The Greatest Day

I’m standing in line at Leon’s Custard and the crowd, awaiting cones and chili dogs, is thick. It’s a central point here on the southern edge of the city, where races, ages, income brackets and attitudes sync up beneath the stand’s iconic neon and fluorescent lights. I forget sometimes how much this town means to me, when all I read about in the news are the struggles and strife we face.

Earlier in the day, I was sitting in the courtyard of Best Place with the statue of Frederick Pabst as my only company as I sipped my Schlitz. I was reviewing my photos from a brief tour of Miller Valley, and listening to Jim Haertel give another presentation about beer to some out-of-town guests. Soon, I would be chatting up Mike and Eddie Glorioso at their new store space on Brady Street.

Very early in the day, I was trying in vain to get into the Milwaukee County Zoo. It was Family Free Fun Day, and it appeared that half the county’s population had shown up. Late in the afternoon, I was smelling bacon curing in Cudahy while trying out the new restaurant of famed Conejito’s server “Lala.” I was both doing things I’ve done hundreds of times, and crossing things off my bucket list. I had a whole itinerary planned out and only reached a fraction of it. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one out in the city.

When I was 17, I left my Iowa hometown and moved to Boston. I found a family that needed a nanny for a year. I dreamed that my little charge and I would ride the T everywhere, finding favorite parks and little shops.

Of course, reality was much different. The baby I cared for was less than two months old when I arrived, and required intense care that I was barely capable of at my age. My fantasy of finally being a city girl was squelched almost immediately, and I had to be content with strolling our peaceful neighborhood with the baby in a pram.

When my year was up, I realized that I had spent a year in a city I had hardly seen. My last three days in Boston were spent in a whirlwind of doing everything I had missed. I went up and down streets, trying to permanently imprint the city on my brain.

Fast forward a decade. In 2000, I moved my little family to Milwaukee from Des Moines. I had two daughters (ages 2 and 4) and a baby on the way. I was on bedrest due to complications of the pregnancy, and after my son was born, I remained homebound as I recovered. Once I was up and around again, I tried to get us out of the house, but we rarely made it much further than the Public Museum or the Zoo.  I’ve now lived in Milwaukee for 12 years, and I finally feel like I’m getting to know the city. A little.

Along comes Milwaukee Day, bringing me the excuse to drive the streets and get to know her a little better. As my partner and I flew from one public art installation to the next, I remembered the feeling of those last days in Boston. It was exhilarating and inspiring! And this time, I didn’t have to leave when it was over. Milwaukee Day was just the beginning – I can keep falling in the love with the city over and over, for years to come.

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