The Land of Laverne and Shirley (in a good way)

People here bowl, hunt, fish, and drink Old-Fashioneds because it’s fun, not because they are trying to be retro cool


My friend Sharon and I went to a research event that the Wisconsin Historical Society ran as part of the initiative to build a new Wisconsin History Museum.

One of the tasks was to define a sense of place for Milwaukee.

For me, that’s easy – it’s the place where my father was born (in a house 34 blocks east and five blocks north of where I live now) and where my grandmother, who spoke German until she went to kindergarten, which is where she learned English, was born and raised (47 blocks east and two blocks north of my house) and where they use the word “bubbler” for drinking fountain.

It’s the place for beer and sausage and for a statue of Fonzie and for cats named Laverne and Shirley. (That is, our cats.)

[It’s also the most segregated place I have ever lived in my life. They talk a good game up here about it’s The South that’s all racist, but at least in Memphis, black people and white people eat in the same restaurants.

I am going to leave that issue aside because I don’t even know what else to say about it except get off your moral high horse, Milwaukee.]

The good part about Milwaukee is that it’s not hip.

Nobody here is trying to be cool. Nobody here cares if mullets are out of style. Nobody cares if she looks kinda frumpy. People here care about being comfortable and wearing what they like and doing what they like.

Marido and I went to an event at City Hall where groups of people were earnestly engaged in trying to make Milwaukee a better place to work and live – about how to create jobs here so people don’t leave after school.

The young man at our table wanted tech jobs to come here. He said we need to be more like Austin.

Marido and I both said, NO! We do not want to be like Austin! Austin used to be a great place to live and now nobody can afford to live there and the traffic is awful!

I lived in Austin for six years. And – I say this with love, Austin, but – your attitude is sooooo annoying. That whole Hipper Than Thou?

It makes people want to punch you.

Milwaukee is not hip. It’s not cool. It’s not high-tech. It’s a blue-collar town and people are not ashamed of who they are or where they came from. They like church festivals and Friday night fish fry and Summerfest and paczki and Up Nort.

I love Memphis and I love Texas, but in Milwaukee? I never feel guilty for going to the store in my gym clothes.

Don’t get me wrong. I went to the store in my gym clothes (I do not wear fancy gym clothes – I have had some gym shorts for ten years because I am of Milwaukee People And We Do Not Waste) in Memphis and in Texas. But I felt guilty about it because it’s Not Done there.

Here? Nobody cares.

And that’s what I like about this place.

3 thoughts on “The Land of Laverne and Shirley (in a good way)

  1. You nicely captured Milwaukee. I grew up in the neighborhoods you talk about, went to Friday fish fries, and always asked where the bubbler was (until, having moved to DC for college, I found that no one knew what a bubbler was). Believe it or not, during WWII my mother even worked in a brewery like Laverne and Shirley. I still miss it from time to time, but not in winter.


  2. Have you read “The Coincidence of Coconut Cake?” I read it after I posted this and left it by the computer so I can quote it when we get back from vacation. She is from Milwaukee and she nails it!


  3. You mustn’t have been in Austin recently–because athleisure is freaking everywhere. I’m so tired of looking at spandex and all its contents.


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