Friday, August 31, 2012

Holiday in Omaha

I arrived at the Megabus stop early enough, about 20 minutes before departure. Only then did I decide to check out my iPhone Megabus app. Unfortunately the bus was running nearly two hours late. Time I could have spent sleeping in, but likely anxiousness would have prevented that.

I briefly considered Burlington Trailways as an option, but at that time I couldn't walk fast enough with my wheeled duffel in tow to get to the station in time to catch it. Eventually the need to give-and-take some liquids compelled me to visit Amici Espresso to hit the head, fill up the travel mug with some decaf and grab a breakfast sandwich to get me through the morning.

Left Des Moines over two hours late. With the spate of Megabus accidents this summer I opted not to take any chances and buckled in, seated in the rear of the lower deck. A few things I took notice of along the way: the wind farm near Walnut, and the artwork adorning the 24th St. Bridge over the interstate passing through Council Bluffs.

Arriving at Omaha near the corner of N. 72nd and Cass close to ten, I quickly trotted the block south to Dodge and in minutes I'm aboard a Metro bus bound for downtown. It's only a few blocks to walk down 13th St. through the downtown park and favorite homeless hangout – Gene Leahy Mall – to get to the Old Market district.

It was too late to get breakfast at the 11-Worth Cafe, about a half-mile way, and still accommodate lunch at La Buvette. Killing time I find a public restroom, then wander about the few blocks of Jackson St. east of 13th. I'd normally visit Hollywood Candy for candy bars infrequently found elsewhere but on this occasion I am content to sit in the shade and relax.

Seated outside at La Buvette I perused the menu on the chalkboard and settled for gazpacho and a buffalo mozzarella plate with an appropriate dry white wine as suggested by my server [see blog post].

Things would have stayed around this high point of the day if I had stayed downtown and found a coffee shop to settle in for the afternoon. Or at the least called ahead to the Durham Museum to see if I could visit with my luggage in tow. But instead I slugged up the long incline of the S. 10th Bridge to the museum and found out the hard way that security would not allow me to stow my duffel aside while I perused the facility. A shame.

For one the museum once housed the Union Pacific's Union Station, and part of that history was the spacious main hall and a consist of rail passenger cars including a steam engine, a Pullman car, a lounge car and caboose. I could have spent hours whiling away the time here. But more significantly, it was a hot day with temps in the high 90s and I dreaded a walk back downtown with the eventual return uphill in the evening.

I continued on up the bridge and found myself halfway up the bluff south of downtown. Spent, I rested a spell in the shade to contemplate my options. The nearest bars open were equally a half-mile away, one back downtown, the other at the Bohemian Cafe. I chose the latter but found a rise to clear along the way.

I was seriously beat by the time I reached the calm confines of the Bohemian Cafe, a landmark Omaha restaurant famous for its Czech fare and huge loaf-sized dumplings, served as thick gravy-laden slices, paired with such meaty main dishes like jaeger schnitzel, sauer braten or goulash.

I've frequented the Bohemian Cafe only but a few times over the last two decades, and never had I took the occasion to visit the little sidebar up front behind the cashier. It's quite an intimate room, best suited as a place of relaxation for the staff without some sweaty stranger barging into its confines. I slake my thirst with a mug of Pilsner Urquell and several glasses of ice water.

The quiet, laid-back atmosphere was restful enough but the selection of TBS sitcom reruns on the primary TV left something to be desired. Jeopardy! followed by the local news was a welcome relief. A few pours of Jim Beam finished my time at the Bohemian.

5 o'clock came and I left to snag a bottle of water for the trip and settled in at Flixx Lounge, only a couple of blocks from the train station for libations in a more liberal setting. I polished off a few gin and tonics while perusing Wheel of Fortune on the idiot screen followed by Wipeout, a particular favorite of the barkeep.

I held off on dinner and planned on getting a carryout pizza from Orsi's Italian Bakery around the corner a few blocks down Pacific St. before they closed at 8 p.m. I had thought I had negotiated with the barkeep to leave my luggage behind while I snagged a combo pizza large enough to share. Back with a half-sheet pan pizza my duffel was safe and sound but neither the barkeep nor any the assembled patrons were eager for a slice.

Crestfallen for purchasing so much to go to waste I take what's left down to the Amtrak station hopeful for some homeless hanging around the adjacent but decrepit Burlington Station to pass my repast on to. Finding none I forced down one more slice before depositing the two-thirds remaining in the dumpster.

The station opened, and with tickets in hand I loitered about the platform in anticipation of the westbound California Zephyr and a night's rest in a sleeper. The train arrived nearly an hour late, and it was a few minutes past midnight before I settled in for the night.

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