Don’t get me wrong. I like it here just fine. I’m enjoying retirement and feel that life, generally, is pretty good to me. Bonnie and I are reasonably healthy and haven’t yet had to worry about how we are going to manage for the future. I suppose that could change, but it’s not a real worry, especially since Omaha is the home of two major medical schools and multiple hospitals, so all forms of health care are immediately available. (Yes, “old” people probably worry about such things more than younger ones do, but it is comforting to know that medical care is convenient and in good supply when needed.)
Anyway, after living here a while, I’ve noticed some differences between living in Omaha and living in Sylva/Webster/Cullowhee. Not “earth shaking” stuff, but things I have noticed, which come to mind if I think about such things. So, I thought I’d make note of a few of them.
First, it’s a good deal drier here than in the NC mountains. As one who has always perspired freely, this is something I noticed early and with a degree of pleasure. Now, there seems to be a price to pay for this in terms of substantially hotter summers and colder winters. For example, I don’t remember temperatures above 100°F being very common in summer in the mountains, nor do I remember wind chills of -15°F during the winter. While these are certainly not everyday events here, they do happen, and are not considered “freakish.” On the other hand, the substantially lower humidity does make a difference as the heat, while it can be oppressive, is (perhaps) a bit less uncomfortable, and the cold, while extreme, is manageable, or would be if one could keep out of the seemingly ever-blowing wind (another difference from the mountains). We also get a good deal more snow than we got in the mountains (we had four or five rounds of measureable [but not deep] snow in the last couple of weeks), but we haven’t really had anything like a Western North Carolina ice storm since we moved here. Yes, we’ve had more snow, but mostly it’s been relatively light, fine and dry, as opposed to the less frequent thick, big and heavy snow we tended to get in the mountains.
Now Omaha is hilly enough (surprise, surprise) that travel can get more than a bit tricky when the roads get icy, but that’s partly the price one pays for more urban living, as it also provides the solution. I’ve been amused at the vehemence of the frustration expressed when snow snarls up the roads for a few hours, when I remember that there were times (like the “Blizzard of ’93”) when even the main roads in the mountains were all but impossible to traverse for several days and schools could be closed for days on end. I remember that I DID make it to the ’93 USITT Conference in Wichita after being snowed in for several days that Spring, but Bonnie and Maggi (who I left at home) were without water or electricity for several more days even when they could get out of the house. I was doing my PhD course work during the winter of 1977, so we were in Athens that January, but Jackson County was just about closed down for most of that month due to snow. Yes, closures and cancellations do occur here, but it’s rare that one can’t get around on even the “neighborhood” streets for more than a day, or so, and the main streets are generally traversable within a few hours, although a few of the steeper hills can be a bit of a problem during “rush” hours.
Of course, the amount of salt, sand and other “deicing” stuff that get used means that the car washes (of which there are a lot) get a good deal of business as soon as the roads start to dry up and the weather gets above freezing. Then, the lines get long as everyone wants to get the “gunk” off of their cars. Oh, well, it IS good to have a clean car and I rarely have to be in too much of a hurry.
Before I leave the topic of the weather, I should probably point out that my favorite local weatherman puts a number on each day’s weather with 1 as “Stay Inside;” 2 “Horrible;” 3 “Nasty;” 4 “Unpleasant;” 5 “Livable;” 6 “Okay;” 7 “Pleasant;” 8 “Beautiful;” 9 “Spectacular;” and 10 “Top Ten Day!” Now in order to qualify for a “10,” the weather has to include a high in the 70's with only light wind and no rain. (Note both the implication that we don’t get more than, maybe, ten of these a year [which seems to be true] and the exclamation point in the designation.) That's because, while I would NOT say the weather is bad around here, it IS pretty rare that we have the conditions indicated for a “Top Ten” day, which I would be happy to have more frequently.
Bonnie and I have enjoyed both the Nebraska and Iowa PBS TV stations since we moved here as we are close enough to Iowa that our cable provider includes both states in even a pretty basic package. On the other hand, I don’t remember the North Carolina PBS station (which we eventually [there’s a long story there, but now’s not the time…] got and watched with some regularity) nor the South Carolina one (which was listed in the Asheville paper as I remember it, but which we didn’t get in Sylva) having multiple channels. NET (Nebraska’s PBS Stations) has NET, NET World, NET Create, and NET PBS KIDS and IPTV (Iowa Public Television) also has the same four channel designations, although the local content is not always identical. Maybe most “educational networks” have multiple channels now, but I hadn’t encountered this until we moved here.
What I don’t remember on PBS channels in my past, however, is featured coverage of state-wide high school competitions of various sorts. Here, on the other hand, state high school football championships, as well as basketball, baseball, wrestling, and, perhaps, others are regularly on the main state PBS channels. I even remember the Iowa State High School Music Festival being broadcast last spring, which really surprised me (although it pleased me, as well).
Now it must be said that Husker sports, especially football, is (in fact) the true religion of Nebraska. Football “season” lasts about 360 days a year (there MIGHT be a few days off) and the local news starts the countdown to the “Spring Game” just a few days after the end of the Fall season and recruiting for football is major news at any time. This past fall, when they fired the current Head Coach (the second time since we moved here), there has been NO break in football “news,” as hiring a new Head Coach dominated virtually all other state news at the time, and the prospects for “next year” remain as popular topics.
Given those observations, I suppose that the broadcast of state-wide high school athletic championships shouldn’t surprise me, but I don’t remember seeing such things in other places I have lived. Still, if they are going to cover high school athletics, it was nice to see some recognition for high school choruses, orchestras, etc. as well. It makes me think that I may not be the only one who thinks that the arts might be as important as sports, at least to some.
Omaha is a very “foody” town, too. Now, I suppose that after Sylva/Cullowhee almost anyplace could qualify as “foody,” but Omaha really seems to think of itself as a “foody” town. There are restaurants of all types just about everywhere. There are, of course, about all of the major, well-known chains, but there are a lot of locals, although a good number of these are small chains with 2-3 stores in different parts of town. The Omaha Magazine runs a “Best in Omaha” popularity contest (anyone can vote, probably many do more than once) each year in a variety of categories including 60 different types of restaurants. There are categories for just about every sort of restaurant I can think of from “American Dining,” to “Cheap Eats,” to “Indian Dining,” to “Korean Dining,” to “Pasta,” to “Romantic Restaurant,” to “Seafood,” to “Sushi,” to “Thai,” with a lot of other categories along the way. (NOTE: there is NO category for “Irish food,” I assume because that’s considered “Pub Grub,” so it doesn’t count as food (?). On the other hand, there ARE a fair number of Irish pubs around, so “pub” food is as easy to find as most any other kind.
And, all these restaurants seem to do business because people go out to eat a LOT. We probably go out less than most of the people we know, perhaps because we’re just not used to doing so, after having a limited number of options for so long. We do belong to a couple’s dinner group which gets together once a month at someone’s house for “Drinks and Appetizers,” followed by all going out to a restaurant of the “host couple’s” choosing for dinner. I think the group has been together for a good while, and has only repeated two or three times, and that’s been after most of the membership has changed. When one considers that we meet on Friday evening, this little duplication is surprising since many restaurants really don’t want to make a reservation for twenty, or so, on a Friday night, as they already have good business on the weekend, and twenty is a big number to accommodate without a separate “party” room, which many don’t have. And, we’ve never been to a national “chain.” One does NOT have to worry about not being able to find whatever kind of food one desires in this town. On the other hand, there may be a problem deciding on a cuisine which suits everyone.
I suppose it’s because fireworks were, at least technically, illegal in NC (except for organized shows) that they were rather few and far between even on the Fourth of July at least where we were. They were around, but not common. In Omaha, it’s legal to sell fireworks for about two weeks beginning about June 25 and to shoot them off in the evenings for about a week leading up to July 4. It’s also legal to set them off in the evenings for a few days around the New Year. I think it’s safe to say that fireworks are a major part of many people’s celebration of these holidays, and I do mean MAJOR. I have no idea what fireworks actually cost, but my sense is that the “good ones” are not cheap. So, people must be spending a lot of money blowing things up because there are fireworks (often pretty large ones) all over the place, especially in July. In fact, a number of churches and civic organizations have fireworks stands as fund raisers, so there must be money to be made from them and “it’s all for a good cause….”
We don’t spend our money on them as I’ve spent too much time playing with pyrotechnic devices for the stage to really want to take chances with that sort of thing. On the other hand, there are couple of hills we know about where one can find a place to park and get a nice view of a good chunk of the city to watch other people spend their money for our entertainment. We can even do it to some extent from our front porch, as we have some neighbors who seem to enjoy entertaining us. I confess that I enjoy watching them, but I have little desire to spend $50 or $100 for the privilege of risking getting my fingers blown off. I’ll leave that to the rich and foolish.
AS I write this it is the season known as Lent (the forty days prior to Easter) or, as it is known in Omaha “Fish Fry Season.” I realize that this is a holdover from the days when eating meat on any Friday was a major “No-No” for many who professed to be Christians and this tradition was emphasized during Lent, with some going so say as to “give up” eating meat during the entire Lenten season, etc. I suppose that it’s the much larger percentage of the population of Catholics and Lutherans in this area, but “fish on Friday,” at least during Lent is a BIG thing. There are even listings in the paper and TV news coverage of fish fries.
Now I have to confess that, while I enjoy fried fish (especially good “fish and chips” which are hard to screw up too badly), I have not partaken of the true Omaha Fish Fry experience. That’s largely because Bonnie doesn’t care much for most fish (although we both enjoy broiled salmon and do have it with some regularity) but also partially because of the descriptions of that experience which I have heard and read. Omaha Magazine describes it this way in a story describing what the writer considers Omaha’s six best.
Lent in Omaha--a time of repentance and moderation for devout Catholics—is synonymous with crowded lines of happy, drunken people waiting for heaping piles of deep-fried fish.
Parishioners and non-churchgoers alike rejoice with the approach of Ash Wednesday. Non-Catholics who have never joined in the fun should not hesitate. All are welcome. Lenten fish fries (complete with raffles, pickle cards, and bake sales) are the biggest fundraising event of the year for many Catholic churches, schools, and charities in Omaha.
The beer-infused Friday fry-day gatherings are a popular annual ritual in Midwestern cities with robust Catholic communities. Omaha’s large Catholic population means that several dozen churches will host fish fries throughout the 40 days of Lenten fast (six weeks). Meanwhile, there are plenty of other community groups, such as the local Disabled American Veterans, hosting their own Lenten fish fries.
I have also noted, however, that speeding may be the state sport in Nebraska. There is currently a movement to increase the Interstate speed limit between Omaha and Lincoln (the state capital) from 75 to 80. Since the distance isn’t great (about 50 miles, or about 40 minutes at top highway speed) the actual time saving is minor (about 2 minutes). What’s been interesting is to watch the discussion in the newspaper (especially the “Letters to the Editor”) and notice how many people have pointed out that almost nobody goes as slow as the speed “limit” in any case, so that raising the legal speed would simply mean more people going even faster yet. On the other hand, I’ve still never seen a state where speeding was as common as it is in Tennessee. One does have to be careful about getting run over by the Nebraska speeders, though.
Speaking of accidents on the roads, however. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a place where running yellow lights is as prevalent as it is here. I was taught in Driver’s Ed. that a Red light meant “Stop,” a Green light meant “Go,” and a Yellow light meant “Stop if you can safely do so without blocking the intersection. If you can’t do this, go on through.” Now, that DOES mean the driver has to make a judgement call, which means that one might not always agree with the driver’s decision, but I’m quite sure that it was not the intent of the lawmakers to have the Yellow light mean “Speed up to make sure you get through the intersection before the cross traffic cuts you off.” Still, that’s apparently what was heard (or at least learned) by a large number of Nebraska drivers as witnessed by the number of traffic accidents reported every day and the number I have seen either happen or be narrowly avoided due to people “running” the Yellow.
Oh, well, I suppose there are worse things than to have to learn to be extra careful at stoplights. Still, it frustrates/amuses me to think that people get so wound up about saving a minute, or two, that they want to tie up the legislative process or risk life, limb, and property for so trivial a reason. No, I’m not fond of wasting my time either, but I do prefer to arrive alive and with my car in one piece. It just ain’t that big a thing to take a minute, or two, longer! Besides, it will help people to –