Ten years ago, I had a sudden desire to move to Omaha, Nebraska.
This was weird. I had never even been to Omaha at the time. I’d driven by, on the freeway, during my road trip a couple of weeks earlier. But for some reason I got it in my head that I wanted to live there. Went so far as to research job opportunities, the climate, etc.
The notion was fleeting. The Pacific Northwest is my home, and I love it here. I don’t want to live anywhere else, I wrote.
In retrospect, I get it. In 2011, I was pretty driftless. Unemployed, broke, and single (until Tara and I started dating that fall). The prospect of a fresh start somewhere new was appealing. And I’d always been drawn to the Midwest. Omaha seemed as good a place as any.
A decade later, I can finally say I’ve been to Omaha. And you know what? My instincts were pretty sharp. It’s a very cool city!
No, we’re not moving there. But we’ll definitely visit again.
We owe our weekend getaway to Charlie Berens. He’s a comedian from Wisconsin whom we discovered earlier in the year. The dude’s funny as hell and we quickly became fans. He skewers Midwesterners, but in a lovable way. It’s all very relatable.
Charlie’s on tour, and we originally planned to see him in Madison, WI in December. But those tickets were expensive (plus, driving to Wisconsin that time of year can be a dicey proposition). When we saw that he was playing in Omaha on October 9, and tickets were almost $100 cheaper, we were all in. Because Team MarTar is all about the road trips, we decided to make a weekend of it.
So, we took Friday off. And today is Native American Day in South Dakota (Columbus Day elsewhere), which happens to be a paid holiday for both of us. Voila! Instant four-day weekend.
Omaha is about a 7.5-hour drive from Rapid City, plus they’re in the Central Time Zone and an hour ahead. We left at 8 a.m. and arrived shortly after 5:00. Checked into our hotel, conveniently situated in the heart of downtown. We’d decided to splurge on a place where everything was within walking distance. Sure enough, once the valet parked my car, we didn’t even see it again until we left.
Our first impression of Omaha: lots of tall buildings. With a population of 486,051, it’s over 8x bigger than Rapid City…and that shows.
Once we got settled, we made an immediate beeline for the Old Market, Omaha’s arts and entertainment district. We’re drawn to funky places such as this, and the Old Market didn’t disappoint. With its cobblestone streets, art galleries, shops, bars, and restaurants, there was plenty to see and do.
Our first stop was Billy Frogg’s, a college bar with eclectic decor. After grabbing a drink there, we wandered over to Upstream Brewing, which was a little more our speed. Settled in with cocktails and eventually ordered dinner. I couldn’t resist ordering a ribeye, because Omaha steaks are a thing, right? Totally lived up to the hype.
After dinner, we wandered around downtown a bit. For a big(ish) city, Omaha was clean and felt very safe.
Saturday was a full day, and we did a lot of walking. After grabbing brunch a few blocks from the hotel, we headed for the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. I’ve never been on a first-name basis with a bridge before.
Bob crosses the Missouri River, and at one point you are able to straddle the line between Nebraska and Iowa. It isn’t every day you can say you’re standing in two states at once!
Council Bluffs, Iowa, is on the other side of the river. There’s a cool pavilion there with a 30′ statue made out of aluminum pie plates and trays. That’s one way to recycle! You also get a great view of the Omaha skyline from the pavilion.
The weather was overcast but pleasant—in the upper 70s. It was noticeably more humid than back home.
After visiting Bob, we returned to the hotel for a brief respite before going back to the Old Market. We had some killer sushi and ducked into a bunch of shops selling everything from hot sauces to records to antiques. Bought a few things, dropped them off at our room, then walked over to one of the creepiest places we’ve ever been: the Museum of Shadows.
With over 3,000 haunted artifacts, it’s billed as the world’s most haunted museum. And man alive is it dark and eerie. It boasts a huge collection of haunted dolls and clowns, complete with backstories. Ouija boards. Death masks. Coffins.
And that’s just the first floor.
Down below is even worse. Hatchets and other murder weapons. Pentagrams. Bibles used in exorcisms. Tara and I both experienced heaviness and oppression. My heart rate was averaging 105 BPM according to my Fitbit (normally it’s around 70), and Tara felt nauseous and ended up with a mysterious cut on her thumb. I would love to share pics from the Museum of Shadows, but photography was prohibited.
You know what? Maybe that’s for the better.
After the museum, we had a snack and cocktails from a pop-up restaurant before heading to the Omaha Performing Arts’ Holland Center for the whole point of our trip: Charlie freakin’ Berens.
And that was the definite highlight of our weekend. Charlie put on a terrific show that included a Manitowic Minute segment, riffs on Midwest politeness and accents, a bit about how he doesn’t trust anybody who doesn’t have a bag full of bags in their house, and more. He even auctioned off a fishing lure to raise money for veterans. The best part was a segment on Titanic, how if Jack really were from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, the movie would have ended very differently. It included audience participation that ended in an onstage marriage proposal (she said yes), which was pretty cool. It was all really funny. He’s just such a likable and down to earth guy.
Sunday morning, we hit Trader Joe’s and Kolache Factory, a local chain specializing in—you guessed it—kolaches (pastries made with yeast dough that contain sweet or savory fillings) before our long trek home.
All in all, a great weekend…and there is still so much to see and do in Omaha! I hear there’s a pretty nice zoo there…