Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Leaving Walker's Point *sniff*

(For maximum effect, cue Sheryl Crow's "Leaving Las Vegas" at the bottom of this post first.)

I'm not going to lie. This week, I have a very heavy heart.


From 1990 to 2005 I was employed by manufacturing companies that made in their homes in the 'burbs. Franklin, Sussex, Waukesha... I worked 'em all. Then, in late 2004 an opportunity arose for me to work in Walker's Point neighborhood. Once I decided that the role was a good career fit, I was delighted to accept a position that permitted me to work daily in the city of my birth: Milwaukee.

It was perfect. I had a job for which I was well-suited, I was comfortably near my Wauwatosa home, and I got to work in the burgeoning and gentrifying neighborhood that is Walker's Point.

While the job had its occasional shortcomings, working in the 53204 more than made up for it. To be gainfully employed in Walker’s Point was a benefit that never would appear in the employees' handbook: eat at great local restaurants, take mind-clearing walks to The Milwaukee Public Market, lunch daily (if you wished) on marvelous Mexican food, happy hour on Wednesday nights at Steny's with coworkers, lakefront runs after work and on and on.

I have loved it. And along the way (not entirely separate from the advent of social media), I have made and fortified some great friendships.

However, my nine-year run is about to come to an end. The business for which I work is moving to Pewaukee. This Friday will be our last day at 201 West Walker Street.


And I'm really gonna miss it.

If you haven't been paying attention, Milwaukee is where it's at. It's not only my hometown, but it's the place I want to be. It has so much going on and it's been fun to be a part of its rebirth as a modern 21st century American city.

Here's an example of one of the things that I'm really going to miss: coffee. Oh, not that I still won't quaff voluminous amounts at our new corporate home, but the availability of good coffee from our city's fine shops will be stunted. When I drive eight miles from Wauwatosa to Walker's Point in the morning, with only the slightest deviation from a straight-line, I can hit the following:
My new route will take me straight west through Wauwatosa along North Avenue. Fortunately, there is a Colectivo at 92nd Street. After that, well... I do remember seeing a PDQ somewhere out on County F.

Me, west of Hwy 100. Imagine that. For the last nine years you had a better chance of seeing Elvis eating a banana split at Leon's.

To get through the week, I'll focus on the good stuff: our business does need modern facilities and the building that we will inhabit was built to our specifications. That will be nice and I am definitely looking forward to the updated facilities.

But dang, it sure would be nice if Cielito Lindo would drive that taco truck of theirs out every once in a while.

Plus, just a thought .... Steny's West. ;)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Very Short Thought on Tony Stewart

As a boy and a young man, I had a wicked temper. When I was mad or upset, I became completely
irrational and knew that, in my blind rage, it was very possible that I could hurt someone.

That said, I was always a fan of highly competitive and temperamental athletes, e.g. John McEnroe, Charles Barkley, Bobby Knight, etc. I knew that if I were in their situations, I'd be known for throwing the exact sort of conniptions for which they became famous.

Like those athletes, I mellowed with age. I made a conscientious effort to try to not let myself get too worked up.

Breathe deep. Relax. Think of puppies.

Which brings me to the tragic incident of Tony Stewart and the death of fellow racer 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. Like other famously temperamental athletes, if I watched a NASCAR race, I'd root for Stewart. However, this time he went too far. He did not stay in control of raw emotion. He may never be charged, and clearly Ward Jr. should have never left his vehicle and taunted Stewart, but I believe this was an incident that could have been avoided had Stewart kept his anger in check.

I don't think he intended to hit Ward Jr., but it appeared that he tried to throw him the racer's version of a brushback pitch. Rather than drive low and steer clear, he passed near Ward Jr. and accelerated. It's the acceleration that tells me this was rage-flash moment.

I'm not certain how all of this will play out--it's too early to tell, but I definitely can say that I'll never root for Stewart again. If he doesn't land behind bars, at the very least, he should get some help.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

How to Spend an Entire Day at the Wisconsin State Fair

Milwaukee is chock full of Summer festivals and fairs, but there’s none bigger and more fun than the Wisconsin State Fair. It’s the only event that can be enjoyed from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and at least once a year I make an honest effort to enjoy it for 15 hours straight!

Here’s my suggestion for the best way to make the most of a day at the Fair. Start at the north end but skip the midway. Meander slowly through the barns and exhibits while taking in the sheep, horses, goats, pigs, cows, rabbit, chickens and ducks. This is a cool area to meet some Wisconsin’s next generation--I always marvel at these hard-working kids from all over the state who make the annual pilgrimage to Milwaukee to show off their best efforts.

One place where you can easily lose an hour is the Farm & Family Building. With a group of other adults and kids we watched a chick hatch from its first peck at the shell until she walked up to the glass wall of the bulb-heated incubator and said “Hello!” to the world. This was a little bit like watching grass grow, but it was well worth the wait when the exhausted little bird finally broke completely out of the shell to cheers of “Happy Birthday!” for all that waited for her arrival.

If you plan your route just right, by the time you make it out of the barns it’ll be lunchtime and time for a beer (well, maybe it was time for a beer a few hours earlier, but we all have our own choices to make). There’s always the weird, gross and exotic foods to try (bacon-wrapped deep-fried Oreo on a stick? No thanks.) and I’ve tried them a bunch, but for my buck, I stick to the classics: an Italian sausage sandwich slathered with peppers at the Wisconsin Products Pavilion, jerk chicken
sandwich at Tropics or Mexican corn at Margarita Express.

By now you’ve made your way to the heart of the Fair--my favorite part. This is where one can really lose themselves. Find a place in the warm sun, refresh yourself with Milwaukee’s favorite adult beverage and sing along to some cover band absolutely nailing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” (As far as you care, anyway.) Hours can slip away quickly here as you engage in a friendly game of State Fair Bingo. As in, tank-topped mullet guy at 6 o’clock. B! and pregnant woman smoking a cigarette. I! It doesn’t take too long to spell BINGO at least 3 or 4 times in an hour.

Meander properly and you’ll soon find yourself at State Fair’s favorite watering hole: The Micro. The Micro is sponsored by one of Milwaukee’s longest establishment dedicated to the art of craft brewing: Benno’s. Enjoy one or two here but heed warning: these are stronger ales than you’ll get elsewhere at the fair! (Trust me.) And if you’re lucky enough to get the last beer out of a barrel, you’ll be awarded with a KEG KILLER t-shirt!

After leaving The Micro, you’ll be feeling fine. Where to go from here is a wildcard. You could head further south to the Exposition Center where hucksters are shilling mops, metal polishers and knives that can cut a

coffee table in half. I like this area, but it can be crowded and I have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy it.

For us, however, the place to go at 6 o’clock is back north to Saz’s where every night the incomparably fun Bobby Friss Band plays every night. Oh man, I’ve rocked away the hours here. Mr. Friss IS the guy that nails every song that he covers. You’ll be holding your beer and singing “What a Whole Lotta Love” like you’re in the front row of a Led Zeppelin reunion concert (like that’ll ever happen). Too. Much. Fun.

By the time Friss rocks you, you’ll be quite exhausted and it’ll be about time to call it a night. Use your Uber or Lyft app to call for a ride and make your way out of the park. Along the way, don’t forget to have a deep and meaningful conversation with a goat. They’re pretty good listeners and there are a few goats currently living in Shiocton that know more about me than my own family. (Hey, it’s been a long day!)

The 2014 Wisconsin State Fair, enjoy it!

P.S. - a full album of my unedited pictures from the Fair can be viewed here.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Summerfest Haters, Stop It Already

I'll never understand Summerfest haters. Oh sure, it's a lousy place to see a band you enjoy, a tad spendy if you're the drinking type and parking can be a bitch, but if you adapt and do it right, It's an absolute joy.

We went down yesterday afternoon with no plan but to enjoy our long-awaited Summer and discover something new. It didn't take long! We were immediately captivated and drawn in to an energetic, young band out of Charleston, South Carolina--Stop Light Observations. Not certain we'd like a whole album of their songs, but they sure put on a great live show! Next we made it over the KNE New Music Stage where my first encounter with Madison's Lords of the Trident "The Most METAL Band on Earth!" was to be slashed in the belly by the leather-clad lead singer's plastic cleaver. For the next twenty minutes we were highly entertained by cheese-metal madness--Lords of the Trident rock hard with humor and energy. Too fun!

Lastly we ambled over to the Harley Davidson stage where we were delighted by Milwaukee's own Naima Adedapo. I did not have high expectations, but wow, she put on a great show! Her Summerfest story is compelling: as a youth, she was a grounds crew worker sweeping up garbage and cleaning toilets. She took a moment to ask us to say "thanks" to the blue-shirted crew when we spot them on the grounds. It kind of put a lump in my throat, but that was nothing compared to her most excellent finale: performing with the Ko~Thi Dance Company for which she has been involved since she was a youth. It was fantastic. She'll be performing at Tosa Tonight on August 27th. I highly recommend attending this show!

Naima's show ended right around 9 o'clock. Summerfest's witching hour, the time when all the drunk crazies enter the grounds to see the headlining acts. Now this part I can agree with the haters--Summerfest is the WORST place to see a band you like. Knowing this, we left the park, beat the traffic insanity and were back home in Wauwatosa early enough to enjoy a nightcap and get a good night's rest.

Kay and Bobby Friss
We are very lucky to have this festival in Milwaukee. Next year, when the schedule rolls out, look at it and grumble (everybody grumbles, "Hmph. There's no good bands.") and then throw it in the trash. Instead, go to the fest in the afternoon and let your ears do the walking. Without question, you'll find something rapture worthy. Whether it be a cover band that absolutely nails it (related: Bobby Friss) or a band out of Butternut, Wisconsin making compelling original music (Hello, Hugh Bob!), Summerfest is truly Milwaukee's shining star of music.

Enjoy it.

Now some music...

Stop Light Observations

Naima Adedapo

Lords of the Trident "The Most METAL Band on Earth!"

Bobby Friss nailing Stranglehold

"Blame Me" Hugh Bob and the Hustle

Thursday, May 22, 2014

What's In My Beer, Steamworks Brew Pub?

Me and my colleague's entire "tour" of Vancouver, B.C. yesterday consisted of three pub visits and a nice walk along Water and Alexander Streets in the area known as Gastown. Everywhere we visited was quite nice and we certainly wished we could have spent a bit more time there ... maybe even next time with our wives.

Fortunately, one of our stops left an indelible impression on my tastebuds--and it wasn't the highly rated and deservedly so gastropub Alibi Room, with their delicious food and 50 draft beers (though we enjoyed our visit there plenty). No, the place we stopped first, Steamworks Brew Pub, left an unerasable trail of hops and jalapeño right down my throat to my heart.

After a day of travel; authentic, awful, and authentically awful Canadian/Chinese cheeseburgers; and an intense 2-hour meeting that surpassed 3 hours, a cold beer was exactly what we had on our minds. We set our GPS to downtown Vancouver and hoped that this would be the place that we would find our beer.

It was.

When we spied Steamworks Brew Pub's sign, we found the nearest parking ramp and proceeded to make our way their. They had a wide selection of draft beers on their regular menu, but there were two that were off the menu. One was described as "Belgian style with a sweet start and spicy finish. Like what you'd like on a good date!"

"Set my up with that one," I said. "That sounds like something I'd like to try."

Upon first sip, I thought it tasted like a more potent version of Wisconsin's own Spotted Cow. I liked it well enough, though I admit, it would've been hard for any beer to not to have tasted good after that marathon meeting. But by the time I got 8 ounces into my true pint glass pint, I noticed a pleasant back-of-throat burn, like the kind I enjoy in a spicy bowl of phở. "Where was that coming from?" I asked. There was no presence of jalapeño taste when the beer was in my mouth, but no matter, I dug the burn!

I wonder what they did to make the beer impart that heat? That's a pretty powerful combo--the more you drink, the more the burn, the more the burn, the more you drink!

Sly devils, you Steamworks Brewers you, but I commend your efforts. I want to return soon for more of that delectable burn!!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Conversations in Bogotá

Here's an example of conversation that happens at least 10 times per day here in Bogotá:

Me: Please ask the driver how many kilometers it is to the hotel.

Translator: "Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam, eaque ipsa quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt explicabo. Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem quia voluptas sit aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores eos qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt. Neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit, sed quia non numquam eius modi tempora incidunt ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem. Ut enim ad minima veniam, quis nostrum exercitationem ullam corporis suscipit laboriosam, nisi ut aliquid ex ea commodi consequatur? Quis autem vel eum iure reprehenderit qui in ea voluptate velit esse quam nihil molestiae consequatur, vel illum qui dolorem eum fugiat quo voluptas nulla pariatur?"

Driver: Neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit, sed quia non numquam eius modi tempora incidunt ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem. Ut enim ad minima veniam, quis nostrum exercitationem ullam corporis suscipit laboriosam, nisi ut aliquid ex ea commodi consequatur.

Me: What did he say?

Translator: He says it's raining.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Hellloooo, Karma

It's my lucky day. Upgraded to first class, Sky Priority for my flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

What a treat, but it also makes no sense. My boss, a Delta platinum card holder with over a million miles in his account, is stuck back in the cramped and crowded seats of coach. 

*** Please excuse this brief pause. The attendant is here to take my in-flight dinner order. (The roasted chicken with morel mushroom sauce sounds lovely. I'll have that. Thank you.) ***

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I talking about my upgrade to to first class. What a surprise. I wonder if our travel booker messed something up?

Or maybe it's karma. Yes, of course. Karma. I'll go with that. 

Remember a few weeks back when I posted about accidentally leaving a baggage loader a $50 tip? I was in Bogota, Colombia and I mistook two $50,000 peso notes for $50 peso notes. Later, when I looked for my pesos, I couldn't figure out where all of them went. Only upon Wikipedia-ing Colombian currency did I discover that the 50,000 note drops the triple zeroes and adds "mil" in the zeroes' place. 

Lesson learned. Always study the currency and the exchange rate before traveling to a foreign country. 

Someone who read my blog post replied, "It's karma. Something good will happen to you soon because of this."

So this MUST be it, right? My $50 tip has resulted in leveraged karma of an approximately $1500 seat upgrade! (I'm guessing, but coach to first class must be at least that much, don't you think?)

*** Please excuse another short break, the attendant has returned for my drink order. (Wine, champagne, orange juice or a Heineken? Hmm, good choices all. I think I'll go with the champagne. After all, I only ate breakfast an hour ago! *slaps knee* *laughs out loud* *The attendant says, "Good one, Mr. Collins!"*) ***

Or if not karma, maybe just the Almighty is showering her good graces upon me for the all the hardships I've lately endured. 

Oh sure, those of you who follow me know that I've been jet-setting around the globe this past month. Mexico, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, England.  You're probably thinking, "Hardship? What the hell is Collins talking about?! That guy's one of the luckiest stiffs I know, traveling all around the globe like that." But the truth is, these trips have been for work. In fact, they ARE work. You don't see the meetings and the countless hours spent traveling and waiting and the stress. 

The stress. Oh, yes. So, so much stress. 

But another hardship is damage to my health. On my fourth day in Saudi Arabia, strong winds rolled in and blew fine grains of sand dust into the air. Everywhere there was an auburn fog. At one point, I inhaled and the dust entered my lungs. Since that moment, my body wants it out. I've been a coughing, sneezing, phlegm producing machine for 5 days. My nose is raw from the fibers of coarse hotel tissue paper and airport towelettes. I excuse myself constantly for fear that I'll soon look like a 3-year sledding in January, with nose slime running down over my lips and no mom present to wipe it away. Eww gross, right?

Or maybe it's compensation for so many terrible and smelly flights. There was that first flight, albeit a short one between Milwaukee and a Detroit, where an older gentleman who was no longer mobile (poor fellow) urinated in the seat next to me. The smell was so piercing and acidic that I could not breathe. And I can't forget the Riyadh to Dubai leg--another smelly affair. The person next to me smelled like a combination of curry and body odor covered up by a sickeningly sweet rosewater-type perfume. Horrific. I adjusted the air jet to shear the air just in front of my face to attempt to minimize the putrid stench. Lastly, the crying babies. There's always at least one, but on the Dubai to Manchester stint, a chorus of screaming cherubs filled the cabin space for all of eight hours. My head was about to explode by the time we landed. 

So I'll take this seat with no guilt. Nope, none at all. I deserve it.  It's mine and it's time. I'm large and in charge. I'm a man with a plan. No one can stop me. 

Oh look. Here comes the flight attendant again. I bet he's bringing me a steaming hot towel so that I may refresh myself before we take off. 

What's that, mister flight attendant? There's been a mix-up? This is supposed to be my boss's seat? Okay, okay. I'll head back now, but may I please at least finish my champagne? No? Sorry, sorry. No need to get all pushy and stuff. I hear ya. I'm going now. Sheesh. You sure are a crabby one. 

Nevermind. You remember that saying about karma? It's true. 

Karma is a bitch indeed.