Milwaukee, Here I Come
Milwaukee, the final leg of my journey, was a solo mission. Fellow Traveler #1 was headed home on the Amtrak (but not before catching another game at Wrigley), and Fellow Travelers #2 and 3 were staying in Chicago for a few more days. So I was on my own as I hopped on the Amtrak in Chicago for the short trip to Milwaukee for a day that I hoped would include some baseball, some bowling, and a visit with the Bronze Fonz.
When I got off the train, it took me a little while to get my bearings, and I actually wound up overshooting my hotel and walking a little ways up the wordy North Old World Third Street. But that detour led to the discovery of a block containing three restaurants/bars that I wanted to visit immediately, including one with a bronze pretzel hanging over the entrance. Unfortunately, it wasn't much past noon and I wasn't in the mood for a heavy German lunch before the ballgame. But I made a mental note to return after the game and before my bowling expedition.
I finally made my way to the Best Western, checked in, and then set out to knock the easiest thing off my list: a picture with the Bronze Fonz. The Bronze Fonz, on the off chance that you don't know, is a statue of the Henry Winkler character partially commissioned by TV Land for Milwaukee's River Walk as a salute to "Happy Days." It took me a little while to spot it, but when I did, I was quite pleased with the result.
Things were definitely getting off to a good start in Milwaukee.
Since I had plenty of time before the game started and I was alone and, thus, didn't have to worry if I'd kill any of my friends with my dogged devotion to walking, I figured I'd just wander in the general direction of Miller Park. With any luck, I figured, it wouldn't be that far and I'd get some exercise.
So, once I figured my way around and scoped out a path around the highways, I discovered that I was on the Hank Aaron State Trail. That seemed like a fortuitous occurrence, so I continued on the trail. Soon I saw a sign for the Potawatomi Bingo Casino. "Oh," I thought. "That must be the sign for the highway that takes you to the casino." Then I turned a corner and thought, "Hmm...that building sure looks like a casino." Sure enough, as I got closer, I discovered that that was in fact the Potawatomi Bingo Casino. Yes, I had stumbled upon a giant bingo casino.
I was really starting to like Milwaukee.
I went in for a bit and looked around the area outside the bingo hall (pretty substantial, but maybe not as big as Foxwoods) to see if there was an evening bingo session. There was, but it was a Night Owl session starting at 11:30 p.m., and since I had an early train to catch the next day, I decided against it (I know, I know...I've let you down...I'm sorry). And I was a little bummed to discover that the session going on while I was there had started about five hours earlier and consisted of, if I remember correctly, 86 games if bingo broken up by two intermissions. Perhaps that sounds like torture to you, but it sounds like heaven to me. If I had known about it in advance, I'm pretty confident that I would have spent an extra day in Milwaukee and gone to the Brewers game on Sunday. Lesson learned. I will definitely do my due diligence next time.
After my quick stop in the casino, I headed back out on the trail and, eventually, made my way to Miller Park about an hour before game time. Google Maps tells me it was about a four-mile walk. That's why I travel alone most of the time. It's in everyone's best interest.
There was, not surprisingly, a hearty tailgate scene going on at Miller Park. There were people playing Cornhole, drinking heavily under giant tents, and peeing in their own private Port-A-Potties that had signs on them warning others to keep out. They've got tailgating down to an art in Wisconsin.
As I walked through the Uecker lot, I saw in the distance a motor cart. As it got closer, I realized that I had arrived at just the right time, for riding on that cart were four of the sausages from the famous Miller Park Sausage Race. Yes! I was going to see the sausages up close. What more can a 33-year-old man ask for?
The sausages were on their way to a D.A.R.E. get-together in the parking lot, in which they mainly stood on a stage while a DJ yelled out "Let's hear it for Chorizo!" "How about Italian!" and so on as the kids went wild. Then the sausages descended to mingle with the kids, at which point I headed toward the box office to buy my ticket. And on the way there, I saw Bernie Brewer on his way, I assume, to the same party (then again, maybe he was going to see the people with the private Port-A-Potties).
I bought a ticket for a seat in left field and still had plenty of time to do a lap around the ballpark before the game started. I was a little skeptical about going to a game at a stadium with a dome (even though the roof stayed open), but I wound up liking Miller Park a lot. There's lots of cool little features around the park (including a completely awesome area for kids that made me wish I was 10 again--a wish, to be fair, that I make quite frequently), and you can't beat watching Bernie Brewer go down the slide after a Brewer homer. I missed his descent the first time, but captured the moment when the second Brewer homer of the day (hit by Alcides Escobar) cleared the fence.
The food was good, too. I'm not a big brat guy (though I'm occasionally a big brat), but I decided since he was the one I was rooting for in the Sausage Race (he got trounced), I should support him at the concession stand. I thought about ordering waffle fries, but it didn't appear to me that one could order fries without cheese. That's some hardcore cheese love, Wisconsin. Later, I saw some people with cheese-less fries, so I guess it was possible, just not recommended.
Despite a late rally, the Brewers fell victim to the continuing home-team jinx, losing 10-6 to the Phillies and becoming the fifth straight team to lose at home in games I attended (I had seen the Mets lose at Citi Field the night before the trip). I took some photos of the statues on the way out, decided not to take the four-mile walk home, and boarded a bus back downtown, anxious for some sauerbraten and a jumbo pretzel on North Old World Third Street.
This is the point at which Milwaukee started to take a turn for the worse. First, when I got back to the hotel, I noticed a lot of camera crews around, and what looked to be a press conference across the street. There was a definite weird vibe in the air, but I didn't have time to reflect on it, as I had places to go. So I dropped off my Brewers stuff (a glass, a Bob Uecker CD, and a magnet) in my room and headed off for dinner. When I walked outside, a TV reporter was interviewing a young woman, and I overheard the question, "Do you think that downtown is still safe?"
That's when I put all the pieces together--the news conference, the reporters, that collection of flowers and balloons over there on the other side of the street--and realized something I confirmed later that night.
Someone was murdered outside my hotel.
Turns out three people were shot and one killed roughly eight hours before I arrived at the hotel after a disagreement at a bar a few doors down. How about that? I'm not sure if I was just so exhausted at this point that it didn't really register, but I wasn't overly concerned. The neighborhood didn't seem bad at all, and the chances of another murder happening seemed remote, particularly with the ridiculous police presence now in the area.
So, on to the sauerbraten and pretzel at Mader's.
Except they ran out of the pretzels just before I got there (8 p.m.? Really?), so I had to settle for the sauerbraten, which was, I'm pretty confident, the best I've ever had. The spaetzle definitely was the all-time champ, and the red cabbage was pretty good, too.
Then it was off to the Old German Beer Hall, where there was some genuine German music going down in the back room. OK, things were looking up again. But I couldn't linger, because I had three bowling establishments I wanted to check out before the night was through. I vowed to come back after the Night of Bowling.
The first stop was the Holler House, home of the oldest bowling lanes in the United States (also pinmonkey-operated). Since first reading about it, I had been anxious to roll a few here. So, as I got off the bus and headed in the direction of the bar, I got giddy. Right up until I saw a completely dark and closed Holler House. Sigh. A dream deferred.
Now it was dark and I was in a not particularly inspiring area of Milwaukee. But I persevered, heading toward Bowling Establishment #2, Koz's Mini Bowl, which was not a real bowling alley at all. The balls were slightly larger than a skeeball, the pins were short and squat, and the lanes were short, too. I was more interested in seeing the set-up than actually bowling, which is a good thing because the place was crowded when I got there (and filled with smoke), and they're looked to be some sort of bachelorette party going on, as there was a young woman wearing a veil. There were also a few guys wearing bathrobes (perhaps a Lebowski homage, perhaps they just didn't have any other clothes). I wasn't about to interject myself into whatever the hell was going on, so I took some pictures and headed out the door.
Exhaustion and frustration were both setting in at this point, so when I got to the bus stop for the bus that was to take me to Bowling Establishment #3, Falcon Bowl, I made a deal with the gods of travel. If the bus didn't arrive in 15 minutes, I was gonna cut my losses and call it a night. Then I extended it to 20. Then 25. And then I threw in the towel and headed back to the hotel, probably another three miles or so. So at least I got plenty of exercise in Milwaukee.
When I got downtown, I briefly got on another bus heading in the general direction of Falcon Bowl but then realized it was the last bus of the night, meaning I'd have to take a cab back to the hotel after bowling. And a cab wasn't in the budget for the evening. So I got off the bus, walked past Johnny Rzeznik from the Goo Goo Dolls signing autographs and taking pictures with fans outside of a theater (Larry the Cable Guy was also in town), and then headed back to the Old German Beer Hall to drown my sorrows in some German oom-pah music. Unfortunately, in my absence, the hall had morphed into your average college bar, with generic, thumping bar music playing over the PA. Realizing that the only German music I'd be likely to hear would be Rammstein, I hung my head and went back to the crime scene, er, my hotel, watched Tom Petty on SNL, and called it a night.
I'll be back Milwaukee. Make sure you have enough pretzels next time.
I made my early train to Chicago in plenty of time, decided to do one last dash through Wicker Park to get breakfast at Milk & Honey (home of my favorite granola, available at a Whole Foods near you, or at least near me) and a few more sweets at Alliance Bakery. And then I was off to the airport, where my flight was delayed yet again (while we were on the plane this time, so at least there was a little variety). But we were up in the air before too long, and soon I was back home.
And, now, a few weeks later, I've almost recovered.
And ready for my next jailbreak vacation.