The other night I was sitting in the lobby lounge editing photographs on my computer. Something a bar patron said caught my ear and made me laugh. I don’t remember what exactly he said, but the gentleman’s tone and volume invited anybody within earshot to join. Hearing my chuckle he turned around, delighted that another was entertained by his observation. As he approached my table with a glass of beer in hand I closed the screen on my laptop and returned the machine to it’s case.
Wayne was this fellow’s name and he was in Milwaukee for a very brief stay. Wayne is the director of a company called SMAC Technologies and they’re located just outside of Adelaide, South Australia. SMAC is an acronym for Shaw Method of Air Conditioning. Wayne’s company recently won the Australian Clean Technologies Ideas Competition and he was in the U.S. to spread word of his company’s innovative take on the cooling process. As you might guess air conditioning in Australia isn’t a mere creature comfort; when living there it’s something closer to necessity. Imagine grandparents retiring to Florida without air conditioning. Not likely.
Straightaway Wayne told me he was “absolutely gobsmacked” with Milwaukee. Throughout our conversation it amazed me the sort of reverence Wayne had for the opportunity to visit our part of the world. He remarked, “With Johnson Controls in Milwaukee, Honeywell in Minneapolis, Carrier a bit farther in Syracuse, it’s very exciting for me to visit what can be considered the birthplace of my field of study.” I’d never quite thought about our region that way, that far back. I suppose the Midwest was a vital epicenter of the industrial revolution. One’s definition of hometown is specific to their experience. Milwaukee’s always been where I’m from and to hear someone so impressed made me think more critically about the prominence of this city.
My new acquaintance told me that he’d walked five blocks east on Wisconsin Avenue to see the moving sculpture we call an art museum. Strolled his feet in the sand on the public shores of Lake Michigan, the 5th largest body of fresh water in the world. Came back and sat at a bar sampling beer that was brewed within walking distance. He then traveled in an elevator and slept in history’s first building to feature individualized temperature controls in each room. Ensconced in indigenous Cream City Brick. Absolutely gobsmacked indeed.
I suppose living in the same place for a long time can be like marriage. You wake up in the morning and consider your sleeping wife’s adorable curl above her right temple. You go about the morning routine and while in the shower think of how the relationship has evolved but you still love those dimples on the small of her back and admire her stubbornness (most of the time). After toweling off you walk down the hallway to mention her haircut, but her words arrive first. She asks how one of the kids is getting home from soccer practice. In your mind you envision the soccer schedule and forget about her hair, her dimples, her cleft chin. Her calf muscles’ perfect taper toward the ankle. You imagine sitting in the car while driving to soccer practice. That car should have the transmission fluid changed. Before winter. Better buy a snow shovel by December, the old favorite’s blade is too curled to be of use any longer (but shall remain lovingly displayed in corner of the garage). Do the gutters need to be cleaned of autumn leaves before snow and ice? We have to remember to go ice skating at Brown Deer Park this winter… “Oh, yes, sure I can pick them up from soccer.”
I was born in Milwaukee, my parents too. My dad graduated from Granville High School, my mom Brown Deer. Same school, but the town’s name had been changed from Granville to Brown Deer. Brown Deer Park is one of 9 public golf courses in Milwaukee. At nearly 750 square feet per person our city ranks 8th for park acreage in the United States. Lake Michigan is free, public, and welcoming your presence. Olympians train at the Pettit. We host the world’s largest music festival. We offered electric temperature control to the world. We invented the typewriter and consequently the QWERTY keyboard. From a list of 30, Milwaukee claims 3 of the country’s top restaurants. Wayne is right, there are no shortage of reasons to be absolutely gobsmacked with Milwaukee, regardless if you call it home.
I suggest spending some time at the lakefront- because you can, because it’s yours. It’s even more lovely in winter. Or visit a new park you’ve yet to see. There are 136 in Milwaukee. And go tell your spouse something. The something only you know.