|When I was in Milwaukee in June, I took exactly one photograph: this.
I'm driving up to Milwaukee this afternoon to take in a Bucks game. Not a typical outing for me, but my brother-in-law is in town from California for Thanksgiving. He's a basketball fan and suggested going to the game, and I couldn't very well say no. It's been years since I've been to a basketball game; heck, with COVID, it sometimes feels like it's been years since I've been anywhere. They're playing the Cavaliers. Who knows? Maybe it'll be fun.
Plus Milwaukee's only an hour away. Seventy miles due north. Thinking about the trip, I started assembling what I knew of the place. Milwaukee is the four-faced Allen-Bradley clock tower that announces you've arrived — usually, in my case, while passing through to some destination further north in Wisconsin, a state whose cheddar cheese friendliness has become curdled in recent years by all their red state nuttery. They don't fly flags declaring, "We've gone insane!" But the effect is the same.
Not that I never stop in Milwaukee. I visited there for lunch in June, driving that new Porsche Taycan on a mad tour of charging stations. The Milwaukee Art Museum has this intricate, white, wing-like architecture that opens to greet the dawn, and 11 Georgia O'Keeffe's. My wife organized a visit there, as a sort of family field trip, maybe a decade ago. It's been a while since I read it, but I remember their display had an unmistakable Badger State slant, presenting O'Keeffe as a Wisconsin artist who grew up on a farm in Sun Prairie and, later, also did some work in the Southwest. It's as if the Art Institute of Chicago colored her as a Chicago artist because she went to school here for a year.
Otherwise, we did once drive up to tour Marquette for our younger boy, which I think was some kind of homage on his part to Bulls star Jimmy Butler, who went there. I have the vaguest memory of red brick buildings, an urban school, and an immediate sense that this wasn't the place for him. Sports fandom must skip generations.
And at some point — I think it was for the pranks book, which would make it the early 1990s, I drove up to use the library, and remember parking downtown on the strangely unpopulated main drag thinking, "It's so easy," and later meeting a former colleague from the Green Bay Press Gazette, where I interned during college, at some vast, empty German restaurant.
That's about it.
The odd thing about Milwaukee is, despite having lived, if not quite in its shadow, then in close proximity, for the past 45 years, is how neutral I feel toward the place. I don't mind going, but also wouldn't feel bereft if I never went back. There's no sense of competition — Milwaukee has a quarter the population of Chicago — but also none of that automatic desire to tease a rustic hamlet. I don't have a lot of associations with Milwaukee — big for beer in the 19th century and, I suppose, still, and while I am a particular fan of Pabst NA in those blue cans — it tastes just as bad as regular Pabst — it isn't like I want to tour the plant and see them make the stuff.
This has to reflect lack of initiative on my part. Maybe next year it would be worthwhile trying to get to know Milwaukee better, establish a sort of virtual Sun-Times Milwaukee Bureau and cable back some reports next summer. Who knows? There must be more to the place that I'm missing.