Basically, this post was supposed to be about how much I’ve been wanting a haircut.

By a professional barber, I mean.

I now have an electric clipper thing, a rechargeable beard trimmer, given to me as a present, and hint, by my folks.  But I’d already shaved off my beard and mustache, as the weather got warmer, and anyways it really did seem like airborne germs might hide out there, muggers in the shrubbery, snakes in the grass.

I watched a couple of YouTube haircut videos.  The NYTimes how-to had a guy with the identical clipper and similar hair, but I’m not ready for the Paris Island look.  I’m not vain about my appearance, it’s just, I might need to wear glasses someday, and I just like my ears where they are, attached to my head.

This old truck prompted this thought, about a haircut, and also, Grace Bedell.

 

 

Grace Bedell, from Westfield, NY.

Recognize the name?

Maybe not, but if you went to grade school in the U.S., you’ll probably remember the story.

She was the 11-year-old girl, who wrote to a presidential candidate before the ’60 election, and recommended that he grow a beard.

That was John F. Kennedy, of course, and he opted for Ray-Ban Wayfarers instead, and was elected President.

 

 

 

Actually that’s wrong.

Kennedy didn’t wear Ray-Bans, they were American Optical’s Saratoga sunglasses, still, very cool-looking.

 

 

 

 

And the little girl actually wrote in 1860, to Abe Lincoln.

“I have yet got four brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you.  You would look a great deal better for your face is so thin.  All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.”

Come to think of it, I received similar advice, about growing a beard and wearing some Ray-Bans, I think from a former roommate, who also recommended a haircut and dim lighting, and all that was just to get a date, not the Presidency.

Lincoln, by then fully-bearded, made a point of meeting Grace, on his way to the inauguration.  It was February, temperature was just above freezing, so he was probably glad of the beard, and anything else to cut the wind off Lake Erie.  His train stopped in Westfield, and he sat down on the edge of the railway platform, chatted a few minutes, gave her a kiss, and continued down the tracks to Buffalo, Albany, and eventually, Washington, D.C.

It’s a charming story, but as happens so often, one with a sad ending, as Grace eventually moved, and lived many years in Kansas.

It’s hard to imagine him without the beard, isn’t it.  We’d have a time changing all those statues, pennies, and postage stamps.

So anyway, as regular readers are aware, I don’t go off on tangents anymore, and to return to the central point of this post, I was thinking about a line from the Beatle’s “Come Together

 

 

 

 

Got to be good-lookin’ ’cause he’s so hard to see

Even if you’re a song-writer, and taking a lot of hallucinogens, I think we all know that’s just not so.  It just doesn’t always work that way.

Under all those vines, that is one homely automobile. I never knew Chevrolet made anything half that snub-nosed ugly.

I saw it last week, while driving to a park with my parents.  I guessed it was maybe a 1957 model, since that’s when my dad was born, and when they were standing side-by-side, they had a very similar state of decrepitude.  But he believes it was 1950 or even earlier.

 

 

I’ve tried to avoid that stretch of 14A, until the vines have leafed out, and covered this thing better.

But you know, I’ve been by it a few times since then, and that truck is starting to be like the hideous old bulldog that lives next-door – – without any conscious thought, or effort, you develop a feeling of affection, over time.

It just grows on you.

The bulldog snuffles and gasps and rattles, sounds like a dishwasher on its last legs, but he’s a very sweet-natured old boy, I’m always glad when he waddles up to say hello, and I swear this truck is growing on me too!  I’ll look forward to seeing it’s Green Man look in a couple weeks.

So, let’s not call it weedy and overgrown, we’ll say, “a luxuriant growth of native grapevine.”  And to hell with the haircut, too.

 

Rip Van Winkle awakens.  N.C. Wyeth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1950's, Automobiles, Finger Lakes, FLX, History, NY, Upstate New York

Old tow truck

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1930's, Automobiles, photography

Oxidation Exhilaration

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travel

Overlooked and Underloved: Milwaukee

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Here’s a line from a song “The Bay” by the British band Metronomy.

Because this isn’t Paris. And this isn’t London. And it’s not Berlin. And it’s not Hong Kong. Not Tokyo….”.

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This song fits Milwaukee.

It’s the kind of city that shouldn’t be nice, because that contradicts your preconceptions.

You don’t want to admit that you enjoy it, because it’s… Milwaukee.

Located…where, exactly?

It’s OK if you don’t really know.

“Somewhere past Chicago,”

 “near the Great Lakes?”

“Yeah, it’s…oh wait, that’s Minneapolis”

are all acceptable answers.

 

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If your brain does kick out a few random factoids, there’s an image problem.  The city was a byword for industrial decay, notorious for its massive rate of crime and poverty, and Miller Lite on culture.  Even the ball team was sub-par.

> Poster boy for the Rust Belt.

> Someplace dull where people talk about electric power tools.

> The City That Made Beer Famous” – but a lot of it came to be cheap, sticky, mass-produced “value beer.”

Old Milwaukee, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Schlitz Malt Liquor were never seen in my house.  They always seem to be the brands you see in roadside ditches– tossed from rusty pickups with rude stickers.  The pickups are driven by the kind of people that throw their trash and empties out the window, and were driving by old rusted-out Allis-Chalmers hay-balers, a brand once world-famous, manufactured just down the road from my apartment in West Allis, and now faded away.

The city was part of feeling embarrassed about living in the northern U.S., in the Rust Belt.

Bad cars from Detroit.  Bad beer from Milwaukee.  Bad politicians from New York.

 

Last summer, I moved to Milwaukee.  Voluntarily.  I entered of my own free will.

The city continues to get a lot of bad press.  New Yorker magazine just ran an article about the thousands of evictions that take place yearly in this, the fourth poorest city in the country.

 

 

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The art museum on the lake. A fantastic creation by several architects. The central building by Eero Saarinen, an addition with a winged sunscreen that opens & closes by Santiago Calatrava

 

But Listen Up People —  I am here, and I am here to say, Milwaukee is a great city 

 

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City Hall. When it was erected, the tallest building in the country.

 

 

On a great lake.  Literally, the city is right on one of the “Great Lakes.”  Lake Michigan is impressive, one of the biggest expanses of fresh water in the whole world.  It doesn’t need the others to be a Great Lake.   You could drop Maryland, Massachusetts, and Connecticut into it without a trace. And its the only one we don’t have to share with Canada, so it is an All-American lake.

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Mitchell Park Domes. Desert and tropical environments, and a nice break from winter

This isn’t the 1980 Rustbelt anymore!  Milwaukee is ready to be a new poster boy, one for new era, the re-birth of the American city. From Buffalo and Pittsburgh to Milwaukee, the revitalized Richmond and Louisville, and of course, NYC – all have stories of revival, comeback, resurgence, regrowth.  And unlike NYC or San Francisco, young people can actually afford to live here, and can afford to have some fun.

America’s comeback is, and will be, taking place in its cities.  A lot of this is change is brought about by an influx of young working people.  Young people who move in, work, and spend their money here.  There are still huge problems, but that just isn’t the whole story.

IMG_6515So it feels good to move to a city that is coming back to life, and showing people that “moving to the city” is still relevant and desirable.

It may be overshadowed by bigger, sexier Chicago, but Milwaukee is very much a worthy, interesting destination city on its own.  I know one Chicago resident, who comes up on weekends, because he loves visiting the local joints in our town.  Madison, Wisconsin’s state capital, is prosperous and squeaky clean, and has earned the reputation of being the ultimate college town (though it will always rank below my favorite, Ithaca, NY) but Milwaukee can give them a run for their money — there is a vast population of students and recent graduates.

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You can have an apartment!  Not a cleaning supplies closet “artfully re-purposed into a Living Pod,” or a retro-engineered shipping container, or a squat where the coachroaches have names and their own little bunk beds.  You don’t need to live in a derelict loft with five roommates, and go dumpster-diving behind Panera’s; here you can live a good life on very little money. Beer is cheap, and it is good – Milwaukee’s old-time genetic coding has kicked in, after all this is Brew City, and they’re once again making great beer around here.  Microbreweries like Sprecher, Lakefront, Brenner  turn out ales and lagers as good as anything in Europe.  There’s lots of innovative stuff, too, like organic pumpkin beer, tangerine IPA, etc. and a really smooth black lager.  Bars are plentiful, friendly, and the “pub food” is excellent, and the nightlife is good.

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Where I live, West Allis, somewhere between a city neighborhood and a suburb, there are tree-lined streets, and you can walk along the Hank Aaron Trail to downtown, and then along the RiverWalk, which stretches right through the heart of the city.  You can walk on top of the bluffs along the lakefront, and they even have a lighthouse.

A quintessential American city — it’s a diverse population, mostly Germans, Poles and Mexicans, but with dozens of other groups and ethnic communities in the mix. There are African-American neighborhoods mixed with Hmong immigrants just up the road from an old Scandinavian enclave.  Maybe, here in the middle, as the new, monied elites grow richer on both coasts, will be one of the last bastions of middle class America.

IMG_6331A world-class art museum on the Lake (the building alone is an architectural gem, in part a design by Eero Saarinen, who did the St. Louis Arch and buildings that still look futuristic at Dulles and JFK airports), authentic ethnic restaurants, hip lofts and desirable neighborhoods, full of hipsters, yuppies and yup-sters, a cool live-music scene and lots to do, this town is excellent.  To amuse tourists and local visitors alike, a stroll along one of downtown’s main streets takes you past a series of street poles with mini-stories told in ‘flip art’.   Milwaukee offers more green space than any major American city — parks abound along the lake. You can visit the Pabst mansion, the Mitchell Domes (huge geodesic gardens, one for desert, one for tropical), enjoy German food in the restaurant that has hosted four US presidents, celebrate “Pho-bruary”, and experience blue-collar America’s factories, with tours of Miller (and the other breweries too) and Harley-Davidson’s factory.

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“The Streets of Old Milwaukee” in the excellent, and fun, Public Museum

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Celebrating Men in Tights

This town may not have the fashion scene, but it has character. Here, people talk to you. They are sincere; they are friendly.  You can live on a reasonable salary. Housing prices aren’t outrageous. You have all the big city amenities, and none of the traffic. Sure, this town lacks the frenetic pulse and determined weirdness that enlivens places like NYC, but it instead feels like a big small town. You feel like you’re at home, even when you’re not from around these parts. I think it’s wonderful. But don’t take my word for it, come and see for yourself.

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