Old friends in Milwaukee

My stay in Chicago had come to an end. It had been fun, especially as I had made new friends – thank you Jason and Lauren. Now it was time to see some old friends, but first I had a mission to accomplish.

I headed west out of Chicago into the ‘burbs. After getting lost several times – American road signs leave a lot be desired (a topic I’m sure I’ll come back to) – I made it to my goal, Aurora, Illinois! I was almost tempted to get off the bike and ask a passer-by for directions to Wayne Campbell’s house, but fortunately I resisted the urge. If you’re wondering who Wayne Campbell is and what the heck is Aurora, IL then you don’t watch the same movies as me. Check out Wayne’s World.

Wayne's World

Wayne and Garth

Aurora, IL is a lot like the other suburbs of Chicago. Not really a disappointment, I wasn’t expecting much, but just thought I’d pop by since I was in the neighbourhood.

From Aurora, I headed north and managed to take a wrong turn and ended up back in Chicago somehow after riding nearly 60 miles. Those pesky US road signs – or lack of them. Damn it, I won’t get a GPS!

Once I’d managed to get myself back on the I-94 again, the ride up to Milwaukee went smoothly. I kept off the toll-road and traveled Hwy-41. I’d spent too much time on Interstates so far and I intended to spend more time on the smaller highways to see a few more towns.

Harley-Davidson Museum

Harley-Davidson Museum

As I rode into Milwaukee, I could the Harley-Davidson Museum to my left, but that could wait until tomorrow.

Marquette Interchange, Milwaukee

The Marquette Interchange, on Milwaukee’s south-side is fair impressive as you ride into the city. Apparently, they constructed it around the old one, and then pulled the old one down once the new one opened. It was also completed ahead of schedule earning the contractor a $4 million bonus in time for the Harley-Davidson 105th Anniversary in 2008. Perhaps the prospect of 200,000 bikers descending on the city for the lakeside celebrations with Bruce Springstein helped to focus the city’s and the contractor’s minds. Maybe a few hundred thousand bikers should have descended on the Scottish Parliament Building or the Edinburgh Trams. Actually, if a hundred thousand bikers descended on the Edinburgh Trams, it would be to get rid of the bloody things. The metal tram lines are lethal to all 2-wheeled vehicles.

Milwaukee Art Museum by the lakeside

After my unintentional detour back into Chicago, time was running short. I checked into my hotel, took a quick shower and then headed out for my dinner date with old friends.

Thomas had sent me a text during the day asking what I wanted to eat – Thai, Canadian, Mexican, etc.  I replied that the local speciality would be cool, so Thomas suggested we meet at AJ Bombers  – a peanuts, burgers and beer joint on Water Street. At this point in the journey, I haven’t had enough of those mighty fine American burgers – but I’m going to have to watch it or I’ll have to start buying a size or two bigger clothes. I later found out that the traditional local speciality is German food, not burgers – but then Thomas isn’t a native of Milwaukee and has only started working there on weekdays recently.

Thomas and Travis were waiting outside of AJ Bombers when I arrived. It was like I’d only seen them yesterday, yet Travis had left Edinburgh before Christmas. It was good to see them again.

When I walked into AJ’s, I thought at first that the floor was covered in wood shavings, but it was peanut shells. You are greeted to your table with a bowl of shelled peanuts, and the shells just go on the floor. If you run out, more peanuts are delivered by Peanut Bomb!

I followed Thomas’ recommendations for food and ordered the signature Bomber Burger – a cheese burger and a stuffed ‘shroom stacked together, with a side of Poutine. Poutine is a Candadian “delicacy” – it’s skin on fries, with cheese curds and gravy – cheesey chips ‘n’ gravy to us Brits, but the cheese curds are pretty much paneer rather than cheddar. Thomas confessed to putting on a good few pounds as a student because of poutine, and I can see why. I’d definitely need to be watching for the expanding waistline if I carried on eating this kind of food.

Within ten minutes with those guys, it was as if no time had passed since I last saw them. Travis immediately fell into mimicking my accent – a habit he fell into in the Black Bull in Edinburgh and one he’s rather good at.

Thomas is a Canadian whose has made in home in the Mid-West. Travis is LA through and through. Thomas had been having endless hours of fun trying to shock and horrify Travis with tales of Mid-Western life. I wondered whether Travis were more of a fish out of water in Milwaukee or Edinburgh – it didn’t take me long to realise it would have been Edinburgh. I smiled remembering some of the local Edinburgh pubs I had dragged Travis around. The one place Travis found in Edinburgh that was vaguely familia,r I hated. It was Saurabh’s favourite haunt on George Street – Tiger Lily’s/Lulu’s. I’d always found it to be full of pretentious knobs. As we sat reminiscing about their time in Edinburgh, it stuck me how much like chalk and cheese Travis and I are – we are complete opposites in almost all ways- Travis is my stereotypical image of young and successful LA. Yet I really liked the guy, which made me realise that he’s not really my stereotype – he is a really gracious guy. I have never heard one word of compliant from him, even when I’ve known he isn’t happy. He is just a really nice guy who likes different things from me.

Travis, Thomas and me in the Red Rock Saloon, Milwaukee

After we’d finished in AJ’s, I suggested another beer somewhere, and just down the street from AJ’s is the Red Rock Saloon. It bills itself as Milwaukee’s first country/rock inspired bar. It’s certainly decked out like you would a imagine a western bar to be. That evening they had live band karaoke on. The place wasn’t too business and our server, Laura, spent a lot of time chatting to us between serving beers. She seemed very keen that we all do a spot on the karaoke, but this was met by much reluctance and somehow just never happened. Thomas and Travis both had early starts the next day, so our evening wasn’t a long one. Before leaving I arranged to meet with Thomas again at the weekend – this time in his hometown St Paul. And one lucky person left with Laura’s number and it wasn’t me.

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