Regular Regulators Regulating Regularly

There is a certain juvenile streak in me that really, treatment really makes it hard to stop from asking one of the participants at the Mid-America Regulatory Commissioners Conference, “So what do you do to keep everyone regular?”

But, I have a sense of decorum. I wear bow ties. And, yes, I’m just a little afraid that someone might actually answer this question. Then all bets are off on what would go down from there.

Instead, as I see the waning moments of the conference on the 7th floor at the Pfister, I approach one of the kindly event staff so I can figure out what in tarnation has gone on at this multiple day conference.

I freely and openly admit that I am sometimes (okay, often) dense. In approaching the kindly event staff worker I decide to get to the meat of the matter right away.

“What is a Mid-America Regulatory Commissioner Conference and what do these Regulatory Commissioners do?”

The kindly event staff worker is the consummate pro and doesn’t tell me I’m a dolt for not knowing, but nicely explains that its all about public utilities—water, power, energy—that have regulatory standards attached to them. I decide it’s kind of like a conference you might see on PARKS AND RECREATION, and as I talk with the helpful event staff worker, I look over his shoulder to see if there are more Ron Swansons or more Leslie Knopes at this particular conference (there are, by the way, a lack of bushy mustaches on display).

The conference annually rotates between the Mid-American states that participate, and in Milwaukee this year as the Pfister for home base, the event has attracted about 300 participants. The event staff anticipated families coming along for the ride, so they planned tours to the Harley Museum and breweries and Discovery World. It’s nice to think that you get a well-rounded motorcycle, science and lager experience when tagging along for this kind of event.

My biggest curiosity of all concerning the Mid-America Regulatory Commissioners Conference had to do with the single most important thing anyone who has ever attended a conference concerns him or herself with when they walk up to a registration table: “What’s in the schwag bag?”

Again, the willing event staff worker was game to address my question in a straightforward manner. He told me that a highlight was certainly the 300 hand made chocolates put together by a local Milwaukee chocolatier. That’s a sweet bag item, if I’ve ever heard one.

Then comes that moment. The button in the conversation when I have to bite my tongue as I consider my original impulse to delve into the regularity patterns of the conference participants. The event staff worker tells me that because it’s a conference dealing with public utility, and water is a big part of public utility, there are a few bottles of H20 included in all of the event participants’ schwag bags.

“Water is a big thing for everyone here, you know,” he tells me.

It’s like I’m back in junior high school and I’m thinking about making a prank phone call. I want to follow up with, “So you’re saying that water is what moves these regulatory commissioners?” But I can’t…I just can’t. I adjust my bow tie, shake his hand, and feel grateful for my indoor plumbing, electric lighting and all things that keep the world churning regulated by all these kindly and well hydrated utility players.

The Post In Which I Go To A Ladies Luncheon and Find This One Guy

There was a ladies-only luncheon happening at the Pfister last week. Lots of smart, sickness successful, gorgeous women were dressed in red and came together for the American Heart Association’s 2015 Milwaukee Go Red for Women luncheon.

And this guy.

Mike Bartell, <a href=
here "this guy", and Linda Haag at the 2015 Go Red for Women Luncheon.” width=”378″ height=”213″ data-wp-pid=”10231″ /> Mike Bartell, “this guy”, and Linda Haag at the 2015 Go Red for Women Luncheon.

I don’t mean to treat this guy like some common piece of meat. His name is Mike Bartell, and he is a world-class swell. I also feel that the scarf he had wrapped around his neck brings out all the highlights in his lovely dimples. Don’t you agree?

I love events that celebrate female achievement because it has become increasingly clear to me over the years that if men just let women run things, we would all be a whole lot better off. Plus, the world would generally smell better. That’s a win-win aspiration for us all.

The event was good natured in every way and tied into a nationwide network of Go Red for Women’s efforts. There was a lot of feel good mojo in the room, and not just from the heart healthy lunch options being served. The ladies in red came together to share stories, network and report on new steps being taken towards ending heart disease and stroke by following a smart path towards maintaining good health.

All that said, I was happy to see that there was still a chocolate dessert on the table. Way to go, ladies.

Now, back to the minority report, on this guy, Mike.

Mike Bartell is one of those guys who easily draws your eye in a room full of other guys. He’s sharp, gregarious, approachable and warm. In a room full of women, Mike is probably the first thing you notice. I know I did.

Before Mike could start another of the many conversations I saw him begin with numerous ladies in the room, I stopped him in his tracks and said, “What in the world are you doing in this room full of stunning and successful women?”

Mike gave me a big smile, one of those grins that seem to just wrap around you and give you a squeeze. “I told them they needed some men in the room. I’m the guy.”

Mike explained to me that his long time friend and business associate Lori Criag is head of the Executive Leadership team organizing the local Go Red for Women chapter. Lori had told Mike about the good work that the Milwaukee chapter of the women’s group was doing, and Mike, wearing his “I want to help!” hat, told her that it would be good to get men in the room for moral and financial support. Little did he know that there is a complimentary men’s support group that works in tandem with Go Red for Women’s groups around the country, but that the Milwaukee chapter has yet to be formally organized. Mike was already hooked into Go Red for Women, however, so good sport that he is, he willingly joined in for the luncheon and the flouncy scarf wearing.

Admittedly, it wasn’t too tough of a gig for Mike going to a luncheon with a stellar group of ladies working on ending heart disease and stroke. He also proudly told me of the good work his wife, Ellen Bartell, is doing to support health and heart awareness as President of Divine Savior Holy Angels High School. Along with Angie Hutchinson, Divine Savior Holy Angels’ Physical Education Chair, Ellen was able to make hands only CPR part of the curriculum for all their students. Mike beamed when he spoke of his wife. Not only is this guy a supporter of good causes, be he’s a true gentlemen if there ever was one.

I took note of Mike’s bright red tie, and he admitted to me that he had it in his collection prior to the event. He certainly looked like he fit in with the crimson crew of ladies. Mike really did a great job wearing his heart on his sleeve at this year’s Go Red for Women luncheon, even if he sometimes had to move his pretty scarf aside to show it off.

Breaking Bread and Telling Tales

As I come upon the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center’s setup for their KidShare 2015 gala at the Pfister, unhealthy I can tell immediately there is a good party in the works.

Typically during setup for these types of events, its not unusual to see harried minions rushing back and forth trying to put out fires before freshly scrubbed guests arrive for a night of revelry. But the JCC folks all seem to be smiling.

Micki Seinfeld, Special Events Director for the Harry and Rose Samson Jewish Community Center, turns a corner exiting the silent auction room, and she is ebullient. A big grin covers her face. Things are going smoothly with set up, and its still hours before anyone arrives.

Micki has great reason to be pleased. The silent auction that she, volunteers and staff are setting up is massive, well organized and has a myriad of interesting and highly biddable items. They have organized the auction into various groupings based on clusters of gifts, but my absolute favorite grouping is one called THIS AND THAT.

The possibilities are endless with This & That.
The possibilities are endless with This & That.

It’s the JCC’s equivalent of a grab bag, but a lot classier than any kind of white elephant offerings I’ve ever seen (a gorgeous menorah caught my eye as a THIS AND THAT gift).

I like shiny things of great cultural significance.
I like shiny things of great cultural significance.

Chad Tessmer, the JCC’s Director of Marketing & Communications, is circulating the work at hand, making sure everyone is focused and has what they need to make the event a night filled with magic. I have known Chad for some time and long admired him for his professional passion, commitment and consummate love of the bow tie. Micki nods to me as I explain that I want to hear more about the night’s festivities and says, “You want to talk to Chad. Chad can tell you EVERYTHING you need to know.”

When you spend your time listening for stories, you never want some marketing professional to be too “on point”—it just rings false. You do, however, look for those moments of connection when a marketing pro is genuine and authentic about the cause being promoted. Chad has that special quality down in spades. I ask him to give me a basic overview of what is going to take place at the event and he gives the perfect answer that makes me wish that I didn’t already have evening plans so I could come back and see the event unfold.

“Tonight is like all the events we hold in our community,” says Chad. “We’re going to gather for a great meal and tell some wonderful stories.”

The energy of the event is focused on family and nurturing relationships. This is the 26th year that the JCC has held their fundraising event at the Pfister, and you can tell that the people gathered who are getting the event ready for the public all feel like they’re at home. KidShare 2015 will raise funds for children’s programming and camps at the JCC. The context of getting folks together to break bread and share stories seems just perfect when your intention is to do something that helps kids.

Chad pulls Rabbi Shari Shamah aside as she is running to help with set up. She is a ball of energy dressed for real, honest work in jeans and a t-shirt. The good rabbi is all smiles and heart. She literally has her sleeves rolled up to help and dashes off after we shake hands.

Chad apologizes to me as he receives a text message and must attend to some last minute details, but tells me to check out a sculpture that is being built out of food cans. Plunkett Raysich Architects and Hunzinger Builders came together on the design and concept for the sculpture and the cans of food used in the display go directly towards supporting the needs of the clients of the Jewish Community Pantry. It’s a great riff on the Warhol inspired design aesthetic that celebrates the iconic soup can graphic in table displays and the fun and fresh decorations for the gala.

I gaze at pictures of smiling children engaged in camps and classes at the Center and survey the nametags at the guest table check-in. It’s going to be a full house later that night, and with a gathering the likes of which I’m sensing this will be, there is no doubt that the stories and good food will be shared in equal and ample proportion.

Rabbi Shari runs by and gives a final check-in with a volunteer before ducking into the elevator so she can take some time to get herself ready for the night. All is good, and as she leaves the hum of the ballroom she declares, “I’m off to get my nails done everyone! This is gonna be a fun night!”

Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer, you know

I make it a habit to never ask another man in a suit if he’s packing heat. So far, sovaldi this choice has served me very well.

But it was hard, I mean REALLY, REALLY hard not to go up to the guy in the suit I noticed on the stairs overlooking the lobby and say, “Hey bub, are you packing heat?”

It wasn’t a set of steely eyes or some Derringer shaped bulge in his jacket that piqued my interest. It was the coiled cord snaking up his neck to an earpiece that was obviously feeding him key coordinates on the safety of our nation that caught my eye.

The fella looked like he could have been a Secret Service agent, pills save for one small item. He was smiling and looked like he was actually having a good time. That sort of ruled out anchorman, too, as I couldn’t recall the last time I had seen a real live anchorman in the flesh without a desk between the two of us. And this guy’s smile was so nice; not painted on like a slick newsreader.

As I watched the man I assumed was clearly securing life, liberty and happiness for all of the Pfister’s guests, I noticed that he was not alone. There they were, perched on the stairwell, cheap looking over the balcony, an attentive smattering of men and women sporting earpieces, sartorially suited as a crack crew of defenders of justice.

I once heard the President of the United States speak, and I was so close to him that I could have just about reached out and pinched his cheek to say, “Nice speech!” I’ll never forget the moment that the speech was done and the President left the podium to make his way to a waiting car, or airplane, or submarine or whatever it is POTUS travels in these days. He was flanked by a team of guardians-of-goodness in their suits with their earpieces, and as they made their way past me, I found myself leaning into the superstardom passing before me. I felt the seismic power of someone who lives to serve and protect as an arm came out and blocked my lean forward. The lesson that I learned that day is that when you see the earpiece, you can be pretty sure you’re dealing with a leather tough man or woman and its best to leave them alone to be the heroes that they are.

But, I’m a curious lad. So I couldn’t leave well enough alone. It was this sense of curiosity that drew me to the 7th Floor ballrooms of the Pfister as I noticed lots of comings and goings of men and women in suits, including a few earpieced toughies. I’m a suit and tie kind of guy myself, so it was as if I was being summoned to join my tribe as I entered the elevator that would take me to the ballrooms.

I exited on the 7th floor and as I wandered the halls, I noticed a display that the organizers of the event had set up featuring pictures of Abraham Lincoln. There was one of him with his young son on his lap, a picture of a gathering of people listening to him speak and an image that was labeled to be his final portrait before being assassinated. Whatever was going on in the ballroom at that moment, these folks clearly loved our nation’s 16th head of state, and that was all good by me.

I glanced up from the display and there he was, the earpiece man who had first drawn my eye. He was looking at another part of the display, studying the images with a casual intensity.

“Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice your ear piece.” It wasn’t my best opening line, but it was probably better than succumbing to asking if he was actually packing heat.

He looked at me intently, trying to size up whether or not I was a threat to international peace. I clearly passed some sort of “too nerdy to be a threat test” when he smiled back at me, willing and open to chat.

He introduced himself to me as Derek. Derek explained that he and the rest of his crew were at the Pfister to provide security for the Annual Meeting of the Seventh Circuit Bar Association. With absolute discretion he explained to me that there were “important people” at the gathering, and that the security he and his colleagues were providing was an added measure of comfort for all the lawyers in attendance. We shared a look that said, “Yeah, I know lawyers get a bad wrap, but you saw those pictures of that entirely noble dude Abraham Lincoln, and remember he was a lawyer, too.”

Derek tells me that he is pretty impressed by the grandeur of the building he’s gotten to spend time in as a security presence. He tells me hasn’t been to a ton of nice hotels in his life, but is clearly taken in by today’s job site. Derek also says he isn’t very well traveled but mentions that he has done some work in Sierra Leone, so maybe Derek and I have a different definition of being a globetrotter.

Another suit wanders over to us as we talk. His earpiece is a little different, a little sleeker, but somehow a little more in your face. I introduce myself before he gives me the, “Can I help you?” question, and he smiles brightly and tells me his name is Wayne. I ask Wayne if he works with Derek, and Wayne says with a smirk, “No…he works for me.” Hats off to the Seventh Circuit Bar Association for hiring the friendliest security team around.

Wayne leaves Derek and I to finish our talk, as he moves on to other business. Though Derek has only spent a short amount of time at the Pfister, he has quickly grown attached to its history. There is one particular aspect of the hotel that has really captivated Derek–the Pfister time capsule. Derek asks me if I know what’s sealed in the time capsule and I shake my head, as I have no idea myself. The time capsule won’t be opened until 2093, and Derek clearly wishes he could be there to see what’s stored inside.

We shake hands as we depart and Derek jokes about how we should figure out a way to be around in 2093 for the opening of the time capsule, but we both know that’s going be a tough one. Guys in suits, the ones with or without earpieces, have a shelf life. I wish for Derek’s sake that his curiousity could be satisfied, because he is truly a good guy and he undoubtedly packs a lot of positive heat.

Dancers Sparkle Across the 7th Floor

 

 

Dancers perform for the judges. More than five couples usually share the dance floor. The elaborate network of temporary overhead lighting ensures that all is seen.

This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the Wisconsin Dancesport Championships. The company has a long history with the hotel as they’ve held the annual event at the Pfister all these years. This high-heeled party brings dancers from across the country to compete at their specialized steps.

It is interesting to see the dancers’ posture and gait change depending upon which dance is announced. For example, to an untrained eye (mine) the tango appears stiff and exacting. The foxtrot takes on a more sly, playful, and sensual body movement. During waltzes dancers’ bodies become languid and graceful, flowing toward the next position. Dancers are on display everywhere across the 7th floor in varying stages of preparation, warm-up, cool down, and rushed focus to perform last minute wardrobe alterations. There are rumbas, cha chas, jazz dances, solos, the jitterbug, salsa dances. The list goes on to nearly every dance you’ve ever (or some, in my case, never) heard of. During competition fellow dancers between heats applaud and cheer for their friends and colleagues.

An impromptu city of vendors springs up wherever dance competitions take place. They are prepared to satisfy all of the dancers potential needs from shoes to outfits and photo/videography. I spoke with the shoe vendor in the foreground and she observed that she would likely spend one week at home this month.

 

Between competition dancers relax and recharge throughout the cafe and lobby lounge. The women wear makeup which reminds me of my theater days and the men stand at attention as suitors with impeccable posture. Coaches critique improvements necessary before the next time they hit the floor. The vibe is that of a large extended theater company from all walks of life.

My favorite part was to watch the shadows swim across the dance floor as dancers moved in and out of the light.

One can’t help but wonder about the impact shows such as So You Think You Can Dance have had on these competitions. I would imagine the larger exposure of dance offered to the modern lexicon has brought an influx of new blood in to the dance community.

Shadows of fabric tornado across the wood floor.
Each dress is designed to be more eye catching than the last. Men's pants are loose and look comfortable but I imagine serve the purpose of accentuating leg movements.

 

Artist Timothy Westbrook's costume display on the 7th floor. Could celluloid cassette tape be the new sequin?

 

I tried to imagine any other environment where an event such as a ballroom dance championship could be held that would be as fitting as the Pfister Hotel. Nothing came to mind, except possibly some fantastical land which exists only in a poet’s imagination. Standing amidst the assembled bustle of  thoroughbred peacock dancers which have taken up residence inside of the crown jewel of the Marcus family, the two feel so fitting you wonder where the dance stops and the hotel begins and vice versa. The delineation between stage and spectator blurs to a point that the fray is as much a part of the experience.

Swing dance high steppers.

 

 

A brick and mortar structure can be lovely standing by itself but without the people to breathe a kiss of life into it’s hallways, it is just a pile of well placed bricks, doors, and floors. The unique events and personalities passing through these doors create the personality of the Pfister Hotel, possibly even more so than this lovely house which Guido and Charles built.