It’s Milwaukee, Doncha Know

Trip Start Jul 03, 2009
Trip End Aug 16, 2009

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Flag of United States  , Wisconsin
Saturday, August 15, 2009

Maribeth and I both woke up early this morning, jetlag being the last present of our 36 hours of travel from the "day" before. Wide awake at 6:30am, and hungry for dinner, we headed downstairs. My parents have a comfortably sized house, but the 9 of us have filled it to capacity, and there are bodies in almost every room. But we all get along, so the proximity is mostly a good thing. (It also, unfortunately, doesn't happen very often that we’re all together, with people in Milwaukee, Madison, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia.)  Of course, my parents were already up. Slowly the rest of the house joined suit.

My dad has dual careers, which, growing up, I never thought of as an unusual pair, but I suppose many might. He is a full-time theology teacher, and a part-time mechanic at the small business that his father and uncle started decades ago. This mix is a fortunate one for our family, and it is inevitable that when we’re all together, at least one person will have a need for his skills. This morning it was my brother Dave, and he and Dad headed down to the station.

The rest of the family took a walk down the bike path that forms the back edge of my parent’s property. The path, a former rail line, bisects the city of Muskego, and passes an ever-growing collection of suburban development. I know there’s an irony in mourning the loss of farm fields and wilderness—since my parent’s subdivision used to be an apple orchard—but it’s sad that every time I walk here, there’s fewer open spaces, trees, birds, and animal…and more cookie-cutter homes. Okay, off the soapbox: The walk was very pleasant, and I got to catch up with Becky (who is about to begin a Master of Arts program in Charlestown, IL) and Rachel (who is about to move into a new apartment). Everyone we passed on the path greeted us with friendly hello’s (friendliness to strangers is a Milwaukee thing).

Later in the morning, we headed to a local Par 3 golf course for some family fun on the links. The clubhouse, doubling as a bar, was something that time had left behind: an unfriendly owner muttered how much we owed as 3 frat guys now gone to seed drank and smoked (it was 11am). We had a spirited time, and everyone played, even Mom. Maribeth’s game improved significantly when we explained that aiming at the hole is a must.

That afternoon, we discovered the joys of Nintendo Wii. Dad enjoyed the home run derby. Dave schooled us all in bowling. Mom loved the game where you have to ride a cow into haystacks. Maribeth excelled at dodgeball; I’ve seldom seen her happier than when she nailed my character in the head. I was particularly fond of—though not very skilled at—Mario Cart.

Dinner that evening was at Ricardo’s Pizza in the Milwaukee’s downtown Third Ward district—a fun neighborhood of converted industrial buildings and, until recently, a fast-growing collection of condos on the riverfront. Getting there, we passed Milwaukee’s Miller Park (home to the perennially disappointing Brewers, and famous for its retractable roof and Bratwurst sausages), State Fair Park (now in full-swing, famous for its duck fajitas, cream puffs, and, this year, for being the place where some abusive husband beat the crap out of our mayor for trying to protect the guy’s wife), and Irish Fest (one of many ethnic festivals on our city’s lakefront; others include Polish Fest, German Fest, Festa Italiana, Asian Moon Fest, and African World Fest). The common thread among these summer institutions is that they all allow Milwaukeeans to do what they excel at: eating and drinking. Grandma Needles joined us for pizza dinner, and we happily made our way through Cheeseburger, Mediteranean, Veggie, and Cheese pies (all very tasty). For dessert, we planned on another Milwaukee favorite: frozen custard. In my opinion, frozen custard is to ice cream what cocaine is to crack. Ice cream is, as Whitney Houston might say, whack.

Time with Grandma is always a joy, so Maribeth and I lingered for a few minutes while we were dropping her off, only to be summoned back to the minivan urgently because Rachel was feeling sick. But, come on, how bad could it really be? Bad. Real bad. Maribeth has a quick gag reflex, as we saw three times on our 6-week trip. Rachel put Maribeth to shame, yarfing an amazing 10 times in just 5 short hours (she’s better now, fortunately).

Those of us not praying to the porcelain gods ended the night with a spirited game of Taboo, where, in a battle of the sexes, the guys kicked the ladies’ butts. As I fell asleep that night, I felt thankful for this time with my family, however short it might have been.

Tomorrow: Reliving the “most important day of the year”
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