Who Says Skating’s Just for Kids? BluTending with Wisconsin Edge Masters Synchronized Skating Team

One man orders an Arnold Palmer, a dry vodka martini, and a Chardonnay. It almost seems like a test for the bartender, Nicole, who doesn’t know what an Arnold Palmer is.  He has to explain to her that an Arnold Palmer is half lemonade, half iced tea–no alcohol. He notices me noticing his test, then laughs and explains to me that if you add vodka, then it’s a John Daly, but he just wants an Arnold Palmer.  Both sound like summer to me. Meanwhile, Nicole, nonplussed, simply asks her fellow bartender where the lemonade and iced tea are.  She yells over to me:

“I’m doing two shifts tonight.  It’s terrifying . . . and fun!  Actually, it’s overwhelming!”

Despite being out of her comfort zone, Nicole takes charge behind the bar at Blu.  Yes, Nicole was helping raise money for the Wisconsin Edge Masters Synchronized Skating Team by volunteering to be a BluTender for a couple of hours.  It’s no surprise that she has the confidence of a pro–whipping out Arnold Palmers, nice pours of wine, and a strong New Old Fashioned (“That’s what the blood oranges are for!”)–because she is the captain of the Edge Masters team.

When her first shift is over, she slips onto the bar stool next to me and fills me in.  “Most people think of ice skaters as kids who stop when they’re adults,” she said, “but there are a lot of adult skaters in the metro [Milwaukee] area.  In fact, you have to be at least 25 years old to be on the Masters team.”  Nicole has been the captain for two years.  When I tell her that I’ve never heard of synchronized skating–and this is coming from someone who’s always loved watching skating at the Olympics–she confirms that not enough people know about it . . . yet.  “And the Olympics aren’t out of the question.  We’re working on it.”  She smiles.

I learn from her that each year, more and more people come out of the woodwork, as she puts it, people who used to skate when they were younger and who are looking to rejoin the sport, either for personal enjoyment or actual competition.  I didn’t get a firm handle on the timeline of synchronized skating (Nicole’s New Old Fashioned might have something to do with it–and I’ve never claimed to be a reporter!), but apparently (we’ll say “some time ago”) a “coffee club” of about ten senior citizens started taking to the ice together.  According to Nicole, their mindset was “We just want to skate.  We don’t care who it is, we just want to skate.”  And skate they did, replete with helmets and wrist guards.  This must have been a sight to see.  I muse to myself that I hope to be as tough as those senior citizens when I’m older.  I can’t even walk without falling sometimes, though, so I quickly abandon the prospects of being a tough old guy on the ice.

But it was “chaos,” Nicole adds.  “No one knew each other well.  There was a coach, sure, but no one really in charge.  But by the second year, it got more organized.  It was an evolving group.”  Many of the original “coffee club” members still skate, including 84-year-old Carl, who still skates and skis.  Inspired partly by these bold seniors, more and more adults in their 20s, 30s, and 40s started thinking about competitive skating again.  People started noticing who the “real skaters” were at open skates and through a mixture of personal and social media recruiting, teams started to coalesce.  And now there are Beginner, Preliminary, Pre-Juvenile, Teen, and Intermediate teams, too.

2015-16 Masters Team

According to their website, the Wisconsin Edge Synchronized Skating Teams “began with one team in 1985 under founder and coach Jon Sorkan. Within a short period of time, the Wisconsin Edge gained national recognition when the teams moved into the Pettit National Ice Center, one of the few Olympic Training Centers in the nation . . . In 1997, the Wisconsin Edge earned their first medal at the National Precision Skating Championships in Syracuse, NY after placing 2nd in the Intermediate division. Since then, Wisconsin Edge teams have gone on to medal at both the Midwestern and National Championships across multiple divisions of U.S. Figure Skating’s synchronized skating program. Most recently, Wisconsin Edge’s Preliminary team won the 2015 Midwestern Championships.”

While you can’t tell from the photo above of the 2015-16 Masters Team (with Nicole, I’m pretty sure, in the middle of the front row) is that the skaters range from 25 years to 60 years of age.

“In fact,” Nicole exclaims all of a sudden, “let me introduce you ‘Sparkly Jan,’ our 60 year old!”  As Jan and I shake hands, something in her beautiful 60-year-old face (again, you’d never know–that’s Jan in the first row, right!) strikes me as familiar, as does her first name, and I ask her if we know each other.  She smiles widely but says she doesn’t think so.

“Were you in a play with me about a purple kimono?” I try.

Lightbulb goes off: “Oh my god!  I was your wife!”

And the rest of the night is something of a blur (or at least I didn’t write much down after this moment).  Jan and I did, indeed, perform in a student-written and directed one-act play at Pius XI High School at least ten years ago.  We played the Japanese parents of a hefty son who reveals to them one evening that he likes wearing mom’s purple kimono.  Rave reviews.  Star on Hollywood.  All that.

She took a turn at BluTending:

Here, Jan looks like the stern wife she played in our one-act . . .
. . . but here, Jan shows a truer face: all smiles.

We eventually got a chance to talk.  In between reminiscing about our (or at least my) poor acting skills and filling each other in on a decade’s worth of life, Jan did add about her Masters team that it is comprised of so many kinds of professionals: “We have one stay-at-home mom, two PhDs, two nurses, one lawyer, one speech pathologist . . . They’re all so well-educated.”  I liked that she was proud of this characteristic.  And I loved that I was sitting with this classy, poised woman named Jan who is still doing what she loves.

I did meet Jan’s skating partner and Wisconsin Edge coach David, who told me that synchronized skating was invented by Dr. Richard Porter 53 years ago and that there’s a competition named after him in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  He told me that Jan had just passed her adult gold pairs test and that “for the last 16 years, I’ve been lifting Jan over my head and throwing her across the ice.”

I also met Jan’s daughter Angela, who is also a Wisconsin Edge coach.

I remember a fun conversation with David and his friend Josh, who was there to support the team, about death spirals and the impossible “Pamchenko Twist” from the 1992 movie The Cutting Edge.  We talked about a lot more that I can’t remember.  But it was fun.

At some point Jan, Josh, and I marveled over the little ditty about the Wisconsin Gas Light Building:

When the flame is red, it’s warm weather ahead. When the flame is gold, watch out for cold. When the flame is blue, there’s no change in view. When there’s a flickering flame, expect snow or rain.

At another point in the evening, I had a fun conversation with a Polish woman, dressed to the nines, about her fabulous life and her upcoming memoir, which I’m supposedly writing in 2017.  I took this picture that she really liked:

Very little of this is in the correct order, you should know.

I walked away from the beautiful Blu views with good memories, new insight, new friends, and a good buzz from the New Old Fashioneds (seriously, folks–The Pfister has it right!).

And a potential book deal for 2017???  Call me, whoever you were!

 

 

 

We’ll Always Have Paris so Let Me Tell You About a Loo with a View

Eloise had a lot of reasons to be entranced by a life as a denizen of the famed Plaza Hotel. Room service, prostate battling wits with Mr. Salomone, her trippy little turtle Skipperdee, and the view from the tippy-top floor of a grand hotel were just a few of the charms that kept that inquisitive lass smiling from day to day (and book to book thanks to Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight). Everything a little girl with spunk could dream of in a hotel experience was right at Eloise’s fingertips, right?

I’m a great supporter of little girls living their lives with panache. Reading about Eloise’s adventures as a resident of the Plaza Hotel has always been a treat for me and my two daughters who themselves lean into panache with gusto. When I recently introduced them to the many delightful whims of the Pfister, their own hometown version of Eloise’s lair, they were immediately captivated.

I thank my lucky stars, however, that my gals are cheaper dates than Eloise ever was. They keep tugging at my leg, pleading with me to bring them back to the Pfister, their rendition of Eloise’s playland. But it’s not because of a proper English nanny who gets them out of scrapes, or the possibility of soaking in a bathtub and sending water splashing around all the Pfister’s nooks and crannies in some Eloise type scheme that keeps them coming back for more. No, you can scratch my girls’ itch for hotel grandeur with something a bit more simple.

Just take them to the toilet, and they’ll come away thinking that Eloise had nothing on them.

My daughters Dorothea and Carmela are citizens of the world. They actually have “regular” haunts in New York City, tell people in great detail about the 114-year-old restaurant in Paris where you can get the best frites, and debate the virtues of planning our next big family trip to London or Florence. They do it all with a great sense of wonder and appreciation, all the while forever understanding that because of some lucky breaks that their parents have had with travel, they get to go further and see more than most kids or adults ever do.

It is with that sense of wonder that my children have decided that there is no finer place for potty time than the Pfister Hotel.

This all began innocently enough when Dorothea and Carmela had some friends from out of town come to visit. We stopped by the Pfister so the visiting girls, both fine artists, could stop in and see the work being created by our Artist-In-Residence Todd Mrozinski and the robust collection of art displayed around the Pfister. After taking in all that cultural excellence, the young ladies needed to make a stop in the loo, and I escorted them to the ladies restroom on the 7th floor where the ballrooms and meeting spaces converge.

I took my appointed post as dad-in-waiting a couple of yards from the entrance to the ladies room as the four girls entered. A minute passed. Then two. Then five. Approaching ten minutes, I grew concerned. Was someone sick? I started to scan around to see if a friendly lady might help a fellow out and peek her head in to see if the girls were okay, but I was saved from the ask when the door to the ladies’ burst open and four grinning young lasses tumbled out and rushed to me.

“Dad, that is the best bathroom in the world,” said my oldest Dorothea.

“There are couches in there—it’s the coolest thing ever!” My youngest daughter Carmela looked like she had plans to move in, foregoing her rainbow, cloud and frog bedroom walls that I myself had painted with great sweat and blood and a decided lack of artistic talent. Show the girl a good toilet, and Carmela swoons.

For the rest of the visit with their friends, the girls spoke in glowing terms about this bathroom to everyone they met. It was like they were telling people they would run into about the best new restaurant in town. I half expected to hear, “Oh, you must try the hand soap—it’s transcendent.”

The friends left town, but the idea of coming back to visit this magical bathroom did not leave their minds. It seemed perfectly normal to Dorothea and Carmela to go to a luxury hotel to simply see a public space bathroom. But the stakes had been raised for them, because they had heard a vital tip through other people they had met visiting the Pfister.

“You like the 7th floor bathroom? Well wait until you see the one on the 23rd floor.”

I couldn’t drive them back to the Pfister fast enough when they got in their mind that they needed to visit the much talked about 23rd floor ladies room. It is the bathroom serving Blu and from their sleuthing they had found out that it also offers one of Milwaukee’s finest scenic views. There was no question that they were coming back, and this time they were coming prepared.

I don’t know if riding an elevator with your daughters who are excitedly clutching a camera so they can run into the ladies room and snap some pictures is going to make it into my nomination papers for father-of-the-year. But that happened, and in their minds, it makes me one of the best dads in the world. They ducked into the 23rd floor gals rest room and emerged a full 15 minutes later with a selection of shots they had taken out of the floor to ceiling window that the ladies room boasts.

Now when my girls recount their tales of travels through the Alps or describe the right subway line to take to get you into Brooklyn from Midtown Manhattan, they pause short and take in a satisfied breath when they think of the bit of knowledge they really want to share to show off the lives they’ve led exploring the world. If you ever have the chance to meet my exuberant daughters, please remember that they really are pretty normal girls as they pull you aside to say, “Let me tell you about the greatest toilet I’ve ever seen.”

The Crumbs of My Shame

I just made a complete fool out of myself for the gazing eyes of the Pfister public, prostate and boy was it tasty.

Call it hubris, call it horrifying, call it so astonishing that you have to shake your head in my general direction. However you slice it, I’m relieved that I have worked through the inevitable so early during my time at the Pfister.

I didn’t split my pants or forget to zip my fly. No wardrobe malfunctions for me; nothing of that ilk. Instead, with no regard for my waistline, I consumed more bar snacks in the Pfister Lobby Lounge and at Blu than any self-respecting middle aged man should ever shove in his mouth.

I love lounging in bars, even though I’m a teetotaler. Though I don’t toss back drinks as I lounge, tadalafil I can eat bar snacks with the best of ‘em. I may be a little late to the party on this one, but, man, oh, man, there are some truly irresistible bar snacks lurking around the Pfister.

At the end of a busy day, I siddled up to a seat at the Lobby Lounge bar and, Mr. Excitement that I am, ordered a glass of ice water. I felt great as I sipped away at my cold and refreshing drink. There is nothing better at the end of the day than a nice crisp, clear, clean glass of water.

I’m lying, of course. Water is kind of boring. But it’s so good for me, and a man of my advancing years and baldness really must think about not drinking a 14th cup of coffee at the end of the day. Water is safe. No one has ever gotten into a bar fight because of overdoing it on H20.

Feeling like the model of health with my tasteless beverage, cialis I noticed a gentleman who took a place a few seats away from me and ordered two cocktails, one for himself and the other one for…well, for himself. Looking at the poor fella, it was clear to me that he had had a heck of a day. He was clearly in for the night and certainly seemed to be the perfect candidate to enjoy a couple of expertly mixed drinks before retiring to the comfort of his room.

I had chatted a bit with the bartender Katrina as I sat down, and with her great personality, warm heart and smile, she confirmed that everyone who works to serve the Pfister’s guests is delightful and charming. As the two-drink guy down the bar started to chat her up in a pretty friendly way, I was impressed with how she was able to redirect his cute come-ons into a fun conversation. It made the atmosphere at the bar even merrier than it naturally is on any given day.

It was a happy time, and my joy ramped up when I glanced down at the bar and saw for the first time the Holy Trinity of bar snacks in front of me. Triple snack choices were there before me in a silver container separated into three distinct bowls. In one, there was an assortment of crackers, in another, some sweet and salty nuts, and in the final, a mix of rice crackers, smoked almonds, wasabi peas, dried cranberries and other miracle bits so delicious that I almost faint thinking about them.

I reached into the bowl and grabbed out a tiny bit of the nuts. “Oh, my goodness,” I thought. “This is phenomenal.” My hand shot into the other bowls. Rapture. Bliss. It was heaven.

Something happens to me when I encounter a delicious snack. The rest of the world fades away. This is precisely what occured as I got cozy with the Pfister’s bar snacks for the very first time. There, in full view of the public, I showed myself for what I really am—a snack addict of the highest degree.

Mind you, I was sitting next to a man who had just ordered two drinks, seemed beaten down by the day, and was making goo goo eyes at the bartender. A stranger coming upon this scene might have thought, “Oh, poor guy…that’s a little sad.” But, no…this guy had pulled it together. He was suave, in control, not abusing alcohol, but slowly savoring his drinks while having a delightful chat with our bartender. I, on the other hand, was scarfing snacks like a dog and dropping crumbs all over my suit.

As I rapidly emptied the snack bowl, I sensed that the gentleman down the bar was looking at me. It was the sort of look you give a kid who has been given permission to eat all of his or her Halloween candy in one sitting. His eyes said, “Oh, little boy, how sweet that you can fit all of that into your mouth. Good luck to your poor tummy!”

I knew it was time to move on, so I gathered up the pen and notebook I had been writing in while I hypnotically ate all the bar snacks before me. I had to get away, and I was silently grateful that the man next to me seemed concerned that I might start eating my water glass. Crisis averted.

Now when you find yourself unable to stop eating all the delicious bar snacks in the lobby bar at the Pfister but don’t yet want to leave the Pfister, what’s the best thing for your no-will-power self to do? Why go to the Pfister’s other bar, Blu, for a Blutender Celebrity Bartender event where the tips support the United Performing Arts Fund.

I entered Blu and noted that a mime was serving drinks.

Someone to tell your troubles to over a drink who will never talk back.
Someone to tell your troubles to over a drink who will never talk back.

Try as I might, I couldn’t get him to speak. I tipped him a few bucks for his steel jawed silence, but I also gave his competitor, a stocky guy wearing a tutu, a few sheckles for style points.

I then settled in to enjoy the view and another glorious glass of locally sourced Great Lakes tap water. My smiling waitress swiftly and promptly brought me a tall glass of water and made me feel like I had just ordered a bottle of the finest French Champagne. She leaned in with a smile as she served me, and as she pulled back, I noticed that along with the glass of water, she had left me another surprise.  A fresh bowl of snacks.

Reflecting back on the moment, I realize now that the smart thing to do would have been to focus all my attention on the mime bartender, the mixologist in the tutu, the gorgeous view from the windows at Blu, or Greg Marcus who was taking a turn at the piano (who, by the way, has some real swinging chops). But the first step towards recognizing you have a problem is to admit that you finished another bowl of snacks in the Blu bar and then said, “Yes, please!” when your bright and attentive waitress offered you what turned out to be your third bowl of snacking delights.

The third bowl just about to be killed.
The third bowl just about to be killed.

My salty fingers and crumb-flecked mouth caught the eyes of the folks enjoying their tony cocktails as they basked in the glorious sun streaked early evening. It wasn’t my worst moment, but I pray that anyone who caught me doing damage to those snacks didn’t think that I was training for a professional eating competition.

This is all to say that the problem is mine, and I own it fully but will lick it somehow. For the rest of you enjoying the Pfister…dig in. Your belly will be glad you did.

Love is in the Air

Although it’s still one week from Valentine’s Day, there is love in air at the Pfister Hotel tonight. Romantic love, Milwaukee love, Latin music love.

“Guajira,” scrape, boom, swoosh, “Guajira,” scrape, boom, swoosh…It’s the type of sound that crawls under your skin and tickles until you dance. Two people are wildly gyrating in front of the window at Blu about four counts faster than the music. It looks like an African tribal dance of sorts.  They are the only people dancing in the room, but they couldn’t care less. It’s hard not to notice her, wearing a red shirt and her braid whipping slices through the heavy conversation in the air. He’s wearing a sweater vest and thick-rimmed glasses. His movements are stiff and jerky, but his chin stays up as he concentrates on repeating the same footsteps.

A woman courteously invites me to share her corner of the room as we remain innocent bystanders to their unabashed spectacle and soak in the energy radiating from the room. We agree that it’s a crime if you’re a local and you don’t know about this great place. We both also agree that De la Buena is a fantastic band, even paired down to a quartet. She introduced herself as Bonnie Schafer. Her husband John returned to their table and they nibbled on a brightly-colored assortment of cheese cubes as we continued to gush about all the different things we love about Milwaukee – live music, Blu and views of the lake top the list. As more and more guests trickle in from the Heart Ball (more on that later this week) I decided to relinquish my coveted spot near the band and head downstairs.

At the lobby bar, I found Ted and Victoria unwinding in the company of two Kettle One martinis, straight up. A single olive floated in their glasses like a buoy.

They excitedly greeted Ellie, the cocktail waitress, a familiar face. “How long have you been working here?” asked Victoria. “32 years,” proudly replied Ellie. “That’s about as long as I’ve been coming here,” admitted Ted.

Cecil Negro Jr. of De la Buena
Cecil Negro Jr. of De la Buena

Ted went to Marquette University from 1964-1969. He visited the Pfister Hotel for the first time when his parents were dropping him off at school and it quickly became a family favorite. “They continued to stay here every time they came to Milwaukee to visit me,” he said. Now living in Chicago, Ted and his wife Victoria make it a Valentine’s Day tradition to stay at Pfister Hotel. “I know it’s a little early, but we wanted to come in for the Marquette basketball game today,” says Victoria. “We like to make it back a few times a year for the summer festivals or to cheer on Marquette.”

I urged them to head upstairs and hear De La Buena. Victoria’s ears perked up like a bunny when I said Latin music. “Will there be dancing? she asked “I do ballroom and Salsa dance.”

“You will not be the only ones dancing,” I promised. “And if you know ballroom, you’re two steps ahead of the rest.”

 

A Voice Like Velvet

Close your eyes and you’ll swear Frank Sinatra is singing. Open them and take in the view. Up at Blu, it feels like I’m in a different city tonight, it feels like the Windy City.

I collided with Myles in the elevator  and I recognized him  (strangely enough) from the main stage at Homestead High School. He hasn’t changed much. Even back then, it was obvious that he was at home on the stage and behind the mic.

Tonight, he’s perched on a high stool in a tight configuration with a piano, bass and cymbals. He cradles the vintage silver slatted mic like precious cargo. Myles sings classic jazz and Christmas songs. His velvety voice is as smooth and warm as the whiskey pours being served at the bar. Blu was overflowing with people – strangers shared tables just to to stay and hear him sing.

Myles Hayes
Myles Hayes

During his break, we shared a cocktail at the bar and the took me through the abbreviated version of the past 15 years and I did the same. “I didn’t know I could sing jazz until a few years ago,” Myles admits, “But I was born to be a crooner baby!”

Myles comes to Milwaukee with his trio, aptly called the Myles Hayes Trio,  once a month from Chicago to sing at Blu. He has regular gigs five nights a week in Chicago and he also works in a photo studio during the week. He’s extroverted and charming, embodying the laid-back attitude of his predecessors in the Rat Pack. Had Myles been alive back then, he surely would have fit right in.

 

Tea for Two, at Blu

Sipping tea while overlooking the city on a clear day is a good day to be at Blu. I spotted a pair of dapper hats sitting in front of an impressive spread of tiered silver trays with scones, cookies, sandwiches and cakes displayed like a trophy.

Go figure – Gail, from Lake Mills, is a hat maker by trade. A cluster of beads, greenery and lace adorned her camel wool hat and an interesting smattering of necklaces tangled around her neck.

Tracy and Gail

Tracy donned the classic charcoal newsboy and thick black frames, looking professor-like in his wool blazer.

“So how’s the tea?” I ask.

“Oh well do you really want to know, because I love tea and I’ve had tea all over the world,” replies Gail.

I brace myself for her assessment. She points out her favorite treats: “This one right here, this scone – it’s like God!”

Gail gives the Pfister’s tea service a 99 percent. She docks it one point only out of respect to her guest Tracy, who doesn’t like cream cheese (which really is a staple in tea sandwiches, she understands). Her only other critique was that the tea butler should actually be called the tea sommelier because it is more accurate and proper.

So naturally, my next question is, “Where is the best tea you’ve ever had?”

“Oh I don’t know, no one has ever asked that,” she reveals (which surprises me) “I’d say the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills or the Hyatt Taipei. I got to sit beside Morgan Freeman and his mother in Beverly Hills and that was really neat.”

Afternoon tea at Blu is available Friday-Sunday and by reservation only.  Call (414) 935-5950 to reserve your spot.

 

Ben and Cassie

Ben and Cassie know a thing or two about weddings. On their second date, they DJed a wedding. Combined, they have been to over 250 weddings. As you can imagine, they had a pretty good idea of what they wanted for their own wedding before Ben even popped the question.

Cassie is the sister-in-law of Ben’s good friend. They met when she started working for Sound by Design and they hung out for about year while DJing before Ben asked her out.

Cassie and Ben blissfully happy

So here is the part you all want to know – how did he propose? It was an intricate cat and mouse chase that sent Cassie on an “errand” for her boss delivering a package to the Anaba Tea Room. Little did she know,  Ben would be there waiting on the rooftop and her engagement ring was actually inside the package she was supposed to be delivering.

“We knew we wanted to get married almost right away, it was just a matter of timing. We had been talking about it. I held on to the ring for a month before I decided the perfect way to propose because I wanted to surprise her,” admits Ben.

Anaba shut down the rooftop so Ben could light some candles and be alone with her when she arrived.  “She found me up there and knew right away what was going on,” he said. Of course, Cassie said yes.

The plan almost didn’t work though when a coworker offered to drop off the package for her since she was going that way. Luckily the boss intervened and insisted Cassie hand deliver the package.

Ben took her to dinner at Bacchus that night and  surprised Cassie again by arranging for her family and friends to meet them at Blu for a celebratory drink.

“It was a super overwhelming day. I was so anxious and nervous. This is the best part of the day now that she said yes – I can finally relax,” Ben exhales.

Now all they have to do is worry about finding a date and a venue for a June wedding in Puerto Rico. Something tells me wedding planning will be cinch for these two.

 

Good Genes

Zoom in close. The young performer engages every facial feature to deliver this song.  Pan out slowly, generic take in her full frame.  She’s comfortable at the microphone and at home behind her guitar.

Her singing is inspired and sincere. The lilt and texture of her voice is an appealing mix of Toby Lightman, buy cialis Stevie Nicks and Sara Bareilles. Pan out a bit further to take in the late afternoon sun lighting the furniture of Blu. Most of the chairs are empty. Two small tables chat in the back of the room.  One other person is with me at the bar. We’re both nodding along with the singer.

Her next song tickles a distant thought. “That sounds familiar,” I say, curling my face into a question mark, trying to remember. “I can’t think of–”

“It’s ‘Lights’,” my bar mate tells me. “It’s been playing on the radio a lot lately.”

I admit to him that I wasn’t familiar with the song, but liked how it suited her voice. He turned back to the performer and I smiled at myself, appreciating the life reminder about judging books and covers. Why couldn’t this silver-haired man wearing a t-shirt and shorts and enjoying a lager beer be familiar with the Billboard Top 100? Shame on me.

I learn that his name is Dan. He’s a designer for a fabrications company, creating plastic moldings for car dashboards, cell phones, keyboards and other manufacturing companies.   He’s lives in Madison, but is originally from Fort Atkinson.

“Are you a musician, too?” I ask.

He laughs, “I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. All of my kids are really creative, though.  My wife and I don’t know where they got it from.”

We laugh about the traits that children will assume, both because of and in spite of genetics.

“There are parts of them that are so familiar and parts that are so uniquely them,” Dan says. “Like, when Katie first starting playing–”

Dan’s grin turns sheepish, and he tosses a thumb over his shoulder to the guitar player. “That’s my daughter,” he said. “I’m her roadie today, carrying all the heavy stuff.”

We talked a bit more watching our children bloom. How much he marvels at his two grandsons. That he enjoyed his own childhood. In mid-sentence, Dan’s face brightens with surprise and he smiles broadly at two women entering the lounge.

“These are two of my sisters,” Dan says, between hugs. As they settle at the bar, one sister introduces herself to me. Eileen.  She’s the oldest.  They’ve traveled from Madison to see Katie play, deciding to make an overnight adventure of the trip.  I catch her up on our conversation, sharing Dan’s comment about musical ability skipping a generation.

“It’s true,” she says, her face lighting up. “I knew Dad could play guitar, but I didn’t know how good he was until I was an adult.  It’s not like he had time to play much when we were all growing up.”

“He was a World War II vet,” Dan adds. “When he came home, I guess he was busy making up for lost time.”

Eileen laughed and turned to me to explain: “There were six of us in a span of nine years,” she said, smiling. “Good Irish Catholics.”

Their father passed away more than two decades ago, but the two siblings lobbed memories of his good nature as if they were last-summer fresh:

“If someone showed up to our house, he would get on the phone and start calling people to come over.”

“Remember the slip and slide!?”

“He got a tarp, a water hose and a bunch of dish liquid to make a huge 15-foot by 10-foot slip and slide.”

“He could make anything into a party.”

“Cousin Tommy always knew he could crash at our house.”

“He walked to the house from Elkhorn once.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“My dad always had a soft spot for Cousin Tommy,” Eileen says to me. “He’d been in Vietnam.”

“A paramedic,” Dan says.  “He saw the worst of everything.”

“Yeah, the worst,” Eileen says solemnly. “Dad understood what Tommy was dealing with.”

The lounge has begun to fill with people, many of them here for Katie.  She takes a set break and starts making her rounds with hugs. Dan is to his feet, too, shaking hands, patting backs, hugging family, laughing.

I lean back to admire their tangle of arms, conversations, smiles.  Even if they can’t trace every talent to a sponsoring gene, love of family is clearly a dominant trait that they share.

Co-Conspirator

Co-Conspirator

I’m on a stakeout.  Granted, I’m not disguised as a delivery person or hiding behind a newspaper. There are no binoculars or dark shades involved. No two-way radio tucked into my sleeve.  Although the excitement tickling my gut might suggest that I’m crouched behind a dumpster aiming a telephoto lens, I’m actually perched on a low bench in Blu.  It’s a handsome crowd and most are here to watch the fireworks.  One person is here to rewrite history.

Larry is at a table with his girlfriend, Stephanie. I’ve known her for a while, and Larry has been like a little brother to me for more than 10 years. About a month ago, he called to ask if I could be on hand when he proposed.

“She’s always loved fireworks,” he said. “Last summer, I remember turning to look at her and her face was all lit up with lights and she was smiling like a big kid.  I remember thinking, ‘I absolutely love this woman.’”

Of course, I coo.

“I didn’t tell her in that moment, though,” Larry said, disappointment still lacing his words. “I don’t know what stopped me.  I told her, maybe, the next day. But at the fireworks?  Man, that would’ve been perfect.”

The missed opportunity nagged at him.  When he was ready to propose almost a year later, he was determined to create an unforgettable event.

“If I pull this off,” he said, “History just might smudge away that fact that I dropped the ball that night, and she’ll always associate my ‘I love you’ with fireworks.  Maybe our kids will even retell the story that way.”

A conspiracy in the name of love and posterity? I’m in.

I’m at my post, crammed awkwardly between the bar, a married couple to my right and an adult family of six to my left.  Everyone faces the window, watching the steel-grey sky surrender to nightfall.  I’m making notes in my journal about the crowd, the mood, the floating constellation of lights from boats in the marina and, of course, Larry and Stephanie. Like many other couples, they’re sipping champagne, holding hands, planting kisses, listening to the jazz band, enjoying a romantic evening. I look at my watch. 9:05. My stomach begins to flutter.

The wait staff hustles to and fro delivering champagne and towers of hors d’ouerves to the tables. When a waiter appears beside him, Larry looks alarmed and I imagine his heart thundering beneath his shirt. He’s made arrangements for a custom dessert with “Will You Marry Me” written in chocolate. Not yet. Almost, but not yet.

9:20

The band is back from a mini-break. The singer begins “I Will Always Love You,” and the banquet staff approach Larry and Stephanie with their dessert.  It takes a moment for its true sweetness to register, and Stephanie begins to smile and giggle.  Larry produces the ring box and lowers himself to one knee.  I’m not close enough to hear his actual proposal (should’ve invested in the wire tap kit, after all) but I could hear the whisper rippling around us, “Look, he’s proposing!”

Exactly –seriously- exactly as Larry and Stephanie stand to embrace and kiss, the sky erupts in light and fire.  Larry turns to the crowd and confirms, “She said yes!” The entire lounge cheers.

Later that night, I ask Stephanie if she had any idea.  She said she had none.

“I called her parents and all of her girlfriends to make sure this went off smoothly,” Larry said.  “I even made sure that we were dressed up so all the pictures would look nice.”

“You really covered your bases,” I said.  “When did you start planning?”

Larry recounts how he met with her parents early in the year, requested time off from work back in March, started scouting locations in spring, engaged accomplices in early summer, etc.  All the while, Stephanie is admiring her ring.  Our eyes meet, and she laughs.

“Don’t mind me,” she says.

“So, how’d he do? I ask.

“This was perfect,” Stephanie said, planting another kiss on Larry’s cheek.  “It was everything, and it was perfect.”

Stephanie rested against Larry’s arm, smiling up at him as she draped a wrist over his shoulder. We were all silent, indulging in the gaze. The ring dressed her hand beautifully. Stephanie radiated. Larry beamed. The diamonds winked with fire and light. I am still smiling after we hug goodbye and they have head to the elevators. Smiling, and I have no doubt that their children will long tell love stories about fireworks.

Enjoy The Fireworks In Blu

Once again, festival season in Milwaukee is upon us. It’s our favorite time of year! There’s nothing better than good food, good music, and to top it off, a great fire works display.

Are you ready to OOOH and AHHH?

Why weed the crowds, hunt for a good parking spot, or fight the heat and humidity when you can enjoy the fireworks from the best view in the city with a cocktail in your hand.

Join us in Blu for each and every firework display happening at the Henry Meyer Festival Park and throughout the rest of the festivals on the lakefront.

  • 6/27 – The Big Bang
  • 7/3 – Lakefront Fireworks
  • 7/13 – 7/15 – South Shore Frolics
  • 7/19 – 7/22 – Festa Italiana
  • 7/27 – 7/28 – German Fest
  • 8/19 – Irish Fest
  • 9/7 – 9/8  – Indian Summer

(Fireworks start at dusk, times subject to change)

For reservations, please email Alicia or call 414-273-8222 x 2801.