In A-side/B-side, two Milwaukee Record writers tackle important city issues in an informal, crosstalk style. Insults are hurled, feelings are hurt, and everyone learns something in the end. Maybe.
Matt Wild: It’s the day after 4/14, which means another Milwaukee Day is officially in the books. All across the city, bleary-eyed Brew City citizens are taking down their Milwaukee Day decorations, wrapping their Milwaukee Day nativity scenes in bubble wrap (careful with that David Gruber wise man!), and throwing their Milwaukee Day trees to the curb. It’s sad to see another area code-based holiday go. But look on the bright side, folks: only 364 more shopping days until the next Milwaukee Day!
So Tyler, with all the warm, fuzzy Milwaukee Day vibes still, er, vibing in the spring air, I thought it would be a good time to talk about…Milwaukee! Specifically, what would make you leave Milwaukee? I know that sounds like a bummer of a question (we love to hate at Milwaukee Record!), but hear me out. We just spent an entire day celebrating the things we love about this city; are there any things that, if they were to go away, would make you pack your bags and leave? A specific business, restaurant, or bar? How about an event? Maybe a more nebulous thing, like an attitude, ideal, or value? (Note: Bob Uecker does not qualify for this column because he will never die.)
I’ll start with a couple of personal no-brainers: the Oriental and Downer theaters. They’re absolutely irreplaceable. Often, when I’m scanning the comments on a site like The Dissolve, I’ll see people bemoaning the fact that many “indie”-leaning films are not, in fact, coming to a theater near them. I can’t begin to describe how lucky I am to have two impeccably programmed art-house movie theaters within walking distance from my apartment. (In the case of the Downer, a mere block from my apartment.) Oh, and the Oriental is just plain gorgeous. Add in my favorite event of the year—the Milwaukee Film Festival—and you have two East Side gems that make Milwaukee what it is. If either of them, God forbid, were to fade away, I’d seriously consider moving to another part of the country. Or maybe just Bay View, where I’d be closer to the Avalon.
What about you, Tyler? Any specific Milwaukee things you couldn’t live without?
Tyler Maas: Leave Milwaukee? That’s unlikely, given the word “Milwaukee” is in our business’ name and all. Barring a series of misfortunes befalling our humble operation, I’m here to stay, but I see what you’re getting at with the question. Though I expect to be here for the long haul, there are a few people, places, and things that help make Milwaukee extra special to me, and whose exodus would make life here markedly less enjoyable for yours truly.
Since you started with places, I’ll see your Oriental nod and raise you the goddamn Pabst Theater. I’ve been fortunate enough to see dozens of shows at the historic venue since moving here and, without fail, I always catch myself staring up at the ceiling and marveling at the busts and gold leaf accents. No matter if I’m seeing a comedian, a band, or witnessing a contest of which local pundit can say the least the loudest at some rah-rah Milwaukee panel discussion, I always automatically find myself more excited to attend something when it’s taking place at the Pabst. It’s bar none my favorite Milwaukee venue.
Another place I would have a really tough time saying goodbye to is Miller Park. However, this has little to do with the ballpark itself—which, beyond the retractable roof, is league average by modern sports structure standards—and much more to do with who calls it home. In addition to the abundance of music and comedy options (both homegrown and of the touring variety) happening with regularity, I was brought here close to six years ago by the allure of attending Brewers games on a whim. Even though I’m almost as low on the team as Kato Kaelin is this season, I still relish the opportunity to hit up games, whether with out-of-town family and friends or as a flight of fancy with a buddy on two hours notice. Same goes for Bucks games. I never forget how great it is to be a short drive (or shuttle ride, even) from two professional sports franchises.
Of course, there are other places, events, and amenities I could rattle off—Mittenfest’s temporary winter respite, Cactus Club for Packer games, the handful of great Mexican restaurants spread throughout most every neighborhood, townie bars untouched by time and inflation, the oddities at American Science & Surplus, walking along the south shore in summer, and the way this city can be as vast or as small and tight-knit as you choose to make it—but I’m starting to sound like a fucking VISIT Milwaukee ad here. Jesus. Anyway, as a fellow transplant, Matt, what are some aspects of Milwaukee that appeal to you that perhaps don’t take the form of a person, place, or thing? If you woke up and characteristics that shape the city’s collective attitude or core values were augmented, would that have you looking to file paperwork for Madison Record LLC?
Matt: Madison Record, huh? To quote Dr. Peter Venkman: “The franchise rights alone will make us rich beyond our wildest dreams.”
Anyway, on to your question. As I was watching the video for Maritime’s “Milwaukee” yesterday, two things struck me. One, the sheer delightfulness of the video (too bad those rapscallion Platinum Boys didn’t care for it), and two, the part where Davey von Bohlen affectionately describes Milwaukee as a “place that doesn’t cast such a shadow,” and a “one-horse town.”
I hope that sort of humble, self-deprecating Milwaukee love never goes away. I touched on it briefly in my post yesterday, but I think it’s important to keep our all-too fashionable civic cheerleading in check with a healthy dose of reality and good-natured humor. Thinking of Milwaukee as a small fish in a big pond—or admitting it can sometimes be an awful shit hole—isn’t succumbing to the dreaded “Milwaukee inferiority complex.” It’s simply the truth. And it’s why we love it here.
Another thing that bugs me: The latest breed of Milwaukee Pride automatons (perhaps birthed from the cold metallic loins of OnMilwaukee’s Jeff Sherman Bot 3000) constantly prattle on about how much they love this city, yet they seem dedicated to erasing anything and everything that makes it, you know, unique. I know that’s an oversimplification and more than a little bit alarmist, but if you make a living boasting about how, for example, Milwaukee is a cheap place to live, and then do everything you can to bring a new batch of high-priced luxury apartments to the city, then what about Milwaukee do you really love? I’m not suggesting complete stagnation, but there has to be some sort of middle ground…
I’ll get of my soapbox now, but yeah, I couldn’t take it if Milwaukee lost its “Milwaukee-ness” and became another generic city full of generic city boosters. But hopefully, with The Vanguard tweeting out hilarious Milwaukee jokes on Milwaukee Day, and kitschy wonders like the Mitchell Park Domes still doing their thing, that will never happen. What do you think, Tyler? Any core city characteristics you absolutely need?
Tyler: Milwaukee’s “core characteristics” are tough traits to describe. It’s the type of thing you know when you see, and once you’ve experienced the misplaced “championing” in the alternative you posed, it’s already too late. I, too, enjoy the proclivity for Milwaukee’s populace to poke fun at itself, but in the same breath, I also welcome change and development, if done right. Vanguard, for example, is new and adding something excellent to the city’s dining culture, but doesn’t seem to be focused on “putting Milwaukee on the map.” Milwaukee has been on the map for almost 200 years, and will remain there regardless of the number of Pinkberry locations, streetcars, and downtown strip clubs that may or may not crop up in years to come.
Milwaukee has its flaws, yes, but it’s a city left in an interesting place. Its industrial history has defined it to this point (for better or worse). It’s often distilled down to a few unfair broad strokes by national perception and the ever-growing group of local ex-pats (many of whom seem eager to leave, but proud to claim their roots once they get to the new place), but its future has yet to be determined. As a person with so many people, places, and things internally filed to help define my personal Milwaukee, that unwritten future can be both encouraging and infuriating. In 10 years, the city could be markedly different, but (barring the afore-alluded-to misfortunes befalling me) I’m staying here to celebrate Milwaukee’s positives, try to combat its negatives (and, yes, make wisecracks in the process), and continue to redefine what makes Milwaukee great.