DAY TRIP TO MILWAUKEE
Ty was mildly shocked when I said I'd never been to Milwaukee.
"You've never been to Milwaukee?" he asked with an accusing tone.
"No, Ty. I have never been to Milwaukee." I rolled my eyes.
"Hey," he said, catching my eye roll. "You're not allowed to do that." He jabbed his thumb to his chest, pointing to himself. "That's my action."
"Right, right. So sorry. I simply forgot that you trademarked the eye roll." I teasingly glared at him.
Ty glared back. "Don't you forget again, toots." He poked me, and I started laughing. My giggles forced me to set down my hairbrush and lean over the bathroom counter.
"You, uh ... you okay there?" asked Ty, who was likewise combing out his hair. His auburn, shoulder-length, sort-of-wavy hair whose thickness continued to astound me each time I ran my fingers through it.
I sighed, still smiling, and resumed fussing with my curls. We were in the upstairs bathroom at his dad's house in Chicago, brushing our teeth, brushing our hair, and getting ready for an afternoon in Wisconsin. We had driven up the night before and had originally planned to spend Good Friday in the city. However, soon after our arrival, we learned that the rest of the family--Ty's dad, step-mom, and younger siblings--would be visiting the Milwaukee Public Market and the Discovery World Museum. You guys are totally welcome to come. Would you like to go?
The drive took about an hour and a half, and we spent most of that time listening to NPR, talking about architecture, and sharing memories about Wisconsin. I had only been to Wisconsin twice, most notably when I was nine years old and the entire family traveled to Racine to bury my great-grandfather, whose ashes had, for seven years, been kept in a coffee can atop my grandmother's piano. I hadn't been to Racine since, but in my blood were both the lake culture and the city--my mother had been born there, my grandmother had been born there, her parents were from there.
Before he shared his own stories about previous excursions to Milwaukee--including attending Summerfest--Ty suggested that we try to pass through Racine on our way back.
As soon as the city was in view, Ty unsurprisingly launched into tour guide mode, pointing out various landmarks and telling me about their significance. I half-listened; my head turned this way and that way and over my shoulder, drinking in my surroundings. Absorbing the architecture. Breathing the lake air. To me, Milwaukee was fresh. It was a lake town. A lake city. One with beautiful historic buildings.
We ate lunch at the Public Market, which reminded me of City Market in Indianapolis. (The two markets are comparable in size, though Milwaukee's featured a seafood vendor.) The market, located in Historic Third Ward, offered a variety of fresh goods--vegetables, cheese, meat, seafood. There were flowers and wine tastings, coffee shops and gourmet chocolates, a shop with Wisconsin-themed T-shirts. The six of us meandered upstairs and found a table, sharing Caprese salad, fries, and turkey sandwiches. While we ate, my eyes chased the crowd, watching the vendors. I spied children racing from their parents, determined to find the case of chocolates and press their noses to the glass.
After lunch, we went to the Discovery World museum, a 120,000-square foot facility located on shores of Lake Michigan. The museum offers interactive science and technology exhibits, learning labs, theaters, television and audio studios, and aquariums. It is also the home of the S/V Denis Sullivan, a 137-foot replica of a 1800s Great Lakes schooner.
We first visited the aquarium area, which featured aquatic life from the Great Lakes, the North Atlantic, and the Caribbean. In the touch tanks, we fingered the smooth, black sting rays, as well as the spiny, muscled sturgeons. We herded Ty's younger siblings through the exhibits and found our niche at the coin drop, racing our pennies around and around and around. Davis, Ty's three-year-old brother, giggled and laughed and jumped up and down once each coin fell into the reserve, clinking and chinking against the other coins. Aubrey, who's seven years old and competitive, prodded us adults for more change.
"They use all the money to buy fish food!" she argued.
And so, we continued the game. We'd drop pennies and more pennies, and then a nickel or sometimes a dime, and then more pennies, and eventually some quarters, watching them all go around and around and around and around until they'd finish swirling around and around and chink.
"Do it again!" Davis wailed each time.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the technology exhibits. We watched Davis play with a welding simulator. Ty found enjoyment in a hallway full of guitars and information about sound waves. I spent several minutes with Aubrey in a large, drum-like apparatus--a hamster wheel for humans. She and I raced forward, spinning it beneath our feet and making energy.
"How much longer do we have to do this?" I asked over the sound of the spinning drum.
"We need nine more gallons of energy!" she panted back.
We finally stopped, our feet sore and our heads pounding. Aubrey stepped out of the drum and pushed a black button, which sent our collected energy surging through tubes and forcing water in and around a vortex of pipes. Rushing. Gurgling. Bubbling.
"Awesome," she said.
After we had spent a few hours at Discovery World, we headed back to the Public Market, where we ate our weight in crab legs and mussels. Ty and I had the privilege of sitting next to a large tank that contained a shimmering grouper, whose name, according to the laminated paper taped to the tank, was "Sue."
"What if it's a boy fish?" I asked Ty.
"Well ... it's name is still Sue, then, I guess."
"Maybe this fish, this fish right here," I pointed to Sue--whose mouth was predictably opening and closing in rhythmic "Os"--"is just like Johnny Cash's 'A Boy Named Sue.' Which really isn't Johnny Cash, because, as everyone knows, Johnny Cash kidnapped Shel Silverstein's poem and popularized it. But ... BUT. But what if it's the same thing? What if this fish, this Sue right here, is on a quest to find its father and get revenge?"
Ty looked up from his plate, bemused. "Eat your mussels," he said.
Simultaneously, we lifted our chins and looked down at each other through squinted eyes.
After a few seconds, we both smiled and shook our heads.
"Eat your mussels."
After dinner, Ty's dad and step-mom planned to take Aubrey and Davis, who were tired, straight home. Ty and I, however, passed through Racine. We got off the Interstate, took the highway into town, and drove around for a bit. It was dark, it was late, and we didn't really know what to do. But we saw buildings and a marina, antique stores and local haunts. I couldn't help but wonder if my feet had passed over the same streets nearly fifteen years ago.
"We'll come back," Ty said. "We'll figure out another weekend sometime and, yeah. We'll come back."
"I'd like that," I said, thinking. Maybe I'd track down the house my mother was born in. Maybe I'd find where my grandmother and her siblings used to live. Maybe I'd see the quarry again. Or purchase Kringle, the dessert of my ancestors, the dessert for which my family still wants.
"I'd like that, too." Ty said.