Milwaukee has been one of the surprise highlights of our adventure. We added it to our agenda because neither of us had ever been and because we needed to be in the middle of Wisconsin for a family event at the end of July. We had heard that once the frost melts and the sun comes out, Milwaukee becomes a manic city--full of outdoor dining and good music by the river and people looking to have a good time. And it turns out that is exactly the case here.
We are staying in the Days Inn Hotel of the Arts, a boutique hotel across the street from a low-income housing project. When we pulled into the hotel, a young white guy sat on the curb outside of the main entrance strumming an Epiphone acoustic guitar. When I passed through the lobby, I saw two high-school-aged girls performing to a thin audience in the hotel bar, one strumming a ukulele, the other singing.
Our first order of business when we got to town was to go get some Indian food, so we went down historic Brady street to Maharaja's. Imagine a Midwestern diner decked out with with red pleather and statues of Vishnu. And some kick-ass food. From there we went down to Trocadero Gastrobar to hear some live Latin jazz on the terrace and consume some fine local brews. I have become a fan of the Fixed Gear Red Ale, by Lakefront, a small local brewery.
When we got home, imagine our surprise when we came across a hotel bar full of high school kids (and a few proud parents) with instruments, singing. It turns out that on the very next day these young hopefuls were going to be auditioning for American Idol 2011. We ran up to our hotel room, grabbed my little audio recorder, and came back down to the bar to watch. At this point a sad little crowd had formed, and the high school kids (as they are want to do) were totally immersed in their own little world. We heard three performances (there was apparently another venue at the tables out in front of the hotel, which we missed), which I have edited down to their core moments for the good of humanity. Don't forget to vote for your favorite by texting 1, 2 or 3 to 541-731-0122.
So...while the really young kids sang to each other, largely unaware of the adult world outside of the hotel (or the adults in the room with them), we met one of the managers of the hotel (a gay Mexican-American man), another potential auditioner (a hispanic lesbian whose name I forget but who introduced herself as Tila) and her escort, a gay hispanic man from Grand Rapids, MI who alleges that he is Thalia's greatest fan (he apparently does a drag show as Thalia). We learned that Milwaukee is not the white-bread Midwestern town that we believed it to be. We also learned that some people think Thalia is hotter than J-Lo.
The kids were lining up outside the Bradley center starting at 5 am. So we woke up the next day, got on the bikes and rode down to see the screaming hordes. We woke up a little late, had a leisurely breakfast, and by the time we got there all that remained of the adolescent throngs were some empty cattle gates, a crew of event staff sweeping up, and the lighted billboard. We did catch a few of the heartbroken walking out of the center, tears streaming down their faces, being consoled by parents and friends. One young woman kept on strumming her guitar and singing, despite her rejection, in the shade of a large sign announcing the coming 2010 season for the Milwaukee Bucks.
We then went and visited the Milwaukee Art Museum (which was the primary reason we came to Milwaukee, to see this very cool building). The museum has wings that open and close at different times of day to let in more light. A few photos to tell the tale:
After a lunch of leftover Indian food, we went on a tour of another local brewery: The Miller Brewery. There is little nice to say about this tour. It was full of very weird smells, and it gave us a glimpse at the truly horrifying scale of their operation. At the end of the tour they forced us to drink a miller lite before we could try one of their other beers. We don't recommend it.
We do recommend going for a refreshing swim in lake Michigan, if you ever have the chance. We rode out to Bradford beach and swam in the great cold lake, which is the first time I've ever set foot in the lake.
When we returned from our swim, we ran into Tila in the lobby. She had made it through the first round of auditions.