Travel report: Omaha & Kansas City
We flew the day before the show, because these days I just do not trust flying the day of the show, and overnighted in Kansas City near the airport. I started feeling flu-ish while sitting at LGA, and all I wanted to do when we arrived was go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep. We hit Waffle House and then Target in the morning (where I stocked up with about 4 different kinds of Vitamin C products, as well as drinks and snacks) before getting on the road. There was nothing exciting about the drive from KC up to Omaha up 29, a route I am familiar with from a cross-country drive in 2003. It was hot and bleak in the summer and it was grey and bleak but not cold, thankfully. (The weather the entire trip was an absolute blessing. It could have been frigid or wet and frigid and it was close to 60 most days.)
There is literally nothing on 29 between Omaha and KC. No interesting local food, no odd roadside attraction, no old diner or historical marker that is worth a stop — I looked. Yes, the Pony Express originated in St. Joseph but there was nothing kitschy or remarkable about the place that made it worth budgeting a stop in either direction. I was consuming massive hits of Vitamin C every hour on the hour; psychosomatic or not, it felt like it helped.
Omaha was predictably tiny (she says, as a snobbish big city person). We stayed downtown near the arena because it was what was available with hotel points. There were brass buffalo statues across the street from the hotel; we got there early enough, and it was nice enough (almost 60 degrees!), to warrant walking to the old market area. But the one route we took — the officially signposted route — was kind of deserted, in that “people are working in these tall office buildings but outside of lunchtime these streets are kind of empty, except for various loitering groups of unsavory folk” way. (Downtown Seattle used to be like that in the mid-90’s.) There were multiple old office buildings with condo or loft conversion signs posted on them, which will do a lot to revitalize things; I am a big fan of adaptive reuse.
On the way to the old market, we stumbled onto a beautiful old art deco hotel. Just when I was about to go in and gawk at the glittery, tiny lobby, we saw people we recognized heading towards the entrance and beat a hasty retreat; I did not come to Omaha to stalk the E Street Band, even unintentionally, and the lobby was too small to hang out and not feel like a stalker.
The old market area was cute and had interesting shops and restaurants in multiples. (If you just relied on Chowhound, you would think that there were only two worthwhile restaurants in the city.) I had randomly picked a lunch destination just by looking around the map, but en route, we were entranced by the specials on a Tex-Mex place called Stokes Bar & Grill and decided to go in there instead. It was empty and pleasant and the food was interesting and delicious. I especially appreciated that while every 5th or 6th song on the PA was Springsteen, it was not your standard blasting-Glory-Days routine that most places go for on show day, the choices were more thoughtful.
On the way back we hit two record stores, Drastic Plastic (which had a great name and fun t-shirts but not much more than that) and Homer’s, right across the street, which had a great selection of used and new CD’s and used vinyl. We did a little damage there, and felt like we had contributed appropriately to the local economy.
It was quite a novelty to be able to walk to the venue. I enjoy taking public transportation to shows, but it is rare that I get to actually walk there. It reduces stress at such an exponential level I wonder why I do not do this more often. (It was a reason I would have paid extra for a hotel near Hyde Park had it been difficult to find one, because I did not want to add transit stress to a very long day.)
Post-show food is always a problem. We try to eat a late lunch and carry snacks but GA makes food difficult. What we define as “late” is not what the rest of America defines as “late”. Short of getting into the car and heading to a Perkins or a Denny’s on the outskirts of town, we were coming up empty handed until I found the Localmotive food truck, which parks in the Old Market and is open until 2:30am, and prides itself on sourcing local ingredients. Frankly, they could have deep fried everything, we would have been happy to have it. Post-show, we beat a frigid and rapid path to the food truck (unintentionally through what is downtown Omaha’s great scenic viewpoint) and waited in a brief line with drunk people (who suddenly lost the ability to read a signboard and order food in an efficient manner) before doing the same back to the hotel.
This was my first real trip to Omaha (I’d only driven through before), and so I couldn’t leave the city without making a trip to the Saddle Creek Shop to pick up a Desaparacidos shirt (since the revived band is not making it to New York, at least not right now) and a cute tote bag for $5. They have a tiny museum with some historical artifacts of various Saddle Creek artists. Then we reversed ourselves back down 29 (with one stop for gas at a truck stop who had a mini-fridge full of homemade pie; I was almost tempted) and back to Kansas City proper.
An early afternoon arrival at KC tempted us with a nap, since we had been up late filing reports for Backstreets and brucespringsteen.net, but instead we decided to seize the off-hour moment and head into Kansas for a very early dinner of barbeque at Oklahoma Joe’s. When it said “original gas station location” we did not realize that it would still be an actual, working gas station! Miracle of miracles, there was no line (and all of the signage telling people how to line up, and where, made us grateful) but it would have been worth waiting in any line that existed for this food. (This was our second time in KC so we had already done the Gates and Arthur Bryant’s pilgrimages, as well as visits to the ballpark and the Negro Leagues Museum.)
On show day, we walked from the hotel to an amazing brunch destination called Succotash; it seemed like a short walk on the map, but was actually uphill (and we couldn’t have driven because there was a marathon that morning and we were on the marathon route). In the Zagat tradition, this place would be worth a detour. It only does brunch but it does brunch at an incredibly high level. I was grateful for the large selection of fresh squeezed juice and ordered something with carrot and spinach and ginger and a bunch of other good-for-me things to keep whatever nasties in my system far, far away.
Thank you, Kansas City, for being civilized enough to have multiple post-show truly late night food options, including one that was walking distance from the arena. The bar in the Power & Light District (more adaptive reuse!) wasn’t haute cuisine but we could at least have a beer and see our friends before heading back to the hotel to file reports.
On Sunday, we did not bolt early like everyone else seemed to, but slept in and then decided to skip brunch in favor of more barbeque. LC’s is known as the place for burnt ends, and are open on Sundays when the football or baseball teams are playing at home. It was the opposite direction from the airport, but well worth every minute of the drive. If you go, just order one plate of burnt ends, and one side, because they will feed four people, easily. (We did not need both fried okra and fried spicy green beans. Oh, and cole slaw.)
There is nothing near the Kansas City airport and it is one of the tiniest airports I have ever been in; it was originally designed to offer the shortest distance from the driveway to the gate, which quickly became impractical post 9/11. There are also almost no food options in the airport, so we stopped at an Italian deli near the farmer’s market for a sandwich (just one – only one – and the smallest one they sold) to take back on the plane. I would have slept had it not been the worst plane flight ever, but that always seems to matter less on the way home.