Here we are, just two days away from our next trip, to Seattle, and neither of us have yet posted a report from our last trip, to Omaha. Nor have we uploaded many of our pix (I’ve still got a backlog of photos to process from events going as far back as February), though a few of mine can be found in an Omaha set on my Flickr site.
It was a very nice trip. The reaction we got when people found out that, voluntarily on both accounts, I had extended a business trip to Nebraska and Iowa by two days and Jeff had decided to come out and join me, tended to be one of surprise, even–perhaps especially?–among friends and colleagues from those two states. But I decided that if I were going to go to the trouble of flying to these two states I’d never before visited (I’ve now updated this entry about the states I’ve visited; my total after the Omaha trip is now 40), I was going to at least see a little of them beyond a hotel conference center.
Omaha itself (or at least the downtown area I saw of it) really looks much like any other major city with the exception of seeming quite sparsely populated; even major thoroughfares were nearly devoid of traffic during what would be rush hour back here. The revitalized “Old Market” area appeared dead during the day, though on Friday and Saturday nights it was quite busy and lively.
I arrived on Thursday morning, and had a day of conference events in the hotel, but culminating with a private reception and dinner at the cool Strategic Air and Space Museum, with dinner itself taking place at tables set up below a massive SR-71A “Blackbird” spy place, hanging from the beams of the museum’s atrium. The museum features exhibits on space exploration as well (currently there’s a large educational exhibit about Mars), but the real jewels of the collection are the restored airplanes and spacecraft that fill two massive hangars; planes sit on the ground, where you’re able and encouraged to touch them, unlike most museums, and are suspended over you from the cavernous ceiling. The scale really almost has to be seen to be appreciated, but I’ll upload some photos later that try to capture some of it. The facility also has an onsite restoration hangar, usually off-limits to the public, but we got a “behind-the-scenes” tour, and were allowed to climb up inside a WWII bomber that’s about halfway through the restoration process.
Friday morning dawned gray (rainy and extremely windy) and early, with the requirement that we be at the lower level of the hotel at 7:30 a.m. to catch a bus out to a more rural site in Iowa. The conference was for government and defense agencies that use the services of SCOLA, a foreign-language programming producer, distributer and satellite rebroadcaster, as part of their own foreign language training curricula. On Friday morning, then, we headed out to SCOLA’s satellite farm in McClelland, Iowa (population somewhere around 130). The satellite farm is on the site of an old debtors’ farm that was later turned into a mental health facility; the original early 20th-century barns still stand, as does the sprawling farmhouse cum administration building. The large satellite dishes are visible from miles away in a landscape that otherwise consists of gently rolling corn fields. It was really beautiful, and quite a contrast from the clearly urban (if quietly so) Omaha, just 14 miles away.
Jeff arrived Friday night, and I met him at the airport (just four miles from downtown, easily and quickly accessible by free hotel shuttle bus) after which we had dinner. On Saturday we played tourist, exploring Omaha’s local green spaces (including the waterfalls, waterways, art and islands of the Gene Leahy Mall and the fountains at the Heartland of America Park) and riverfront (seeing the marker where the Lewis and Clark expedition came ashore), and walking several miles to the city’s world-class Henry Doorly Zoo, before returning to the hotel.
After a brief rest, we changed and headed out to a delicious steak dinner (perhaps the tenderest filet I’ve ever eaten) at the well-recommended Brass Grille in the Old Market. We then headed up the street for a drink at one of the local gay bars (there are several, it turns out) and eventually made our way around the corner to The Max, an amazing gay dance club (Omaha, who knew?), which may be the most pleasant club I’ve ever visited. The clientele was mixed–gay, straight, men, women; mostly white, but we also saw some Black and Asian guys–and very open and friendly, and some of those corn-fed Nebraskan and Iowan boys, what with several colleges in easy walking distance of the club… yummy. The ambience was contemporary and chic–large open spaces, glass-walled seating areas above the dance floors that provided great people-watching but also permitted easy and quiet conversation without having to shout directly into the other’s ear (actually, I could even hear Jeff quite readily on the dance floor, which was quite a surprise, and this was the first club I’ve left in years where my ears not only didn’t ring or boom for hours to days afterwards, they didn’t seem to have been damaged at all. Upstairs were pool tables, darts and a video bar, while outside featured a gorgeous courtyard with tables and chairs around a fountain, though it was a little cool, still, in late April, to spend much time outdoors. Multiple rooms offered different, though equally danceable, music in different styles and from different eras. Apparently it’s even been mentioned a couple of times in The New York Times as the place to go in Omaha on a Saturday night. All this for a Saturday night cover charge of just five dollars, and drink prices half what you’d pay in a DC or New York club.
We headed back to the hotel worn-out but happy, pleasantly surprised at what a nice time we’d had in Omaha, and wondering how we might arrange to come back through (it’s probably not the kind of place we’d schedule another trip to just by itself) en route to somewhere else, at the very least to have another great steak dinner and dance away one night at The Max.