Back from Milwaukee

[Before I begin, does anyone know anything about WiFi? I have a router next to my Mac, and when I’m in the next room on my laptop, I’m lucky to have it work for five minutes before the signal drops. When I have a signal, it’s 100% excellent, no problem, but then BAM it’s gone. This happens even if the laptop is physically touching the router. There are a lot of other routers in the building, and I’ve tried fucking with the channel settings a bit, but to no avail. This is extremely frustrating, because every page I’ve found on google says “well, have you tried moving into a cabin in the woods with no walls?” as like step one. I also don’t want to dump a lot of cash into repeaters or antennae just to find out it’s a fundamental problem of living in NYC with too many hotspots. Oh, and I mention all of this because I already wrote this entire entry, and on like the last word, the connection dropped, and then when I went to the other computer to fix it, it overwrote the backup file with a blank file. I was seriously on the verge of smashing my laptop into little tiny pieces with a hammer. I still might. Anyway.]

So I’m back from Milwaukee, and the trip went well. We spent a lot of time with Sarah’s family, and that was all good. We also went to the art museum (where Sarah’s dad works), Irish Fest, the public museum, a Brewers game, and did a lot of driving around and seeing all of the places where Sarah grew up. We also drove down to Kenosha to meet up with John Sheppard and his better half. It was a pretty packed 4-day weekend.

Milwaukee, to me, seems like a Chicago-lite. It’s smaller, and doesn’t have as many of the big things, but it’s also easier to get around, it’s cleaner, maybe a bit quieter, and more relaxed. But a lot of things remind me of the Chicago I knew as the kid, like the little corner bars with the giant Old Style signs out front, the giant, old brick factories and chimneys from the breweries, and the general feel of the place, the way houses are built and how stores are laid out. It really made me think back to my grandparents’ old neighborhood (which is Larry’s current neighborhood.)

The only time I’ve been to Milwaukee was for the metalfest, in ’93. We drove by the big Eagles lodge that was the venue for that show, and I saw the only things I experienced on that trip: the hall, the street where Ray parked and we tried to sleep, the McDonald’s next door, and the quick pick minimart across the street. The other indelible event that I associate with Milwaukee is Jeffrey Dahmer’s capture. I remember in 1991, reading all of the news magazines in the Osco drug at Concord Mall, going over all of the facts of the butchery that he ran in his apartment. Turns out his lair at the Oxford Apartments on 25th and Kilborn was maybe three blocks from the metalfest. Oddly enough, when Sarah was born, her parents lived in a house just a couple of blocks down Kilborn. When we were driving around one night, we tried to locate the spot of his old apartment, but they tore it down years ago, and now it’s just a vacant lot with some old chainlink around it. Driving in the neighborhood was weird though, because I always pictured the area as an ultra-urban slum, like maybe where I lived in Washington Heights. But the neighborhood looked more like the rougher parts of Elkhart, by the projects.

The other big surprise was that I really enjoyed the Brewers game. I haven’t followed baseball since I was a kid, and even then it was only half-heartedly. I’ve never seen a professional game before, and this was my first. It was against the Astros, which is funny because my peewee league team was the Astrobowl Astros, and because of that, I was vaguely an Astros fan when they had the stupid-looking bright orange jerseys, the AstroDome (with AstroTurf), and Nolan Ryan on the mound. Now that all of that has changed, not really a fan, for whatever stupid reason.

We went with Sarah’s sister, and her boyfriend and group of friends that all had season tickets. We first went to their place and did some indoor tailgating, and they had some bratwurst grilling away in a soup of onions and peppers. Those were pretty much the best damn brats I’ve ever had, especially with some sauerkraut and a good bun. We ended up eating and listening to everyone’s bitchfest about the Brewers, and before long, we were into the first inning, but not yet at the stadium. We took off in different cars, and we paid the $12 for “preferred” parking. Dan and the others parked illegally at the back of the VA hospital for free, and we ended up walking up to the gate at the same exact time.

Miller Park is a pretty decent place to see a game. It has a retractable roof, modern seats and shops and all of that (no pee trough in the bathroom), and they have a lot of new LCD screens and score things everywhere, so you can always see all of the stats, and also keep up on other MLB games in progress. Lots of people were there. Lots of mullets. Lots of beer. I think I was the only sober person there, but that only added to the energy. I was surprised at how close we were for $38 seats, and watching a game in person is nothing like TV. In fact, watching on TV really sucks in comparison.

The game itself was sedate – it got tied at 2 by the second inning, and went on scoreless until the bottom of the 9th, when the Brewers got one in. But all of the little stuff made it interesting. Bernie Brewer, the mascot, slides down this huge slide whenever there’s a run. He used to slide into a giant beer mug, but I’m sure some parental nazi group got that taken out. There’s also the sausage race, where a group of people dressed as various kinds of sausages race across the field. (Italian sausage won.) The place went nuts when the first home run went over the wall. And at the very end, when they were getting everyone really riled up, they did this whole “more cowbell” thing on the video screen, playing the SNL sketch intercut with various home runs hit during the season, which was pretty hilarious. There were only 30,000 there, with a lot of empty seats at the top, but the crowd had a lot of energy (and a lot of beer), so it was a lot of fun.

Coincidentally, we were shopping at Target (so good to be out of NYC…) and I found a “more cowbell” CD, which has a dozen or so tracks featuring cowbell. It was a good buy at $8.99, although I’m a little don’t-fear-the-reapered-out for now.

Irishfest was also a blast. It’s the biggest one in the country, and it’s held at these fest grounds that are used for a lot of other festivals. So there were the same food courts and concert venues and all, but also a ton of tents selling Irish crafts and shirts and whatnot. I’d like to say I got some incredible food, but the lines were so long, I used the shortest-wait approach and grabbed a hotdog and fries. We saw two musical groups, one that was more drum-oriented, and we had a front-row seat for the Billy Mitchell Scottish group. They were bagpipes and drums, plus some dancing too. The whole thing reminded me of Simms and all of the times we watched So I Married an Axe Murderer. This alumnus of the group, who was 150% Scottish, was sitting behind us and making comments to a friend in his thick-as-hell accent, and it greatly tempted me to ask him to call Simms on the phone and leave a message on his machine, like “if it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!”

In Kenosha, we met with John and Helen at The Brat Stop, which was also had a pretty good bratwurst. I also had some fried cheese curds, and I’m glad they aren’t available here, or I’d be pricing out bypass surgery by now. It was good to see John again, and also good to see tons of cheese and Green Bay Packers stuff available. We also stopped at the Mars Cheese Castle. Unfortunately, this was not a castle made out of cheese, but rather a store that sells a ton of cheese. Fortunately, there were free samples. We also stopped at the largest grocery store I’ve ever seen in my life. It had a beverage section bigger than most groceries in New York. And if you have been to a super-huge Kroger in the Midwest, well this place’s freezer section was bigger than this. It was truly awesome, except I couldn’t bring any of it back on the plane, so it wasn’t.

And that’s all. Well, we went to the museums, and the art museum has a pretty funky building, with these big spines that open and close, and no right angles in sight. And we had a lot of food, which was good. And now I’m back to the daily grind. And no, we’re not moving to Wisconsin. (I still can’t believe I can’t write about anything without someone mis-reading an ulterior motive into it.)

Anyway, pictures on flickr. Back to work.

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Amsterdam

I’m back from Amsterdam, and we had a good time there. Part of me wants to write a big trip report, but part of me wants to do a rm -rf ~/www/journal on a fairly constant basis, (and that might be coming soon), so no report. The basic synopsis is that the jetlag really fucked me, I got a bad cold and was not able to buy any medicine to get better, but we still got a lot in, and the trip was more than worth it. Pictures are posted, but I’m too lazy to add a link, so figure it out.

Although I’ve been to most of the 50 states, and I’ve been to Canada a half-dozen times, I’ve never left the country otherwise, so this was a cool trip. Ever since the first time I went to Canada in high school, bought a Coke can from a machine, and felt the slight difference, I have been fascinated by finding out the differences in places based on their consumer goods. I don’t land in Utah and seek out the Mormon people or find out why it’s called the Beehive state; I immediately find out if they have a Denny’s, an IHOP, a 7-Eleven, or where people go to buy their records. I enjoy travel to states that are test markets for new soft drinks, or that have odd hamburger chains I can’t find anywhere else. I know I should care more about the history or culture or climate or something else, but seriously, fuck that. I want to know about the things I consume, that I use.

In that sense, The Netherlands were very interesting, because EVERYTHING was different. Okay, this wasn’t like going to some third-world former Soviet shithole where people drink chlorinated rainwater and eat gamey horsemeat on important holidays. The Dutch speak English and enjoy many of the same foods as Americans. But the differences I look for were there in spades: .33L bottles of Coke; Fanta everywhere; bottled water in those plastic-impregnated cardboard boxes like soy milk; automats; coin-op bathrooms that were cleaner than hospital operating rooms; weird soaps; weird cell phones; weird cars. Everything was interesting. I wanted to buy one of everything just to open it, taste it, smell it, and decide if it was better or worse than what I’d become used to over the last 34 years. Even the money was weird; it took some time to get used to having a fistful of coins that was worth like forty bucks.

Everyone in Amsterdam speaks English. I read that before I left, but I was very surprised at how well most people did. And I’m not talking “your total is ten Euros” sort of proficiency; I mean, I had conversations with people who spoke such unbroken English that I could have sworn they grew up back in the states. The bad news is that everything is in Dutch, with occasional English subtitles. Shopping in a grocery store was a little difficult; I almost walked out with a large bottle of drinking water that was in reality vinegar. The most odd aspect of the whole English-Dutch thing was the number of times a cashier started talking to me in Dutch instead of English. You’d think I would have a giant “American” sign above me, but I guess not.

I mentioned elsewhere that things were completely politically neutral, which was nice. I was at the very least expecting a huge fuck-george-bush display in a city square, or some hippies hassling the American tourists over their fascist leader. But nobody said shit, and furthermore, there was no real display of political strife or issue locally. I was very pleased to find a place to go where I didn’t have to hear someone drone on and on about it.

I think my favorite thing was the botanical garden, which had three different big greenhouse climates with different temperatures and humidities, plus some smaller rooms and a lot of excellent landscaping and scenery. It was maybe in the fifties when we were there, but one of the big rooms was a jungle climate and so humid that my glasses and camera fogged over. They had some huge trees in there, and of course, this immediately made me wish I had a similar setup out on my Colorado land.

Anyway, that’s the basic story. Now I have to get over this cold, and start on my next project, which is learning Apple Pages, the new word processor/page layout program that’s part of iWork. It’s basically an Apple version of something like Adobe InDesign, and I think it might enable me to drop FrameMaker when I design my next book. I have only played with it for a few minutes, but it’s very fun.

But first, the evening’s Nyquil…

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From the IMU

Today’s journal is coming to you from the bowels of the Indiana Memorial Union. Although I’ve written paper journals in weird places (at 30,000 feet, in the middle of the golden gate bridge, at disneyland, at MIT, etc), I think this is the first online journal entry I’ve written outside of Washintgon.

Of course, I have much to write, and little energy. I’ve slept far too little, and done a year’s worth of walking in a day. I’m staying with my former roommate Simms, in my old house, on my old couch. He threw a massive Halloween party last night – more people than I’ve ever seen in that house before. He, Bennett, and Jason played his score to the classic silent vampire film, Nosferatu. The band was in the kitchen, and 3 TVs in various places in the house showed the laserdisc part of the show. Incredible stuff! I also saw many of my old cronies, and many people who knew of me that I didn’t know – Simms tells his Konrath stories to everyone he knows, and he knows many people. My costum- I went as Poison Ivy from the new Batman film. Don’t ask.

I managed to give away a shitload of zines last night – I set a stack of them on a table, and within an hour, a bunch of people were reading them or taking them. Cool.

Yesterday, I saw a lot of the town and realized how small it really is. I took the walk from the IMU to y old place in Mitchell Street. A lot of it looked the same, but it didn’t ring a bell anymore – it seemed distant. Most of my visit sofar has been like that. Things from my past are still here, but it doesn’t feel like it did before. Maybe my brain is telling me I should move on.

Speaking of moving on, I’ve got a shitload to do. Maybe I’ll try another entry while I’m still in Indiana…

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