In 1991 I stepped off the plane in Omaha Nebraska and saw an urban skyline with tall buildings and a spreading city going west from the banks of the Missouri River. I was no longer the world-wide sophisticated traveler I imagined myself to be. I realized in that first glimpse of Omaha that most of us from the East Coast and the West Coast had NO idea about life in the middle of the country.
My daughter and her family moved from the Northeast to Nebraska when her husband accepted a teaching job at Creighton University, a Catholic school in Omaha. Since 1991 I've made frequent trips there. It has taken my daughter almost ten years to become attached to this land and her husband has never fully accepted the Midwestern life. Meanwhile I moved from Maine to California at the end of 1991 and became involved in new media and the Internet. For the next ten years I used my trips to Nebraska as 'research' into how the real people in the real United States were adjusting to CDROMs, then the world wide web, then ubiquitous home computers, and finally the Internet as a serious part of life.
I've learned over the years that the Midwest is a complete, well-run, often prosperous, and often innovative 'nation' within our country. (Full disclosure: I believe California should be a separate country.) People raised in the Midwest attend colleges and universities there and receive excellent educations. They may move from city to city in the Midwest but often have no desire to be on the East Coast or the West Coast. After all these years I am still hearing West Coast people ask where IS Nebraska; what do people do there all day; why do you go there?
Here's my latest trip from March 5th to March 13th, 2007:
Arrive Monday night, March 5th – two feet of snow, 20 degrees F. Main streets plowed; local streets full of snow. Front steps of house cleared; driveway ice. My granddaughter, 17, comes home about 6:30 PM wearing thin cotton shorts – yes shorts – and sneakers. She was dropped off and had walked up the icy driveway about 60 feet uphill. "Oh Grandma … I was in a car."
After dinner my grandson, 15, is already glued to his computer. He makes me listen while he lip syncs his favorite song … Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. He has about six more songs that Grandma must hear and then he's into his Japanese Manga stories which he reads for the next three hours – and all the commentaries and related stories about his favorites. New chapters are published each week and then everyone comments on them. He just reads, though, and has not yet posted anything. Nor does he express ambitions to write his own.
For the next few days I mostly sit in the large, peaceful house and create my new blog.For three days I am on an intense learning curve but finally I succeed. I'm grateful for this undistracted time in Omaha to finally work on this blog project. I read the papers and see that Wakonda's Dream Festival, an opera I had wanted to see, is having its debut in Omaha but I do not attend. I also read that Kurt Anderson, the founder of Spy Magazine, a native of Omaha, is publishing a story soon in the NY Times about the transformation of Omaha into an arts center. Yes, there are galleries and music venues and opera and orchestra and spoken word performances. Omaha is lively.
During the day I take a ride out into the country. Omaha ends pretty abruptly and I'm driving through corn fields. I don't take any pictures because I have done this before and I can't get anything to show in the pictures except a few black dots which are houses on the horizon before the vast sky. Snow is everywhere but the temperature is going up every day.
Nebraska Sculpture – Storage tank in Omaha
I read in the paper that 500,000 sandhill cranes are at a large nature preserve, so I try and find the preserve I had visited ten years ago where I saw 250,000 snow geese in November on their way south. I find a preserve but it is the wrong one.
I go for a short walk on the snow and ice and catch glimpses of the Missouri River and read about Lewis and Clarke. It's only at this moment that I first understand that they followed the Missouri River northwest in 1805 and that's how they were able to traverse this vast unsettled land. The preserve I want, I learn later, is near Kearny Nebraska, about a four hour drive, so I don't go. (Two weeks later I learn that two friends from Maine drove four days to Kearny to see the sandhill cranes!) I drive to the town of Blair, look around, and drive home. I cannot describe in words the feeling the open space and quiet and expanse of sky give me; it took me a long time, too, to 'feel' Nebraska and this trip is the first time I contemplate living there.
Besides creating my blog, the only other thing I did was check out some real estate. I'm still sorry I passed up the cranes and the big bull auction in Gordon Nebraska. This was their advertisement which I thought of posting on http://sfbay.craigslist.org/cgi-bin/personals.cgi?category=w4m as a personal ad:
We are extremely proud of our herd sires here at Whitestone-Krebs. We spend great time and energy searching for sires that meet our strict criteria. A WK herd sire, must possess exceptional performance and impeccable genetic makeup, along with flawless structural and muscular conformation. Breeding cattle in large pastures under range conditions demands that these sires be athletic and mobile, with sound feet and legs, and good bone. Many of our breeding pastures are a section in size or more (600 acres), and these bulls must not only service their cows quickly and efficiently, they must have the fleshing ability to forage on grass and maintain their condition. Though artificial insemination is used here at the ranch, all of these herd sires see natural service every year.
It's a buyer's market now; many houses are for sale. For $135,000 one can purchase a completely respectable house in a residential neighborhood. For $70,000 one can do the same in a more 'iffy' neighborhood in Omaha. The city has expanded westward where one finds the usual McMansions and endless condo developments. More interesting is the downtown renaissance where lofts and apartments are appearing monthly. Omaha was a great stockyard center and railroad junction on the Missouri across from Iowa. Old brick warehouses have been restored; the old Market neighborhood attracts tourists and residents alike. Lofts can cost from $175,000 to $600,000 – seems steep for the Midwest.
My children and grandchildren, however, have enjoyed a very sane, stimulating and interesting life for fifteen years and I believe it's only another ten years or so until families like this one will revitalize many of our non-coastal cities where living and raising children have become difficult (if not impossible) and expensive. In the long run I have been happy to see the life of this family unfold, although at first I was a horrified bi-coastal!
On Saturday I take my granddaughter out for lunch after her early morning SATs. She chooses a Persian restaurant in the Old Market. The food is delicious including excellent Turkish coffee. There has been a St. Patrick's Day parade a week early so I can offer you this green horse that we really did see on the street. She didn't know the landmark diner in the Old Market from the days before it was fashionable, but I ate there every morning.
Gay Nebraskan celebrating St. Patrick's Day early
My daughter and her husband returned from their trip to Rome which sounded like a Dan Brown novel. He is connected to many seminarians in Rome so they dined in ancient Jesuit monasteries and visited inner sanctums (sanctii??) of the Vatican and walked around the city with an archaeological historian. I left Omaha 70 degrees and sunny, warmer than home in San Francisco.