Happy In Bag

Monday, July 11, 2005

Omaha On Purpose

The American Airlines flight crew blearily held the elevator door for us at eleven on Friday night.

"What brings you to Omaha?" a pilot asked. "You’re only here because you have to be, right?" As a matter of fact, we spent a weekend in Omaha by choice. And I’d do it again. I’m not ready to move to Nebraska, but there’s enough going on there that I wouldn’t dismiss the idea outright.

We wheeled our trip around Omaha’s Shakespeare On the Green, which featured both the challenging Pericles and more common Othello. Remarkably, neither play has been performed at Kansas City’s Shakespeare festival.

I didn’t see any signs, but it must have been Rednecks and Rubes night at Othello on Friday night. I sensed trouble when almost a quarter of the crowd brought their hounds to the play. It looked and sounded more like a coon hunt than a theater. We were awash in barking, yipping and snarling dogs. What compelled people to bring their pets to a three-hour drama- and why the festival would allow it- is beyond me. Other festival goers behaved as Kenny Chesney was on stage, whoopin' and a'hollerin' throughout the evening.

Similar boorish behavior followed us around Omaha. An inordinate amount of people were rude and ill-mannered. It was so bad that the angry, loud-mouthed New Yorker we sat next to at the first-rate Zio's Pizzeria, was one of the more pleasant people we met on our trip. Most obnoxious were the staggering number of barbarians who sneezed without covering their facial orifices, seeming to intentionally spray their germs of ignorance at passerby. Maybe it’s an Omaha thing.

Thankfully, the audience for Saturday’s Pericles was more refined. The actors were good-Megan Ann Bartle playing the distressed Marina made a special impression on me- and the modest production was solid, although the script was stripped of the play’s most severe elements, including the entire first act. While decent, Omaha’s production is not nearly of the quality we have in Kansas City. And the setting next to a roaring power plant isn’t as nice, either.

The Henry Doorly Zoo, on the other hand, shames Kansas City’s walk-a-thon equivalent. The aquarium, highlighted by sharks and penguins is great, but the desert dome (pictured) is spectacular. I loved the hummingbirds and bats, as well as the faux-swamp below the building, which features alligators and beavers splashing underneath the walkways.

Similarly, Omaha’s Old Market is superior to KC’s Westport in terms of size, drinking establishments and eateries. And within walking distance is the new 14,000-seat Qwest Center, which is hosting Paul McCartney and Neil Diamond this summer. Both acts bypassed KC this year. If that's not enough diversion, five minutes in a car gets you to a sort of casino alley, a refreshing change from KC’s far flung dens of sin.

Guaranteed good times are to be had at Rosenblatt Stadium, home of the AAA Royals and of the College Baseball World Series. The quality of play at Sunday’s game against The Ranger’s farm team was almost equivalent to what’s at bat at Kauffman Stadium. In fact, this season, my wallet and I would prefer attending Omaha Royals games. And perhaps best of all is the difference in temperature. It's only a few degrees cooler in Omaha, but somehow its summer heat is less oppressive.

Kansas Citians with an interest in our recent construction boom and related urban planning activity might find the three-hour drive north on I-29 instructive. Pound-for-pound and block-for-block, Omaha may be the superior city. Its residents just need to be introduced to Kleenex.


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