Jackie and Jim’s last hurrah

The Pfister has always served a special role in Jackie and Jim Green’s life. Mainly, pilule as a place for them to escape their kids.

The Greens live in Arlington Heights, a suburb just outside Chicago, and they have four children – two girls and two boys – ages 22, 21, 20 and 19. They are all in college – or about to attend college – in the Midwest.

I ask them what it was like when they were all teenagers.

“It was horrible, cialis ” she says. “The girls suck up a lot, they know how to play it. Actually, our two nicest kids are the ones we never hear from. Well, unless they need money. And our youngest – we can’t wait until she leaves. She’s a real pain in the neck.”

I tell her my kids are 10, 10 and 9 and I’m starting to feel a little unsettled about the years ahead.

“I wish I could tell you it’s going to be great,” she says, sipping her drink. “Sorry.”

“It’s refreshing to talk to someone who’s honest about parenting,” I say. “And I’m officially terrified.”

“I’m pretty realistic,” she says, laughing. “We’re actually here because they’re all coming home for the summer on Wednesday. This is our last hurrah.”

The Greens plan to go on a family vacation to Florida this summer. But they’re leaving two days before them to get in some kid-free time first.

Jackie and Jim first heard about the Pfister from friends who had their wedding reception in the Rouge Ballroom.

“How long ago was that?” Jackie asks Jim.

“100 years ago?” he says.

“25 years ago,” she tells me. “They told us about it and said we should try it. By the way, your dress is really cute.”

“Thanks,” I say. “My coworker said it looked like something Mrs. Roper from ‘Three’s Company’ would wear.”

“Oh, no! I noticed it right away and thought it was cute. And then I saw your face and I thought, ‘How do I know that girl?’ and then I remembered you from my iPad! I read about you on the Pfister web page on the car ride up here and then: here you are,” she says.

The Greens come to the Pfister twice a year, usually in the spring and the fall, and they spend most of their time inside the hotel. However, one year they went to see Aerosmith, and the night of our interview they were going to Ward’s House of Prime because they had a Groupon.

But most of their weekends are centered around the on-site bars and restaurants.

“We plan our entire day around going to Blu. If you get there too late, you can’t get a seat. You need to get there when it opens. At 5,” she says.

“Go early, stay late?” I ask.

“Exactly!”

The Greens have a lot of Pfister memories. Jackie celebrated her 50th birthday at the hotel. They also came last January when a burst pipe led to flooding in some rooms, including theirs.

“So we hung out in this bar for six hours until we could get into our room. It was crazy. It was fun. We love this bar,” she says.

I ask her if she’s enjoying her sea breeze cocktail.

“It’s very good, but have you tried the Bloody Mary?” she asks me.

“No, but you are the second person today to tell me I have to,” I say.

“It’s amazing. Wait, I have a picture of it, on my phone. You have to see this,” she says, scrolling through the photo log on her cell phone. “Is it sad when you’re showing someone a picture of a drink on your phone?”

“Nah.”

“Oh, here it is!” she looks at it fondly. “The cheese. The pickles. The sausage!”

I like these people. They are easy to talk to; they are real. And I’m always happy when Chicagoans see beauty in Milwaukee. Certainly there are attractive old hotels in The Windy City: The Palmer House, The Drake. So why The Pfister?

“It’s the history. We love it here,” she say. “It’s the only reason we come to Milwaukee. Well, other than to get away from our kids.”

The Pfister Five: Meet international model Raengel Solis

Welcome to a new series on the blog called “The Pfister Five.” Occasionally, order I’ll post a five-question interview with a guest. To kick this off, here’s a chat with Raengel Solis, an international model who stayed at the Pfister recently. 

Raengel was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. Eight years ago, she moved to New York City and three years ago to Miami, medicine where she works as a model for the Home Shopping Network and on Telemundo Miami.

“I love Miami,” she says. “Winter’s just not for me.”

Now fluent in both Spanish and English, Raengel moved to the United States knowing very little English, but learned the language at Worcester Community College in New York and through her job working at a busy supermarket.

“It wasn’t hard for me to learn English. Once I put my mind to something, I do it,” says Raengel.

Molly: What brings you to the Pfister?

Raengel: I am here modeling summer clothes for Kohl’s Department Store.

Just before I came here, I was modeling for Queen Latifah. She has a line of clothing called “Queen Collection.” I was so excited to meet her and she is the best famous person I have ever met. She is the same in real life as she is on TV and movies. She is not a diva.

Molly: How long have you been a model and what do you like about it?

Raengel: I have been a model for 15 years and I love it. I like the feelings I have when walking down the catwalk. I have a very fun life. I get to travel all over the world: Spain, London, Milwaukee. (She doesn’t even chuckle when she says “Milwaukee” after the two Fashion Capitals of the World. For this, I like her even more and mentally make her an Honorary Cheesehead. Actually, with her stunning looks, she’s probably one of the few people who could truly rock one of those foam cheese hats. But back to the interview…)

Molly: You were born and raised in the Dominican Republic. What is one thing about your home country that most people don’t know?

Raengel: The people are really fun. And they are very caring. Here, if you live in an apartment, you might not know your neighbors, but there, if you have a problem, you knock on your neighbor’s door and they will help you.

Molly: What are your thoughts on fashion and shopping?

Raengel: I love fashion, like all models. And I like Prada, Dolce. But it doesn’t have to be expensive for me to like it. Fashion is about personal style, mixing it together, not matching.

I don’t like shopping at all. I get tired of taking clothes on and off all day as a model, so I don’t like to go to malls with my friends even though they always go. I only shop online.

Molly: What is one thing you want to do during your lifetime?

Raengel: My mom got a fever when she was six years old and she lost her hearing. She has been to doctors but they could not help her. I would like her to see more doctors. I want her to hear my voice someday.

Clap, Clap, Clap-Clap-Clap

Milwaukee is hot with Brewers fever right now. Skyscrapers have windows lit up in a pattern that reads “GO MB!” and the scrolling signs on the fronts of the city buses stream route numbers alternating with “Go Milwaukee Brewers!” Sculptured sheep that graze peacefully in empty storefronts now wear team garments.

One night last week in the lobby bar, Jeffrey was playing his airy, light beautiful tunes while on the TV in the corner, Corey Hart silently hit a home run, cheered on by more than 40,000 mute fans on their feet in Miller Park. Bernie launched himself at his slide, fists raised in the air as he winds to the bottom, fireworks went off, but without a sound. The juxtaposition was illuminating: Everyone was paying attention, even the grandest hotel in the city.

Besides the love they have for the Cream City’s much-loved, long-suffering baseball team, the Pfister employees were paying extremely close attention to how this game played out, as well as the one that would end several hours later, as it all would determine what would happen the coming weekend: a possible influx of athletes and fans, resulting in a massive reservations and room shift that could be any manager’s nightmare. It’s a good thing that the Pfister knows how to manage such seismic shifts with finesse and polish; extra staff and managers on call to put that extra foot forward, pressed jackets and smiles at the ready. The Pfister is especially aware of its connection to baseball fans, especially those who come from long distances to cheer on their favorite team, whether it’s the one that has roots here, or the one that’s visiting.

I, too, have thoroughly enjoyed the baseball fans who pass through the hotel.

There was the night when two young women in Brewers shirts stood at the bar with a young man approximately the same age – also in blue, gold and white – and a tall, slightly older gentleman in a Brewers hoodie, were approached by someone in a snappy suit who grabbed the hand and shoulder of the older man, shouting “Congratulations! I hear you’re about to be a grandpa!”

Or, the rowdy group from Kentucky and Colorado who toasted “Go Brewers, Packers and Rockies!” while the couple from Kentucky proudly showed off their new Brewers jerseys. And the guests here on business who board a bus to the stadium where they’ll get to watch the game from a suite sponsored by their company. The stylish professional who’s always dressed to the nines in fine suits and classy ties showing off his Brewers socks. The guy who stopped in to the lobby bar to pick up tickets from a friend of a friend who couldn’t use them and who said, gratefully, as he clutched the envelope granting him two Club Level seats: “It’s my girlfriend’s birthday and I’m going to surprise her with these! She’ll be thrilled!”

There were many times a group of Brewers-jersey-clad people would be approaching the center of the lobby, coming in one door, while a group sporting the gear of the Brewers’ opposing team would arrive from the other direction and I half-expected them to break out in a West Side Story-style confrontation, complete with snapping fingers and dancing feet. Of course, for some inexplicable reason, I’m also always hoping that the Miller Park grounds crew will do a choreographed flash-mob dance when they trot out with their rakes between innings.

Then there was the day last month when Roc, a concierge, was approached by a mother and her three boys who wanted to go see the Brewers play a game, but didn’t have tickets. Could he help? Through a lot of internet searching and phone calls, he managed to eke out tickets for the family. During that game, her youngest son caught a fly ball and they later sent the photo to Roc, thanking him for his role in facilitating this memory for that boy.

So, all of Milwaukee feels like that boy right now: excited, hopeful, wanting to see something incredible happen and be a part of it. This former A’s fan, smitten by the Brew Crew over the last decade, will be cheering “Go Blue!” from Blu, starting 7 minutes after they open at 4pm, just in time for that first pitch Friday afternoon. Let’s go, Brewers!

Piano for Three: Sunday Snapshots

Lobby Lounge

Where: Parking garage
When: 7:30pm
What: Power-washing of the parking ramps. Motors running, water streaming, hoses draped across the cement. Cars with license plates from Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee all sport bike racks. Perhaps for people taking part in the UPAF Ride for the Arts which went on over the weekend?

Where: Elevator bank in hallway
When: 7:35pm
What: The soft hum of the A/C reflects the summer heat outside as fans circulate cooled air.

Where: Café at the Pfister
When: 7:36pm
What: A man in a khaki shirt moves rhythmically through the space, circling with his mop, shoulders flexing, reaching and swirling as he cleans the floor.

Where: Lobby
When: 8:03pm
What: Automatic doors at the main entrance open with a squeaking “swoosh” and a man on a mission brusquely enters, sweeping past tall vases cradling Birds of Paradise flowers. He’s holding aloft a white box topped with a brown paper bag: a guest’s order from a local eating establishment, arriving by delivery, the grease starting to spot the corners of the bag.  The phone rings.  Someone needs another bathrobe.

Where: Lobby Lounge
When: 8:36pm
What: The crinkle of paper and soft breath of pages being turned as a man sits in one of the plush chairs, reading the latest issue of TIME magazine. Ellie & Jeff quietly confer over the drinks menu, shoulders touching as they examine it where it sits on the end of the bar. Another guest stands with arms crossed in front of the corner armoir, open to reveal a previously hidden television, tuned to the (muted) NBA Finals.

Where: Business Center
When: 8:50pm
What: Minesweeper working fine.

Where: Lobby
When: 9:02pm
What: A guest returns from dinner. At the front desk, Stephanie, a gently gregarious soul, cheerfully inquires about how his meal was at Elsa’s on the Park. He has nothing but glowing enthusiasm and asks her for another recommendation for when he’s free another night later this week.

Where: Lobby Lounge
When: 9:15pm
What: Piano music begins again: strains of a soft waltz drift through the room, bouncing off the marble floors and expanding upwards into the arched ceiling. A bar stool squeaks.

Where: Lobby
When: 9:16-9:23pm
What: The phone rings. Two arrivals check in within quick succession – one right after the other. Footsteps on carpet, followed by wheels of luggage trailed behind. Guest #1 noses around on a tablet-style device, waiting while Stephanie finishes up a phone call. The clattering of keys follows as she swiftly checks him in, giving directions on where to find the pool.  Guest #2 is dressed similarly: casual, comfortable traveling clothes. She, too, is checked in within moments.

Where: Lobby Lounge
When: 9:26pm
What: The automatic doors swoosh, squeak. A gentleman in a polo shirt and baseball cap rushes in, practically charging to a table that stands adjacent to the rear of the piano. He grabs a chair and sets it directly facing the enter of the instrument, his back to the lobby. Elly is by his side within seconds, confirming his order (which she already knew: he’s definitely a regular). He teases her. Jeff lobs a few remarks their direction, punctuated with laughter. He removes his cap, offers some cash to the piano player’s tip jar and murmurs some requests. The piano player’s head nods an affirmation, never ceasing the dancing of his fingers across the keys.

Where: Lobby bar
When: 9:42pm
What: Recently checked-in guest comes down to the bar and takes a seat, spreading her newspaper out before her, open to the crossword puzzle, her pen tapping in hand, in time to the music.  The gentleman who sat by the piano has joined everyone else at the bar.  The piano shifts from a lilting, soothing melody to something more bright, bubbly and lively – mirroring the increase in chatter as banter between Elly and Jeff and the other guests picks up slightly.

A humming fan, footsteps on the carpet, soft laughter, clattering keyboard keys, a tapping pen, the squeak of a bar stool, piano music, the swoosh of the automatic front door, a door being shut as someone departs…

Passing of the Pen

That’s what we’re calling it. The official sign-off, remedy hand-over and next phase of the Narrator position. I’m not eager to give it up, but when I see Stacie again today, I realize “how can I not?”

Standing in the middle of the hotel lobby, she’s the brightest thing there. She’s been through the PR ringer, having her poster made, providing quotes for a press release, learning the blog system and now, today, taking some photos with me. Her look is bright and excited, mingled with a bit of overwhelmed awe.

I take her to my favorite seat, the plush couch in the lobby bar and before I can even settle in enough to ask the questions I had on my mind—turning the tables one last time and choosing the writer as my subject—Val is there, describing the time capsule in the lobby and reminding us that the Marcus company is very into history and preserving generational linkages. I thought it was appropriate as Stacie and I build the first link in what should be a very long chain of storytelling.

I don’t have to ask her anything, actually. She just starts telling. I worry as I listen if she is a better ambassador than a writer. She’s already describing to me the room we’re sitting in, how she’d depict the feeling of the plush couch that hasn’t been replaced in a long time “Not that that’s a bad thing, it’s good. Good, really. Look,” she says, bouncing on the cushion “it’s what makes it so soft.” Before I can comment, she’s telling about the baseball fans she saw in the lobby the day she took some head shots there and just as I laugh and agree that I’ve seen many a sports-reveler in the hotel, she is on to the next subject.

I’m convinced (not that I wasn’t prior to our ad hoc “all this is now yours” ceremony) that she’s the perfect heir to the throne. (I’m unabashed. It is a throne. It was such an amazing seat of honor, and not just because it was plush and well-worn). It’s not just that I’ve finally met a woman who talks more than I do (friends of mine will laugh at that; I think, after getting to know Stacie, I suspect friends of hers are giggling as well). But her talk is measured. She catches what surrounds us—from the bearded man who made an entrance and enjoyed his solitary glass of water in the lobby and mysteriously reappeared in the café when we walked through, to the staff and guests walking past us wondering about the cameras. She’s so full of things to say and so eager to not just say them, but write them.

That was the best part of talking with Stacie today. I had questions in mind, but all skirted the real subject: Writing. I was nervous to talk about writing. Writers are fickle (at least I am). It’s such a heartfelt, soul-releasing endeavor to mold words on a page and it’s so subject to critique that to discuss it raw and in the open is a delicate enterprise and Stacie has been reading my words. She’s seen my enterprise and now, she sits with me, suddenly there, gathering the words with me. We could both tell this story. Betwen us, it would be a choose-your-own-adventure and oh so different. Is the hand off today the doorway to a critique of what was experience as much as storytelling, craft as much as guest service?

When I interviewed for this position, interested parties asked me what I hoped to gain as a writer by the time I was done. I knew I wanted more stories than I could tell and more flexing of my pen than I could stand. I wanted to fatigue my muscles, douse the page in water because it overheated and beat my best time in a sprint across the sentences.

I reached many of those goals; I have measures of success ticked off in my notebook. But as I pass the pen, like a baton in a relay, I know that the next runner can be faster. Her way with words will reach different ends and move her to places I didn’t achieve during my residency.

Today we photographed me introducing Stacie to some of my favorite hotel staffers, my favorite hotel nooks and crannies and the memories of some of my stories. I tried to retell them but she already knew. It was a final tick in my notebook. Someone read my writing; someone is picking up where I left off.

It’s my turn to read, and I cannot wait to see how this story ends. Best of luck to you, Stacie, you have the pen that preserves the Pfister.

Love and Pizza

I saw a lot of bouquets on desks yesterday. That’s the nature of the beast, right? What I really wanted to see, however, was adoring couples and cute gestures and candle lit dinners. So, I went to the Pfister.

I found out that Hallmark needn’t intervene; the Pfister is like your Valentine. I was met with badges, not bouquets. Haggard business folk still wearing their I.D.s from the conference happening upstairs stumbled around the hallway. It dawned on me that this is a fairly common visage and that each of these beleaguered it’s-been-a-long-day-‘ers was working on Valentine’s Day. Sure, most of us worked, it’s not quite that kind of holiday, but knowing the company they were with was a sweetheart of sorts to Milwaukee’s economy it really felt like perhaps celebrating Valentine’s Day at the hotel for work is a bit like courting commerce and to some degree, that’s a good thing.

Also to my surprise and delight, there were a few singles in the lobby bar. Sure, their fingers caressed merrily the keys of their smart phones (for one is never alone with a smart phone) but it was nice to see the independence and irreverence for hearts and flowers taking place.

One single bellied up to the bar and it was clear she had been her own Valentine. A large bag from WellSpa and a terribly refreshed look about her matched her fancy cocktail and made it really feel like love, or at least relaxation and me-time, were in the air.

Just as I was about to give up hope that I’d see any red and pink-clad couples, one walked in…and headed straight for David, the bartender. They were regulars and friends and complete with sparkly red heart-shaped necklace, announced that they were making a special point to stop by and wish him a Happy Valentine’s Day.

Maybe it’s not the holiday so much as what you do and how you assess where your relationships are. I liked being at the Pfister for this holiday for part of the evening because I realized that lots of things woo you and court you in a hectic life. Business or regular people you encounter daily or even you can be your own valentine.

But before I sound too jaded (because I’m certainly not), I have to tell you about the couple, Chris and Heather, who came into the hotel and nestled in at the sofas by the fire (which was, of course, roaring). A glass of wine and a clear glow about them (I learned later they were fairly recently engaged), the pair was the delightful storybook romance I was hoping I’d see.

They made my Valentine’s Day fantasy even more complete when they broke out a deck of cards and started playing a game with each other. As if that gesture of simple, casual closeness and clear interest in one another isn’t enough, when talking to them, I’d learned they had originally planned to be at a local pizza establishment that serves heart-shaped pizzas–now that’s my kind of fancy. The wait for this delicacy was two hours, so they retired to the comfortable atmosphere of the Pfister and the fire to simply…be.

Neither of them was wearing red or pink. There were no frothy fancy drinks between them. Their work-casual apparel didn’t sparkle. But, their easy togetherness in front of the fire set the perfect scene and I have to say, Hallmark couldn’t have captured it if they tried.

Everything Old is New Again

The Pfister Hotel is never the same place twice…and that’s the best part. Since I have been named the Narrator, I try to bring  different friends into the Pfister to sit and watch and enjoy with me.

There are different kinds of reactions. Some have known the hotel much longer than I (I am only just beginning my fourth year as a Milwaukeean) and their Milwaukee origin stories revolve around the hotel. “I remember we used to…” begin their narratives.

Others are related to the hotel through me. “What will you write about him? Oh! What about her? What’s his name, who have you met, can you give me a tour?”

But for me, my wonderment at each person’s reaction to the hotel is the lesson I’ve learned from strangers that I can now apply to my friends. I’ve become a good listener. I’ve realized many of the travelers and hotel guests I’ve met are more than ready to talk and each of them has the greatest tales to tell.

When I sit with friends, I find I shift my senses from sharing time with a companion I’ve known for a very long time to suddenly experiencing these people as full of unique stories of their own, many I haven’t learned yet.

Two different women friends came with me to two different after-work happy hours recently. My experience was dramatically different with each. The first could barely finish a story without yelping out, gasping and recognizing with joy the tune on the piano. At one point, she confessed she was ready to stand on the table and sing along. For her, the theatrics of the hotel drew out her experience, helped her enjoy the space and her evening. The lobby was her stage, the other guests were her co-stars and she was looking for cues to share with them.

The other woman was a professional at enjoying the lobby. She’d been to the hotel many times before and knew it long before I moved to town. It was comical to think I was showing her the Pfister when in truth the opposite was true.

The passersby and people watching didn’t suit her as much as the space itself. We walked past the amazing art collection which moved her—but not as much as the framed stories of the hotel’s early years and its transformations over time. The architecture, the uses, the pharmacy, the old nooks and crannies and questions of “are they still here?” propelled her through the Pfister. The bones of the place were the foundation of her experience.

In graduate school, I read about the politics and culture of space, studied how theorists turned space into this living, breathing concept that made meaning. I understood those theoretical concepts and reveled in them.

But as I bring friends to tea, to the couches, to the art and to the amazing Gardettos mix in the lobby bar, I don’t just theorize about space. When I bring locals to this place that they already know, but I share it with them for the first time, each person’s experience is a new way to rewrite the hotel. Each person’s reaction is a new way to bring the Pfister to life.  It’s no longer theory; it’s practice.

Seating for One

There are so many corners to lose yourself in at the Pfister Hotel. Just when I think I’ve found the perfect nook, doctor I realize, there’s already a soft chair or couch there waiting for me—a clear demonstration that the staff at the Pfister know that cozy corners are a commodity.

The thing is, as part of my role, I am often at the Pfister alone. Many women may tell you they rarely go out alone. Maybe we go shopping, generic where it’s expected, or to a movie, where once the lights are down, it’s harder for people to see that you’re alone.

Male friends have laughed when I have said I wouldn’t stop in a bar for a drink alone. Women friends simply nod knowingly. So when at the Pfister, occasionally it’s nice to slide into a comfy cushion in an obscure corner and simply take in my surroundings.

I hope I don’t betray an entire group of people here, but occasionally, women deploy little tricks to ensure that they don’t get bothered, hit on or intruded upon when they’re cultivating their solitude in a glass of red wine at a bar.

First, I must recognize (and applaud) those who bravely venture out to fulfill their own relaxation or winding down techniques, whether friends have agreed to join them or not. And second, I need to let you know it happens far more often than you think.

I sat down in the lobby bar next to a couple who easily engaged me and we had a great time together. One of the stories the gentleman wanted to share was of the young woman who had warmed my chair not thirty minutes prior. The man said he’d offered her a drink and she said, clutching her wine, “No, I’m waiting for someone, thank you.”

After the wine was gone, the woman left. The gentleman’s wife returned and he said, as she sat, “Huh, poor girl, her friend stood her up.” The wife questioned his details and laughed. “Oh, she didn’t have a friend coming.”

Confused, the husband was then schooled (and then again by me after his retelling of the event) in woman-alone-at-the-bar logic. We tell lies like that to make ourselves feel comfortable, to ward off unwelcome advances and to feel socially secure in our aloneness.

Since that lesson, I’ve paid special attention to all the single ladies in the house at the Pfister and I must say—there are a great many of us. Just the other night, during those immediate post-work hours at Blu, I spotted a woman enjoying a glass of wine and clearly winding down. Oblivious to those around her, she faced her chair outward toward the city and calmly enjoyed her surroundings. There were a number of men seated alone as well, perhaps parts of conferences or folks traveling for work, but not a one of them approached her or disrupted her serenity. It could have been because most of them had their chairs facing the skyline as well and as the sun set  it was a pretty irresistible view, easily one that no pick-up line could compete with.

So I continue to applaud the brave women who, by whatever means necessary, whether it’s an amazing view, stellar confidence or a little white lie, secure for themselves a cozy nook to enjoy some time to themselves. I may notice you when I’m there, but I promise, I will not disturb.