In The Footsteps Of My Grandfather

Project Fifty

The Corn Husker State, aptly named, eluded me for too long.  Having visited all of its neighbors (Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, and Missouri), it takes a freakishly unusual traveler to circle a state, yet never pass through it.  A number of other states fell into this “missed” category (North Dakota, Rhode Island, Oregon, West Virginia) so I developed a plan: Project Fifty.  In theory, an effectively executed plan would ensure I visit all fifty states before my fiftieth birthday.  Phase one of the plan began with Nebraska, but what do tourists do in the Great Plains state along the Missouri River?

A smidgeon of research highlights the must-sees of Omaha, starting with the zoo.  Justin Bieber played a concert the night I arrived.  By less than a week I missed the College World Series.  Gambling riverboats line up along the banks of the Muddy Mo like the paddleboats of a century ago that sailed the agriculture southward.  I skipped all of them (sorry, Beebs), and I didn’t even partake of a steak dinner.  From the scenery I saw between the airport and the hotel, Omaha appeared to be a lovely city, but I missed the vast majority of it.

The Minors

Downtown Omaha mixes century-old history with shiny new office buildings and converted lofts.  Multiple blocks of quaint shops and assorted cafes bring a small-town ambiance to the center of the city, and the location of my hotel affords me the luxury of a stroll through the old city.  As I wander, I imagine the wooden boardwalks in front of the boom-town era shops combining the cowfolk with the merchants doing business and building the West.  A street musician barely older than Son #1 plays “Hallelujah” on his guitar and I stand quietly in front of a storefront ignoring the display and focusing on the ballad.  Eighty years prior, my grandfather, a former resident of the town, may have stood on this same street corner listening to the sounds of his city.

Grandpa, whom I never met, had a minor profession as a baseball player in this island amid the seas of cornfields. Years before he met Grandma, he smacked the leather around the ball field and made what historically would have been a barely sustainable wage, and probably only a part-time gig, as he would have sought out other employment during the off season.  More than once in my life I traveled for my love of the game (see Are You Ready for Some Baseball? from March 2012), but this venture more than kicks off Project Fifty with a trip to Rosenblatt Stadium for a minor league ballgame.  This excursion pays tribute to Ople who loved the game first.  Thanks, Grandpa, for creating a memory for me before I was even born.

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