Omaha is a town with an identity crisis. Big cities like Chicago or New York are secure enough in their stature that they have simple, silly tourist stuff like “I love NY” T-shirts you’d expect find at an airport or some such tourist trap. Eppley Airfield has those shirts (Omaha T-shirts, not “I love NY” shirts. That would be wHeird), but it also has more glaring signs that truly show it for the fat kid with Coke-bottle glasses at the prom that it can be.
On one screen, there is a photo of Omaha’s meager skyline. I’m not going to trot out the old jokes about “I went to Omaha and I thought it was just gonna be a bunch of cornfields.” Nobody thinks that anymore, and with movies like Election and About Schmidt, you do get a pretty accurate picture of what Omaha looks like. Plus, you’ve got folks like Conor Oberst and Warren Buffet who have also reached international fame for their own reasons, so nobody really thinks Omaha is that bumpkin anymore. But they do think it’s kind of bumpkin because, well, it is kind of bumpkin.
Don’t misunderstand. On that screen alongside the skyline is a list of upcoming events at the Henry Doorly Zoo (2nd most diverse in the country after San Diego), the Omaha Community Playhouse, the Durham and Joslyn Museums, The Holland Performing Arts Center, etc. There’s a lot of things to do and see in Omaha, there’s just less of them than in other cities and they are more spread out. I mean, we do have our own AAA ball club, the Omaha Stormchasers, the AAA club in the Kansas City Royals organization. Not that you would notice since the whole bloody state lives and dies by the Nebraska Cornhuskers (not the” Huskers”, as they are known now. That was the brain child of somebody at the university that wanted Nebraska to be more “hip”. Yeah, that worked. We have a farmhouse and windmill on the license plate. I rest my case), our Division 1 college football team. (By the way, my assertion that the Stormchasers are in the Royals family and the Huskers are indeed “Division 1” are purely guesses. I don’t know and I don’t care. The Chasers could be in the Phillies or Pirates families these days. I don’t know. I was cursed with carrying the mantle of being a Chicago Cubs fan when they won their division in ’89 and I jumped on the bandwagon. I had no idea. And I couldn’t care less about football, college or otherwise. That’s right, I said it. You want to do something?)
The point is Omaha does have a few things that allow it to pass for a small city (actually, it’s a just a big town. It always amuses me when people around here find out through talking that they both know somebody who knows them or know somebody who knows somebody who knows them and they say “Huh! Well isn’t it a small world!” No Ringo, it’s a small town with 2 degrees of separation dividing everyone in this area code). And Nebraska has a couple things that are nefariously note worthy. Charles Starkweather murdered eleven Nebraskans between December 1957 and January 1958. That’s right, we have our own serial killer. Not exactly Ted Bundy or the Son of Sam, but still. And we had the whole Tina Brandon/Brandon Teena story about the transvestite girl who was raped and killed by a couple guys in southwest Nebraska. That one was made into a movie starring Hillary Swank and I think there’s something somewhere that says if Hillary Swank stars in a movie depicting your state, your state has “made it.” Omaha had their very own mass killing/suicide at a Von Maur department store a few years back, too. I mean, somewhere along the line, you have at least heard of Nebraska.
But back to the pastoral nature of Omaha. David Spade has a stand-up routine where he talks about The Eagles playing Hotel California in Tempe, AZ and old Don is singing about a dark Arizona highway with a Sun Devil Breeze in his hair and the crown goes ape shit in that “Yea!! He’s talking about us!!! I’m going to cheer louder because I live in the place that he is singing about!!!!” patronizing display that shows that the boys really did check the marquis before the show to find out which town they were in tonight. Omaha’s Eppley Airfield is like that, only much, much worse. Do you remember the Super Bowl this year? Peyton Manning said “Omaha! Omaha!” something like 37 times during the course of the game. I never quite knew what it meant. I think I heard a radio guy say it was code for Manning calling an audible or audible twice removed or it was his own quirky reminder to buy water chestnuts at the grocery store on Saturday, something like that. Well, the next two days the radio stations were awash about how Peyton was shouting “Omaha!” on Twitter over and over and there was talk of some advertising people were going to approach him to do some spots for MECA (Metro Entertainment and Convention Authority) and on and on. Okay, fine, pro quarterback says the name of the town a lot on television and everyone’s very happy because they feel somehow validated. Good, let’s move on, shall we? Wrong.
When I first saw the shirt, I just sighed. So much for out-of-towners not thinking Omahans are essentially just little kids who want a pat on the head and a lemon cookie. Just print up some of those T’s and sell them at the airport so we can advertise to the world that we are just tickled that Peyton Manning knows our town exists. That the sweatshirts are for sale at all would be bad enough, thought I as I walked down to the Scooter’s Coffee to get a cappuccino.
I had to ask and she told me. She is from Denver, had to move to Omaha for one reason or another, was still a hardcore Broncos fan, and bought the shirt to wear in front of her family and friends, Omaha natives, to mock them because they are all friends of whoever Denver played in the Super Bowl (I’ve told you about me and football right?). The only use I know of for this little gem is to scorn family members. Fantastic.
There’s more, a little more at least, that I could point to that proves that Omaha has a little sumpin’ sumpin’ going on. And what I haven’t mentioned yet is the shear absurdity and downright wHeird stuff.