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Lost in Omaha

09/02/2013 @ 11:08am

The poem, which originally appeared in an 1869 edition of Harper’s Magazine, warned travelers to avoid a particular city. It reads, in part:

Where sand is blown from every mound

To fill the eyes and ears and throat-

Where all the steamers are aground

And all the shanties are afloat?

Where whisky shops the livelong night

Are vending their poison juice:

Where men are often very tight,

And women deemed a trifle loose?

Those lines were more than enough to intrigue me, so my wife and I packed our bags and headed off for a weekend in that seething vat called Omaha. Our youngest son also lives there, so the idea of visiting him might have been a factor.          

One of the best ways to get a feel for a city and learn about its history is to visit its museums. Strolling inside a climate-controlled structure such as a museum also seemed like a good way to escape the foot-cooking heat we were enduring that weekend.

The Durham Museum is housed in the former Union Station, a stunning art deco structure that was once Omaha’s main train station. Its walls are graced by soaring cathedral windows and its floors are festooned by wonderfully patterned terrazzo. It’s a pretty nice shed.       

In the basement of the Durham, I ran into a fellow South Dakotan named Sue. After leaving South Dakota some years ago, Sue “made good” and became incredibly famous. I instantly recognized her from the innumerable photos that have appeared in the tabloids. Gathering all my courage, I sidled up to her and tried to strike up a conversation.

“So, I hear you’re from out by Faith,” I said, hoping to sound nonchalant.

No response. Sue simply continued to stare straight ahead, a toothy smile frozen on her face.      

“You got a nice set of choppers there. Who’s your dentist? I go to that Dr. Knutzen.”

Nothing! The awkward silence continued for some moments, until my wife finally came over and rescued me.

“Quit talking to that T. rex skeleton!” she admonished. “Why do you always have to embarrass me? I can’t take you anywhere!”

Another good way to gauge a city is by its restaurant scene. That evening, we opted to eschew (ha!) the chain eateries and find something local and unique.

This is how we found ourselves at a tiny cubbyhole cafe named Sgt. Peffer’s. This place should in no way be confused with the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a point that was driven home by the numerous photos of the Beatles that adorned the walls of the restaurant, along with an actual Sgt. Pepper album.

But the food was zesty, authentic, and very filling. In short, it was everything you could want from an Italian eatery.

Across the street was a little gin joint that boasted Champaign on tap. This struck us as unusual, so we decided to check it out.

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