Thursday 19 July, 2012

Day 34 – Milwaukee


I was really looking forward to seeing my old hometown again. Despite leaving it 25 years ago, I still think of it fondly. I budgeted three days here, at least one for bike maintenance. I was time for another oil change, and more. The high number of freeway miles I’ve put on it had caused [...]


I was really looking forward to seeing my old hometown again. Despite leaving it 25 years ago, I still think of it fondly. I budgeted three days here, at least one for bike maintenance. I was time for another oil change, and more. The high number of freeway miles I’ve put on it had caused the tires to flatten in the middle, not good for cornering performance. The brakes were feeling weak too, so they had to get new pads.
I entered the north side of Milwaukee and headed for my house in Brown Deer. Northridge Mall was on the way so I stopped in. It’s where I had my first retail job at a clothing store called Silverman’s (like Ben Afleck’s store in Mallrats). I couldn’t believe what I saw. Not only had the whole neighborhood collapsed, the mall itself was abandoned. The scene looked like a third world country. I had a Back the the Future 2 feeling come over me. Was I in some alternate reality, what had gone wrong?

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Every business in the area had changed or gone out of business, the whole area seemed totally neglected. I saw the old house on Grandview Dr. At least that had been spared. Still, a feeling of dread had settled over me.

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I spent the afternoon wandering the city, and everywhere I went, the same tired, run down feeling followed me. I asked people I ran into about the city, thinking maybe it was my memory that was faulty, but everyone said the same thing. The bad parts of the city were expanding. The economic downturn had hit pretty hard, tipping the scales in many neighborhoods. One tough looking biker, with tattoos covering most of his body said ” oh yeah, Milwaukee is way shittier. You couldn’t pay me to live here”.

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I headed for the upper east side. Historically the wealthy neighborhoods were there along the lake. That’s where my grandparents lived and I went to high school. Those areas were just as I remembered. River hills, Fox Point, Shorewood, and Whitefishbay seemed unscathed (although Bayshore Mall in Whitefishbay now had a force of armed security guards and signs limiting the hours when minors could be in the mall).

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I decided to see how the area around the college was doing. UWM has about 40,000 students and the lower east side neighborhoods around it were always funky. The bay area equivalent would be Haight street or Berkeley. The heat of the day was getting to me (99+ degrees in places) so I stopped in to my favorite art house theater, The Oriental. It was showing Moonrise Kingdom, an amazing and beautiful film by Wes Anderson. I had beer and soaked up the lavish, 100 year old decor of this landmark movie house.

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Feeling more upbeat after seeing a brilliant film, I returned to my hotel. Tomorrow I was going to visit two of my favorite places.

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