A few years ago, I went to the Mall of America in Minnesota for the first time. I was surprised to see a kiosk featuring shirts that read “friends don’t let friends drive to Wisconsin” and merchandise embossed with other playful-but-rivalrous messages.
I turned to my partner, who is from Minnesota. “Minnesota doesn’t like Wisconsin?!”
I had no idea. I was aware of the peculiar tensions between Milwaukee and Chicago, but never once in my lifetime as a Cheesehead was I aware of any beefs our neighbor to the West had with Wisco.
Luckily, Kelly and Adam, who are from a suburb north of St. Paul (and not fans of the Mall of America), don’t have bad feelings about our state. In fact, they own a cabin in northern Wisconsin – where they occasionally receive flack for being Vikings’ supporters – and they chose Milwaukee’s Pfister Hotel as the place to celebrate their 22nd wedding anniversary.
Adam has been to Milwaukee about 30 times for business, but it’s Kelly’s first visit.
“And this is our first visit to the Pfister,” says Adam. “I like the old school charm, the lobby. It’s nice to be Downtown.”
They are celebrating their last night with a pre-dinner cocktail at Blu. I cannot help myself and ask the cliche question that’s forced upon all long-time married people.
“What’s the secret to a long marriage?” I ask. (I really am curious. And divorced.)
“Go to Milwaukee every 22 years?” Adam says, chuckling. “I really don’t know. My parents have been married for 60 years.”
The couple spent three days in Milwaukee, and enjoyed the Lakefront Brewery Tour (a must for micro-brew lovers) and had a fun and meaningful experience at the Harley-Davidson Museum.
“My dad, aunt, uncle, aunt and various people in my life always rode motorcycles,” says Kelly.
The museum reminded Adam of his extraordinary grandmother, who passed away in 1945.
“I have this photo of her on a motorcycle in 1930 when motorcycles were, like, only 25 years old,” he says. “It was a ‘bad boy’ thing in the 30s, but there she is: my grandma wearing the goggles and the helmet.”
Kelly goes on to talk more about Adam’s grandmother.
“She married a man she wasn’t supposed to marry and they had four kids. Then he died of tuburculosis and she was raising the kids by herself during the Depression.”
To support her children, Adam’s grandma got a job at the bus station, where soon after she was hit by a bus and killed. Adam’s mother and her three siblings were orphaned.
“That’s one of the only photos ever taken of her,” he says. “As soon as we get home we need to find that photo.”
Adam, who rides a scooter, has endured a broken nose, broken ankle, stitches and many cuts and bruises during his 42 years as a hockey player. He is also the hockey coach of the team his 10-year-old daughter plays on, a daughter who also played tackle football.
“Sounds like you and your daughter got some of your grandma’s feistiness,” I say.
Later, I think again about those silly T-shirts at the Mall of America and it occurs to me that Milwaukee’s motorcycle history connected some Minnesotans with a piece of their own family history.
Maybe friends should let friends drive to Wisconsin, as long as they’re on Harley Davidsons?