Long ago I came to the realization that I love cities. I love being crammed up against a great mix of interesting and different people from all walks of life. I love jostling in close proximity to commuters and strap hangers. And the melody of honking horns and loud sounds bouncing off of towering buildings is music to my ears. I came to my love of cities by the most honest of paths…the road of suburban rebellion.
I’m a product of the suburbs, look and as a writer plying my trade in the city of Milwaukee, the suburb I grew up in is actually walkable from the very Pfister Hotel where I spend many moments with pens and laptop. I began to define myself as an urbanite by living in bigger cities where my adoration of high rise life overtook any remnants of longing for a yard big enough to require a riding mower. I am the sort of guy who will eschew his car and walk to the grocery store for milk because that’s just what you do when you live in a city.
One of my great personal joys working at the Pfister is being filled with the feeling that each time I walk through its doors I am cocooned in the citiest of all Milwaukee city places. The suburbs and the time I spent as a lad planning trips to a shopping mall where the parking lot was bigger than a track field seem light years away when I’m at home at the urban paradise that is the Pfister Hotel.
This is why when a posse of smiling ladies from the Suburban Women’s Club of Wauwatosa turned the corner of a hallway at the Pfister and lit upon me with recollections of my days as a snot nose from the suburbs, prescription my spine straightened and I felt an immediate fight or flight knot form in the pit of my stomach. Of course I was silly to have even a moment of tummy churn with this surprise encounter because one thing will always be true of a group of sweet ladies from the suburbs. They are as warm and welcoming as a tuna noodle casserole and they make you feel clean inside with chatter of zip codes that offer reasonable rates on ranch houses and corner lot colonials.
The ladies were having a tour of the Pfister’s art collection by our Artist-In-Residence Todd, no rx and their journey was as sunny and smiley of a holiday field trip as could ever be conjured. As Todd’s group bumped into me hard at work writing on my laptop, a sort of suburban bomb detonated. We locked eyes, and it was crystal clear we had come from the same tribe. The banter was lively.
“You went to high school with my daughter! Remember?”
Maybe. Vaguely, but I’m a middle aged chum who aspires to be an old dithery man, so forgive me for being fuzzy on the details of my year book.
“I remember you in those plays. Are you still doing those plays?”
Ah, the best sort of fans of my work on the stage. Ones who remember me from times on the boards when I actually needed to comb my hair before I made my first entrance.
I like to think that I’m the type of guy who believes heaven-on-earth is 900 square feet on the 27th floor overlooking a bridge or a tall building that needs a superhero to leap it in a single bound. But these dear suburban queens made me melt at the knees. Their good humor and open hearts reminded me that suburbia is always going to be a positive part of my personal story. We laughed hard about our shared history and winked and nodded over those little particulars only someone from good old Tosa could ever understand. And if you think that we suburbanites are shy and retiring, I’m happy to say that a nearby group holding a conference had to shush us all because we were hooting it up like a bunch of rowdy sailors.
We said our goodbyes so the ladies could finish their tour with Todd and make their way to nearby George Watts Café for lunch (suburban boy that I am, I guessed right that they were all ordering the chicken salad and Sunshine Cake). These days I may prefer taking an elevator to my front door instead of walking through an attached garage, but I’m thrilled to have been given the ultimate holiday gift of fond memories of a time in my life long ago. I may have taken myself out of the burbs, but there’s no shame in coming from a place where yard sales and station wagons deserve their own special place of pride.
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