Schlameel, Schlamazel! Hassenpepper Incorporated!

A couple of weeks ago I joined the gang from Feast of Fools for a trip to Milwaukee for PrideFest.  It was my first time in Brewtown in over ten years, and I was really looking forward to it.  

I had visions of us exploring the city a-la Laverne & Shirley, soaking in the charm and the love of one of the Midwest’s most unappreciated gems.  I wanted the weekend to be memorable and fun, and to leave with a sense of pride in my Cheeseheaded heritage.

Sadly, the weather was absolutely atrocious.  

Group Shot!Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time. There were some really great moments, lots of good laughs, and we met some really nice people- but that weather was a real downer!

Surely by now you’ve heard about the draining of Lake Delton and flooding in Racine and other Wisconsin cities, and have seen the video of the houses falling into the raging waters

Thankfully nothing like that happened in the Milwaukee city proper, but it was still a near-complete washout.  Call it unfortunate timing.  It certainly wasn’t the city’s fault.

Milwaukee and I have a lot of history.  So it seemed sort of unfair that I’d forgotten about it while living in the much bigger, much busier city to the south.  I was really looking forward to getting ‘back to my roots’ a bit and seeing how much Milwaukee has changed in the last 10 years.

I remember visiting Milwaukee many times in my youth, and nearly every visit was the subject of a really good time.  As a kid there were numerous trips with my family and friends to Festa Italiana, German Fest and, of course, Summerfest at the Summerfest grounds (later renamed the Henry W. Maier Festival Grounds in homage to the late, long-term mayor of the city).  There were tons of Milwaukee Brewers games at old County Stadium, concerts at the Bradley Center or the Marcus Amphitheater, scads of visits to the Milwaukee County Zoo and the Wisconsin State Fair, and a great number of trips to Marquette University when my good friend Mark was going there for his undergrad.  

I’m happy to report that Milwaukee has changed a lot — in some ways for the worse, but in most ways for the better.  

For the worse, it seems that Milwaukee has gone the way of many smaller municipal areas and lost a lot of its gay-identified spots.  Places I used to visit in the early to mid 90s like Club 219, M&M Club and C’est La Vie are long gone.  Although LaCage is still there, I probably wouldn’t recognize it since it’s constantly being remodeled; and I think the venerable Triangle bar is still there.  I don’t know if this is the result of gays and straights co-mingling more, or the further loss of any sort of gay ‘neighborhood’ in Milwaukee; but it seems like the choices are a little more slim than I remember.

However, that doesn’t mean that Milwaukee is a bad place to be gay.  No other city in the nation holds a PrideFest like Milwaukee.  And whether it rains or shines, it’s always an amazing event.  

For the better, Milwaukee is a large city on a smaller scale, and from what I’ve seen, it’s really become much more cosmopolitan and chic than I ever remember it being.  There are so many great clubs and restaurants to visit, cute shops and walkways, and their riverwalk through downtown puts Chicago’s to shame.  And of course, the people are as friendly as can be.  There’s tons of entertainment and culture – from the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts to the Pabst Theater to the absolutely spectacular Santiago Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum on the lakeshore- MIlwaukee is prettier and even more memorable than I ever remember as a kid.

So once everything dries out up north and I get a free weekend, I think a return trip is in the works.  I need to re-orient myself to my former neighbor to the north.  I’ve done a lot of growing in the last ten years– and so has Milwaukee.  It deserves to get a second look. 

Re-igniting the fire

Full Moon Festival
Fire twirler at the Full Moon Jam, Foster Beach, Chicago.

I’m back.  Did you miss me?

It’s ok, you can say no.  I won’t be mad.  Really, I won’t!

After all, I’m the one who practically abandoned my own blog– you didn’t do anything. 

So yeah I took a little break.  I needed it.  Badly.  I won’t get into the whole story of why I was gone for so long.  Just know that I needed the break, and now I’m back and feeling a lot more energized.

So what’s been up with me lately? 

Well for starters, I’ve been hanging out with friends again, keeping busy with work, watching my beautiful nieces grow up like weeds (see the pictures below), meeting new friends, cleaning up my financial situation, and preparing for an exciting summer.

And that was only in the last week or two.

I’ve also dealt with a horrible case of writer’s block for the past few months.  So instead of pressuring myself to come up with something witty or clever or not-so-depressing, I chose to chill for a while. 

But now I feel like the clouds are clearing and brighter days are ahead.  So time to sally forth and see what happens.

Thanks for coming back. 

 Me with Emily

Abby with Grandma Aiello

I'm still on vacation

Me in front of the sunset in Eagle River, WIIt’s a very strange feeling to be in two places at one time.

My body is firmly planted in my chair at work. My hands are on the keyboard, and my eyes are looking at my computer screen.

But my mind is still in Eagle River, Wisconsin.

My friend Jeremy’s family owns a home on Cranberry Lake, which connects to Catfish and Eagle lakes via small connecting creeks. Along all of the lakes and creeks are homes of every size and shape– from the grandiose to the simplistic. But whether you’re rich, poor, or somewhere in between– your main reason for being there is to enjoy the gorgeous setting and relax.

Sunset on Cranberry LakeWe were blessed with some absolutely gorgeous weather all weekend. The sun was warm, the air was cool, and the breezes were plentiful. We boated, laid in the sun, and enjoyed each other’s company without the need for thumping club music and computerized neon light displays; or smoky, dingy bars. Instead, for our nighttime entertainment, we were treated to a chorus of crickets, spectacular auroras in the north, glass-like waters on the lake, and a trillion brilliant stars in the sky.

We arrived Friday afternoon after a six-hour car ride and immediately began to decompress from the stresses of city living. The sun was just starting to hang low in the sky, so we decided to take an evening cruise around the chain of lakes in the Eagle River area.

Everyone waves as they ride past. A few even say hello. And once in a while, an ignorant few ask, “How come there’re no girls on your boat?” We just answer that we want it that way and continue on our journey.

This was my second visit to Eagle River– the last being in August of 2005. We had six people up there last time and there were a different six this time. Each time we all came away with the same sense of peace and tranquility– something we can’t get living in the city. It’s something you can’t get from camping, either. It’s just– special.

So in the next few days, as I re-adjust to city living, and the stresses and annoyances of life get their best of me, I will close my eyes and remember those stars. I’ll remember the brilliant sunsets. I’ll recall the wind in my hair while riding in a speedboat. I’ll reminisce about the trees and the grass and the wind blowing through it all. And, hopefully, I will relax… and realize that a city is not the entire world. There is so much more. All I have to do is stop and look– and pay attention.