The Nation's Heartland Tour (part 1)

Saturday, August 16 2003 @ 04:03 AM PDT

Contributed by: matt

So, I'm back.

For those of you just tuning in, I flew out to Milwaukee last weekend to help a friend move to Boston. The plan was to arrive in Milwaukee, muck around for the weekend, load the truck on Monday and drive to Boston with a day-long stopover in Sandusky, Ohio, the home of Ceder Point.

Here's what really happened.



I woke up Saturday morning with not a little bit of trepidation. I wasn't concerned so much about the trip, or the possible relationship consequences that might come out of it. Ok, I was a bit nervous about the latter, but what was foremost on my mind was the fact that upon waking I discovered that my roommate was not home.

More accurately, my roommate was still not home. He had gone out the previous evening with absolutely no money in his pocket (he scrounged around the house for bus fare) with the intention of meeting some friends who were going to see a Guns 'N Roses cover band at a bar a couple miles away. It was about 9 AM, and like I said, he still wasn't home.

The reason this was a problem, of course, was that he was my ride to the airport, and I had a 12:45 flight.

At about quarter past 10, I got a call from him letting me know that he was on his way home. By the time he arrived, it was fairly well established that he was far too hungover to operate a motor vehicle, and the girl he's seeing volunteered to drive me in.

On the way to the airport there were some strange noises coming from the undercarriage of her car, so when we stopped I poked my head down and let her know that her muffler was being dragged along, and that she should probably have that looked at. I didn't know at the time that this would later fall into the category of "foreshadowing."

I walked into the airport, and one of the first things I noticed was that there seemed to be a dearth of people in the terminal. There was pretty much nobody walking around, and there were precisely two people going through security. I figured that I had lucked out, and that I was one of the few people flying AirTran that day. Needless to say, this was not the case. I rounded a corner to see a line for check-in that was at least a hundred yards long. My bags and I settled in for a long wait.

As far as I can tell, almost nobody that was flying AirTran that day was the type of passenger who walks up to the desk, hands the person their ticket and ID, puts their one checked bag on the scale and is promptly rewarded with a boarding pass. Instead, there were baby carriages, wheelchairs, and golf clubs cluttering the line, and pretty much everyone needed to have a five to ten minute conversation with the poor bastards working the desk. My suspicion is that AirTran doesn't attract frequent flyers. In fact, I would further generalize so far as to say that people that fly a lot probably wouldn't want to fly on that airline. There's nothing specific I can point to in terms of faulting the staff, the procedures, or the equipment, but everything somehow felt shoddy.

Anyway, to make a long story short (too late), I had a less than fulfilling, but functionally adequate flight to Milwaukee.

Once there, I was picked up by my friend who took me back to her building by way of a fairly comprehensive tour of downtown Milwaukee. This was the idea of one of her neighbors whose goal was for me to be left with the impression that there is culture in that city. I will gladly admit that yes, there is culture in Milwaukee. I feel the need to immediately temper that statement by also opining that there doesn't seem to be a hell of a lot of anything that is particularly unique to Milwaukee. One of the least unique qualities that the city seems to have is an inferiority complex.

One of the facts that denizens of the city are fairly quick to point out is how clean it is there, compared to other cities. I fully recognize that coming from the northeast, I am particularly biased on this point, but what I got from seeing a city that clean (which it certainly is) is the feeling that it was antiseptic. At one point, we drove through what I was told was one of the worst neighborhoods they have there (I can't remember the name of it), and right up until the moment she said that, I had been thinking about how much it reminded me of the neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio that I had lived in oh so many years ago, while simultaneously evoking images of the neighborhood that I live in now. It was as if this place that we were driving through was the confluence of the way I lived now, and the way I lived in the first house that I can remember. From what I can tell, were I to move to Milwaukee, I would be most comfortable in what they consider to be a ghetto.

After the tour we headed back to her apartment to get ready for dinner and then drinks with a few of her friends. She had volunteered our services to a neighbor for Sunday morning, and in return the neighbor took us to a fairly interesting mexican restaurant that had a dinner special every day that was all you can eat alaskan king crab for $16.95. As odd as that sounded to me at the time, it was very good and if I could remember the name of the place, I'd recommend it.

Once dinner was over, we made our way to a downtown bar called the Hi Hat Lounge, which was a pretty cool place. The Hi Hat is exactly the kind of bar that I enjoy going to when I'm in another city, which is to say that it's precisely the kind of bar that I wouldn't generally go to while at home. Their website will give you a better idea of what I mean. After a bit of carousing there, we headed home for some much needed sleep. (The two weeks leading up to this trip were basically non-stop work for me because I was, and still am, facing ludicrous deadlines on two different projects simultaneously. The timing of this trip wasn't what you'd call ideal.)


The next morning, bright and ugly, we started our indentured servitude. The project was to help the neighbor and her boyfriend pick up various appliances from seemingly random locations throughout the greater Milwaukee area and deliver them to the neighbor's new house. This, while fairly sweat inducing due to the weather (hot and humid), wasn't all that bad, and we were done by about one o'clock, at which point we headed over to the Wisconsin State Fair, which was going on down the street from the apartment.

I had never been to a legitimate state fair. In New England, there are a whole slew of county fairs that go on all through the summer, but none of the ones I've been to compare in scale to this one. Another thing I should point out is that my friend is really into animals. Like, really into them. The first thing we did when we got there was to check out the livestock exhibits, and to give you a sense of what I'm talking about, picture a building the size of a large barn or a medium sized warehouse. That's the size of the building that had pigs in it. It was full. There was another that had goats and sheep, and another that had poultry. An even larger building had horses and cows. We saw them all.

This is me rolling my eyes.

Now, don't get me wrong. I recognize that I have very little understanding of the day to day operations of an agricultural society. I accept that there are good reasons for livestock shows and other such things, but that doesn't mean that I know what those reasons are, or understand why people would want to spectate. I would expect a similar reaction from a farmer that happened to get dragged into a computer show, so I try not to pass judgement, sometimes with less success that I would like.

At any rate, once that was overwith, we went into the "Products Pavillon" or whatever they called it, where we found all sorts of good stuff that is made locally, mostly using the animals we were just hanging around with. They had all manner of dairy products, meats, candies, soy sauce (apparently Kikkoman is based in Wisconsin), and other random things. If you ever have the opportunity and the dietary inclination, I highly recommend buying a cheeseburger from a beef association booth. I'm not sure if the bun was of local wheat, but I got the impression that the meat had very recently been the resident of a stall a couple of buildings over, and the cheese was fantastic. In my area, it's really hard to get excited about american cheese, but this stuff knocked the socks off of even the really expensive, really good deli stuff.

After we were done walking around the fair, we headed out to the barn where she keeps her horses to go for a sunset ride. I wish I could tell you that we went for a nice trail ride through the meadows and rolling hills that seemed to be everywhere around us, but... no. It had been over a decade since I had touched a horse, and even back in the days of my youth when I had ridden for a couple of summers in a row, I wasn't that good. Riding a horse to me has always felt something like climbing a cargo net. There are handholds and footholds, but none of them are particularly solid, and oh yeah, this cargo net might get the idea in his head that he wants to do something else entirely right about when you get on top of them. Let's just say that the conversation went something like, "C'mon, go that way, dammit..." as we slowly circled around the inside of a small corral. My ride ended when the horse decided that it really wanted to go back to his stall, and didn't particularly care what I wanted to do, or even if I were still on top of him when he got there.

After she worked her horse for a little while, we headed back. We knew that we had a long day ahead of us.


Continued...

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