a local

I had friends in Omaha so they introduced me to a few things that are certainly available many other places but certainly not a part of my usual day to day.

I spent an hour or so playing foot golf. I’d never heard of this before. You play on a real golf course only they have yellow flags for the regular golfers and orange flags for the foot golfers. You play with a soccer ball and kick the ball toward and into a gigantic soccer ball sized cup in as few turns as possible. I probably haven’t kicked a ball in 15 years (isn’t it sad and crazy how we stop doing childish fun things and don’t even realize it!?) and was predictably terrible but had a really good time.

Later, I also got to go to a shooting range and try shooting for about the 3rd time in my life. The first time I was about 14 and one of my dad’s friends taught me and a couple of my brothers how to shoot while we were waiting for Thanksgiving dinner to finish up.

Then a few years ago I stopped into a gun range on a whim and spent a little while shooting — and left terrified because they kept trying to sell me a gun while I kept insisting that I didn’t even know how to shoot one and could I please talk to someone about lessons.

Now this was fun. I shot some kind of pistol (ha, I couldn’t even tell you) and an AK-47. That was terrifying. Exhilaratingly terrifying. I have a very healthy respect for guns and at this point I’m not at all ashamed to say I’m mostly cautious, awed and scared when handling them.

I wrapped up the time with friends hanging out in the evening with homemade tacos and margaritas. I’d met Dori years ago through my beloved Faye. They studied abroad in Costa Rica the next year after Faye and I went to Spain (Faye is a year younger). Once I graduated I headed down to meet Faye and backpacked around with her for awhile, meeting Dori and others along the way.

We’d both been in Faye’s wedding 3, 4, or was it 5 years ago? Who could remember? We texted Faye to find out … she didn’t even remember so we didn’t feel so bad.

I’d never met Dori’s husband Chris before. She was a nurse, he a landscape architect and I, a nomad, so conversation flowed constantly across a wide range of topics. Catching up and chit chatting on the backyard deck as the sun died and sent long shadows across the yard I tried desperately to just stay in the moment and fight off that familiar feeling of “what could be.

This could be my life! This could be me all the time. Settling down. Putting down roots. Making good friends and coming over to hang out, laugh, talk, drink too many margaritas, pet the silly cat, and stay up too late even when we all had to work the next morning.

“You had that. For more than eight years … and you left that,” the voice of reason whispers. I know. It’s true. But sometimes, with good friends … the kind that show you new things, open your eyes to new experiences, the kind of friends you can pick right up with again,  even after time apart … well, I do have to wonder fleetingly what it would be like to settle down.

Airbnb

This was my first time staying in an Airbnb on my own. Kind of surprising right?! I stayed in one in LA with my brother when we went out to The FitExpo LA to raise brand awareness for his company Jai-Wear. Then another one last month in Seattle with Faye. But both of those times other people took care of the arrangements and we rented a whole place.

This time it was just me and I got a shared place because it was cheaper. All in all a great first experience. The place was clean and neat and exactly as advertised. Basically, the owners rented out three bedrooms upstairs which all shared a bathroom.

It might have been due to the fact that I was working and thus up and about earlier than the folks on vacay, but I never had to wait for the bathroom and the other guests were nice and chill and I barely noticed them as I came and went. The location was great (though I did have a car which made any location basically great and easy access). I’d definitely stay there again.

But I did get to thinking … I’m paying for a shared room … and a shared bathroom … I don’t know any of these people just like in a hostel. So why not try …

Couchsurfing!

When I first planned on visiting Omaha, I’d tried to get a place using the Couchsurfing.com app but nobody was able to pick up my dates. I went ahead and just booked a couple days in the Airbnb not knowing how I’d like it. I wanted to leave my options open to move if needed and now I tried the app again. Lo and behold somebody accepted my dates and I jumped on the opportunity! That was going to save me quite a bit of money, granted at the risk of staying with a complete stranger.

Again, I justified it thinking:

1) I’d basically been staying in an Airbnb with a group of strangers.
2) I could afford to leave and get another place if I felt the slightest bit off about the situation.
3) I’ve traveled a ton and tend to have a heightened sense of danger and I trust it.
4) Let’s just say that when I’m not traveling by plane I tend to have additional protection compliant with state and city laws.

Thankfully, on this trip, I had nothing to worry about. In fact, I made a great new friend! My couchsurfing apartment was in downtown Omaha near the Orpheum theater and great walking distance to virtually everything I wanted to do over the next several days.

My host Cameron was awesome. He’d quit his job to travel the world for a year and a half and we instantly connected over travel, shared experiences, living as oddities among the “normal 9-5 crowd” and so much more.

He left me free to my own devices if I chose but we also ended up hanging out a few times — including a late, late night closing down the Dubliner Pub where he told the band it was my birthday not even an hour after I’d stupidly confessed to abhorring the spotlight of any kind.

Those kinds of nights happen at random, yet they’re the best kind. I sat down at the bar intending to have a single beer, yet the bartender informed me of a $10 minimum credit card charge and I didn’t have any cash. So I started with whiskey gingers and told Cameron he should come meet up after his earlier plans finished up. Once he got there we talked and laughed for hours, finally walking out after they turned the lights on with a helluva lot more than a $10 tab. Ah well … they are the best of times, they are the worst of times.

Urban Abbey

This place was a delightful find on my first workday in Omaha. I needed a place to park my car and recalled seeing a parking lot that charged a flat rate of $2/day Monday – Friday. And right downtown! (I wasn’t sure what alternate universe I was living in but I wasn’t about to question it.)

This place is directly across from the parking lot. Walking inside I found it super bright, cute and cheerful and the single barista friendly and informative. We chatted for awhile as he made my coffee and he told me that it was a coffee shop/church/bookstore/fair trade gift shop all rolled into one. Cool beans! While 99% of the books were religious in nature I still enjoyed browsing for a few minutes before settling in to work.

I came here several times throughout the week and always encountered friendly and pleasant people, both the baristas and the patrons. While it doubles as a church on weekends they absolutely do not push religion on anyone and the majority of the time you completely forget that anyone is in any way affiliated with any type of religion or spirituality. Basically, I’m saying definitely check the place out no matter what your views.

And oh yeah … the peanut butter-chocolate chip-coconut-brownie bar was sinfully delicious and totally could be consumed as a dessert … over several days … and should not be a breakfast item. But ya know, when in Omaha….

Lincoln

After a few days in Omaha, by Wednesday I was feeling antsy and ready to hit the road but I needed to stay at least one more day or miss the whole point of coming to Omaha. So I decided to burn off the restlessness with a quick drive.

After work, I joined the end of day traffic and headed down to the capital city of Lincoln — only about 50 minutes away. I wanted to see why it was the capital instead of Omaha. (I still don’t know why. Omaha felt bigger to me and personally, I preferred it. But to be fair I also spent way more time there.)

I intended to drive downtown and meander around. But as I got closer and my GPS directed me to exit I could see no tall buildings nor anything that resembled a downtown. I drove around for awhile with no GPS … intending to see whatever I could see and figuring I’d eventually find downtown. I didn’t. I have no idea where the hell I was.

I turned on GPS and headed over to the University of Nebraska to check out the stadium and the campus, then, needing a beer found a local brewery called White Elm which, if I lived there would totally be my brewery.

I loved it. Small but bright and cozy. Comfy chairs and a couch. High, airy ceilings, and a bike rack that stayed in constant use throughout the hour I was there. I often feel like reading at breweries — I mean they’re basically my version of a coffee shop.

A place to hang for hours, so why not have comfy chairs that invite me to make myself at home and drink (stay) for awhile. This one did. I opened my enormous copy of Theft by Finding and spent a wonderful hour reading and relaxing.

And oh yeah, the bartender even brought out bowls of complimentary kettle chips — salt and vinegar! Yum! This would totally be my place.

Afterward, I made my way to the Haymarket district and ate dinner at Lazlo’s Brewery & Grill. I continued reading my friend’s novel and drank a delicious ESB and had the sliders for dinner. They were, as the food in Nebraska was beginning to seem, alright but nothing memorable.

So many other places and things …

Omaha Storm Chasers


This is Omaha’s minor league baseball team and I was fortunate enough to check out a game on an absolutely perfect summer night. $2 beer night, an order of french fries and I was happy as a clam. You just can’t ask for more!

Nebraska Brewing Company

I had a Hefeweizen and nachos here. Neither was particularly memorable but my friend had a Nebraska Sunset (girly drink) and declared it delicious. It really was!

Upstream Brewing Company

I had the Flagship IPA and the Blood Orange Wit here. I preferred the latter and even returned on another occasion to sample more. I also had dinner here, the Beer Braised Pot Roast but found it dry which really bummed me out. It’s hard for me to not like pot roast.

The Diner

This place was great! An old school diner tucked into, basically, a parking lot. It’s easy to miss but I’m glad I found it. Simple breakfast fare; I ordered coffee, eggs, home fries, and bacon.

“You’ll want the sweet bacon,” the waitress said. Um, ok, sure but I have no idea what that is, I thought. For your sake I’ll tell you what it is … the greatest thing on earth!!! I have no idea how they do it but the bacon is glazed in some kind of heaven, er, I mean sweet, sticky, almost syrup or something. I could’ve eaten 5 more slices. I’m already thinking about how if I ever go back to Omaha — hell, if I’m even passing through! — I have to stop at The Diner again just for that. So good!

Brickway Brewery & Distillery

I only drank here. I had the Raspberry Hefeweizen which I thoroughly enjoyed. I immediately met an interesting older gentleman from Dallas who comes into Omaha quite often on business. He works with the railroad and regaled me with tales of his men hunkering down during the heavy rains that had swept through earlier, and of drinking shenanigans with a couple of friends the night before at the bar. There was a nice hum of noise in the place but it was easy enough to carry on a conversation and I liked the feel of the place.

Zio’s Pizza

Slices! I stopped in here one evening in need of quick and easy sustenance. I sat at the bar, drank a beer and read a novel written by a new friend I recently made in Seattle. It’s not yet published but I’ve no doubt it will be. I’ve never known anyone who’s written a book before. I’m certainly stepping up my five! The pizza, when it came, was piping and hot and good but again not memorable. (This definitely seems to be a trend in Omaha.)

Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom

I had an individual sized pizza here and a beer. It was the winding down portion of the night if ya know what I mean … when anything should taste good and still, the pizza was okay but nothing I’d come back for.

Block 16

I’d heard through the grapevine in Omaha that this place was home to one of the best burgers on Earth according to Food Network personality Alton Brown. It has odd hours, closing for a few hours between 3 and 5 so I kept missing it but finally fit it in one day.  Upon arriving I realized I didn’t know which burger carried the amazing reputation and ordered a regular burger thinking I couldn’t go wrong.

I didn’t go wrong … but it was also just a burger. Perhaps the place had been talked up too much. I later met a local couple who curiously asked me what I’d thought of the place. When I said I’d been quite underwhelmed they erupted in agreement. “Right!?” the girl said, “I always get the grilled cheese … it’s so good!” I’ll keep that in mind for next time.

For the record, it was the Croque Garcon Burger that Alton Brown recommended. I’ll try it and the grilled cheese next time.

Market Basket

I found this place because it was in the same plaza as The Bookworm, an Omaha bookstore where I was attending an event. I had a few hours to kill before the event started so I showed up early to grab a bite and take advantage of the happy hour menu.

Now this place was delicious! I had the grilled cheese which comes bruschetta or open-faced style. I’d completely missed the fact that there were mushrooms on it. (My eyes saw grilled cheese and my stomach, brain, and mouth screamed yes!)

Once it arrived, covered in mushrooms I realized my mistake but I was starving and went for it. It was good! I won’t say it converted me into an instant mushroom lover but I was definitely impressed. I paired it with a wine I’d never heard of before, a Viognier, which, after butchering the name horribly, the bartender brought me a sample. I loved it. So grilled cheese, Triennes Viognier, and Theft by Finding in hand, I once again passed a pleasant hour reading, eating and drinking.

David Sedaris at The Bookworm

Finally, the event that brought me to Omaha at this particular point in time.

One of my favorite authors, David Sedaris reading from his latest book Theft by Finding. I’d planned to go see him in Las Vegas in May but ended up going to TBEX which was the same weekend.

I have no idea when I discovered David. My best guess is 10-12 years ago in college. Since then I’ve bought most of his books as audiobooks because there’s nothing like hearing his voice reading his own words. It’s hilarious and adds so much more meaning and context to every line.

It was surreal to sit in the audience listening. That same dry, wispy, sometimes nasal, sometimes sarcastic voice that comes out of my headphones or car speakers standing at the front of the room, reading his words in real time — I felt slightly as though I were dreaming.

Beyond reading excerpts from his current and upcoming book, he also took time to talk with the audience, answering questions, making jokes, and going off a good-natured (but also serious) tangent railing against certain other authors who were ahead of him on the New York Times Best-seller list. Equal parts serious and humorous he made the hour go by as if it were only 5 minutes and left me wanting more.

It’s a shame that people wanting their books signed takes up so much time. I’d prefer to go to a non-signing event where he talked and read for two hours. I didn’t get my book signed for a number of reasons. I didn’t feel like it would add any value. He has already given me the gift of his words on the page. I don’t understand what it would add to have the book signed to me; just a quick passing moment between two strangers who will never really know each other.

The line was insane and despite his signing books earlier and the organizers best efforts to move things along smoothly it was clearly going to be hours before he got done with everyone.

And finally, I felt like if he signed my book then I’d have to take care of it, to keep it forever, to put it someplace safe, on a pedestal almost. That’s not how my life works these days. And Theft by Finding is a monster of a book! It wouldn’t make it coming along with me on my travels and besides books are meant to be read, given away, and then bought again down the road if so desired. So I left with my unsigned copy, and when I finish it, I’ll give it away and hope someone else enjoys it as much as I did … and then buy the audiobook.

College World Series

So I unwittingly came to Omaha the week before the biggest event of the year, as I kept hearing from everyone I met. “You have to stay, you just have to stay and check it out,” they all said. And so I did … well sorta.

I stayed Friday night and planned to check out the opening night festivities and then decide about the upcoming day. Unfortunately, a massive storm blew through the area with winds ranging from 75-90 miles per hour and opening night festivities were canceled.

Having no idea what was about to befall me (I really ought to check the weather more often!) I’d struck out for the stadium around 6 p.m., walking over from my downtown condo a few blocks away. I eyed the overcast sky dubiously and decided to seek refuge in the nearest bar once I got close to the stadium. I was simply thinking that I didn’t want to get rained on … having no idea of the mass of the approaching storm.

Settling into Zipline Brewing — which had just opened a few days ago — I immediately made friends on either side of my barstool and good thing too! With the rain starting, then the thunder and lighting, the heavy winds blowing the large trees outside the windows sideways, none of us were going anywhere for awhile! (I do have to say I met so many great and friendly people in Omaha … it definitely felt like being at home with the welcoming, midwestern spirit that abounded!)

As for Zipline, the beers were delicious. I had the Hibiscus Saison and the St. Boden Quad, both of which were delicious albeit quite different. I love Tripels and Quads but alas, the alcohol content can make for quite a short night if one isn’t careful. I can’t really think of a better place to ride out a storm than a brewery and Zipline was built for it. It feels like an industrial warehouse space but the enormous concrete walls weren’t austere but comforting as the storm raged outside.

Once the storm ended I headed over to Slowdown right next door to meet up with some of the Zipline acquaintances who had already trekked ahead. We had some drinks outside in the beer garden and caught the fireworks — which did go off around 10 p.m. even though the other festivities had been canceled. All in all, it turned out to be a pretty decent evening in spite of the storm. I’d made some new acquaintances, and even been offered free tickets to one of the games the next day. I might’ve stayed if the opening night festivities had gone off as normal and I’d gotten caught up in the excitement. But in my heart I knew I was done, restless and it was time to move on. Goodbye, Omaha. But strangely enough … I’d totally go back.

Now that, I did not expect!

Check out photos of the entire trip in the gallery here.