When I’d booked my hotel in Milwaukee, I’d booked two nights, expecting to hang-out with Thomas and Travis both evenings, but Travis was heading back to LA on the Thursday and Thomas was getting ready to move house at the weekend, but I did arrange to meet up with him in his home town of St Paul when I went through there on Saturday.
So the evening after the Harley-Davidson museum trip, I found myself at a loose end. I decided to go and explore the city solo. On the surface, Milwaukee appears a nice relaxed city with leafy sidewalks. It’s much smaller (and lower) than Chicago, but still seemed a cool town. Before heading out, I checked on the internet for a few bars that sounded as if they might be my kind of place – i.e. with rock and/or local real beer. The Bad Genie looked like my kind of place, so I headed over there.
On the way, I could hear music playing – it sounded live and close. Rounding the corner into Cathedral Square, I found Jazz in the Park in full swing. A stage full of musicians was at the south end of the park. At the north end there were food and drink stalls aplenty. The rest of the park was full of people sitting, standing and dancing.
Usually, it’s illegal to drink alcohol in public streets and parks in most of the USA (except for New Orleans as far as I know), but these restrictions are relaxed for these street “parties” – as they had been at Wicker Park Fest in Chicago and in Ann Arbor. I heard later that Milwaukee had these kind of events on all summer at numerous locations – as apparently do many cities in the US (I’d seen 3 within a week). Clive, who told me this, suggested that it had a lot to do with an excuse to get drunk. Perhaps the US has more in common with the UK than I’d thought.
Jazz really isn’t my thing, but I got myself a beer so I could spend at least a little while soaking up some of the ambience of the mixed crowd. It looked as if everyone was having a great time.
With my fill of jazz for the year, I continued on my quest to find the Bad Genie. It was still early evening when I found it, and it’s not far from Jazz in the Park, so the place wasn’t exactly buzzing. I grabbed a beer and settled myself at a table outside where I could scribble in my notebook. I hadn’t been there more than 10 minutes when I heard a South London accent ask what I was writing. I hadn’t expected that in downtown Milwaukee.
The London accent came from Clive, an ex-pat artist who’d been living in the States for over 20 years. He had a studio in Milwaukee which was hosting an exhibition of his work in a day or two’s time.
After telling Clive what I was scribbling about, he decided to join me, pulling up a chair to my table and ordering himself a drink from the passing server. I’m glad he did – he certainly made my evening more interesting. He’s a fascinating guy who could talk for England.
One of the first things Clive asked was whether I was Scottish. That floored me. I know I’d been telling people who asked that I was from Scotland (see An English ambassador for Scotland?), but I still think my accent is pure English. I was born and raised near Bedford about 50 miles north of London, and despite living in the West Midlands for nearly 15 years, I think I still sound very South East. Perhaps my Scottish biker chick is rubbing off on me in more ways than I thought – if she is that would be no bad thing. Perhaps one of my friends will tell me what I really sound like.
I spent about 2 hours in Clive’s company, and in that time I don’t think I spoke for more than about 10 minutes. But I’m not complaining, the rest of the time was filled with Clive telling me about his very eventful and interesting life.
He’d been born and raised in Peckham, South London and contrasted growing up in mult-cultural South London in the 1970’s, where he used to hang-out at the homes of black friends, with the racial segregation he felt was rife in Milwaukee today. I saw none of that – the crowd at Jazz in the Park had looked pretty mixed and integrated, but later in Sturgis, I heard that the week after I left Milwaukee there had been a mob of black youths attacking people on the first day of the State Fair. But then I also heard of riots in England and Vancouver, another of my intended destinations. I’m not sure what it is really like in Milwaukee – certainly conservative groups are playing it up as a “race riot” and Clive, who grew up with black friends in a multi-cultural area of London, certainly thought Milwaukee had race problems. I remember thinking that I hoped my friend Travis didn’t encounter any racist problems during his time working in Milwaukee. I know he won’t travel to the South unless he really has to for work, because of similar issues.
Clive also felt that Milwaukee was a great place for artists right now and that it was destined to be one of the next happening places – they do say that if you are looking for the next happening place in property, you should follow the artists and the gays. Perhaps Milwaukee is in the process of a painful change right now.
Clive had been to a faith school in London, but had managed to get himself expelled after bringing stuff he’d learned in a physics class to his next RE class and upset his RE teacher (a priest) by having the temerity to question the infallibility of god. He’d had a stint as a motorcycle courier around London, and then joined the French Foreign Legion.
Somehow he’d managed to end up working in Miami in a nightclub owned by Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood in the late 1980s, and he told some great stories of friends of Ronnie’s that had played at the club. Perhaps it was Ronnie that got Clive into art, since Ronnie himself is quite a renowned artist in his own right. For at least some of his time in the US, Clive had been an illegal alien, and told a tale of having to sneak back across the border on a railway bridge from Canada.
Clive had moved up to Illinois, and then Wisconsin, for a woman, and had established himself as an artist in Milwaukee. He seemed very well-known locally. Lots of people said “Hello Clive” and stopped to chat for a while. Clive had done all the artwork at the Bad Genie, some of the more memorable pieces were a picture of Mick Jagger, and another of Johnny Rotten, which had more than a passing resemblance to Clive, except Clive was a bleach blond and had better teeth.
After a couple of hours, and many drinks and smokes, Clive suggested a change of venue. I’d come out with my messenger bag, which contained all my important documents and my notebooks. At this point in the evening I still had my sensible head on, despite the drinks and smokes. I knew if we carried on the way we were going, I would lose the bag before the night was done. So I said I’d drop my bag off at the hotel and then take a cab over to the next bar. Clive wrote the name of the bar on the back of his business card, and we went our separate ways.
Somewhere between the Bad Genie and the hotel, I managed to lose Clive’s card, and I couldn’t for the life of me remember the name of the bar we were supposed to meet at. Without the name of the bar or Clive’s phone number, there was little I could do, which is a shame as I think a night on the town with Clive would have been far from dull.