St. Francis & the Fest

We started Friday morning with a breakfast with a view.  Harper rediscovered the joy of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chided us for never have “regular bread” in the house.  Ah, the midwest and white bread–a match made in demography!  Note that Penn’s breakfast somehow included tiny candy bars.  Where are this kid’s parents?!

Our first goal of the day was to visit the neighborhoods of my childhood.  We started in St. Francis, which is where I lived for almost a decade, from 5 to 14.  My house was just off Kinnickinnic (or KK), three doors down from this bar:

Here it is.  When I was little, there used to be a gigantic evergreen in the front yard between the “picture window” and the small bedroom window, so it didn’t seem as stark.  The view from that picture window used to be a grocery store parking lot (where I learned to ride a bike), then it was a used car storage lot, then nothing.  Now, it’s a huge meat storage facility.  My children observed that St. Francis might be the historic ground zero site for the tiny house movement.  Every property we drove by–though really small–was wonderfully well maintained.  Lots of pride in ownership in this neighborhood.  That hasn’t changed.

Although I only dined at the Safe House, I have the background to be a great spy: the hospital I was born in, the church I was christened in, the school I attended from K through 8th have all been demolished; and the Catholic high school I attended for half a year before we moved to Florida (below) is now a non-profit center.  Take that personal history–you’ve been erased!

We next visited the house my mother grew up in and that I spent almost every weekend in: my grandmother’s.  I was blown away by how much it has been improved.  When I was little, the railing was a rusting pipe, and the front porch was walled in by plexiglass and siding.  The entire place was grey.  I would swear HGTV did a makeover, wish I could have seen the inside. Little else in the neighborhood was the same, though.  The old A&P is now a bank; the library at the end of the block seems to be a failed charter school.

To accompany our nostalgia tour, I wanted to eat at George Webb’s.  We had to drive a bit to find one, and apparently, we were not alone.  We had to wait for a table and then even longer for our order.  Ned observed that every sign and physical aspect of the place was designed to prevent dine and dash. 

There are even two clocks on the wall to verify the time when reporting theft 🙂

In truth, this was not food worth waiting for … it was no Culver’s!  But, the nostalgia held strong enough to make this rye bread patty melt and extra crispy classic GW hashbrowns exciting.

It’s hard to put this in writing, but Abbott’s custard cannot hold a candle to Wisconsin custard.  When I was little, we’d go to Al’s Custard out by Mitchell Field.  It is no longer with us, so we went in search of Leon’s Custard, which is out by the old Southgate mall (which is also no longer with us; where will I buy my LPs and corduroys?!)  Leon’s is right across the street from Ned’s Pizza.

There are no benches at Leon’s: you stand in the corner or eat in your car.  Leon is not your mom; he’s not here to take care of you.  He’s here to serve you custard with fat content so high he built a hospital directly behind his place so you can waddle over when you’re in cardiac arrest.

After custard-ing up, the kids hit the pool.

In preparation for our evening at Summerfest!  Summerfest is a Milwaukee institution that has grown considerably since I last attended in 1977 or so, seeing the Steve Miller Band with a junior high friend.  In the 70s, it was totes-okay to drop your 14 daughter and her friend off at Summerfest and pick her up around midnight.  Today, we all walk in together.

Summerfest has 11 stages with live music from noon to midnight all along the shore of Lake Michigan.  The music is interspersed with tons of food and even more tons of beer–but somehow, in the magic of Summerfest, you rarely see an angry drunk.  Maybe it’s all the grease that cuts the attitude.   

Ned went in search of Steely Dane, which was rocking Steely Dan covers at the Harley Davidson stage.  The kids and I went in search of bouncy wrecking balls.

Then, they got their Coachella Junior looks on.

Before becoming children again when faced with the mechanical bull.  Penn became a crowd favorite by staying on over 30 seconds!

Suffice it to say, the mechanical bull is not Harper’s sport, which both her father and I are more than fine with.

By the way, check out the completely random Summerfest vendor: Pronamel.  Why is a toothpaste company dedicating this many resources to a gigantor booth at this festival?  Who cares?  We were literally almost out of toothpaste that very day, and we picked up 4 free mini-tubes right there at Summerfest.  Sweet!

2015 is a year that will live in Summerfest history: the Fest’s first Bacon Eating Contest.  Given that, in its inaugural year, it almost completely filled the Uline Warehouse Ampitheater with spectators, it will be back!  It was Patrick Cudahy day at the Fest, and the first 5000 attendees after 5 pm got free bacon hats.  Sadly, our tickets required us to enter by 4 pm.

Look at my cuties in their rock shirts: new alterna and old alterna 🙂

We did our fair share of Summerfest grazing: mini donuts, volcano chicken, schnitzel, satay, empanadas, spring roll, lemonade, kielbasa, brats, and more.  The kids worked off their pre-concert meal at the playground.  And, yes, Gators are everywhere people–I don’t even know who this girl is. #ItsGreatUF

It gets chilly by the lake at night, so I was in my finest I’m-middle-aged-and-get-cold-and-don’t-need-to-impress-you-with-my-sense-of-fashion music fest attire.  The red shirt is my new Summerfest tee!

And, then, we staked a claim to our place at the Johnson Controls stage by arriving about 90 minutes early for Sylvan Esso.  No reserved seating at most of the venues means that you need to be hardcore to snag good seats … although as Ned was soon to learn, “seats” has a different meaning at the Fest.

Friday was also the “Big Bang,” the 90 minute long firework show over Lake Michigan.  We could grab a few hints of it over the trees.

Sylvan Esso took the stage promptly at 10 and were just amazing!  The vibe was already heightened because producer and electronic wizard Nick Sanborn is from Milwaukee, so add to that a near perfect mix that let Amelia Meath’s gorgeous voice soar and a wide open stage for her funky dancing–fantastic!  So, as for the seats: Summerfest attendees don’t sit on bleachers, they stand on them.  The bleachers have changed over time from long wooden ones that bowed and bounced in time to the dancing to very hearty, reinforced metal ones, but the tradition is unchanged.  So, my whole family was up for an hour of electronica bleacher dancing!  My kids got a few “your parents are so hip” (likely code for “irresponsible”), and Penn’s Alt-J shirt drew a lot of praise, too.  (Sylvan Esso is his second favorite band, second only to Alt-J; though sometimes it ties with Glass Animals.)

Another Fest tradition is late comers trying to walk their way across the bleachers to better “seats.”  The young women who attempted that by me were unaware that, though I’m Midwest by blood, I’m now NY by choice.  They figured it out quickly enough.  Don’t mess with my bleacher!

My boy loves his Sylvan Esso!

We ended our Fest night with a promise to do the Skyliner through the park tomorrow.

And, wandered back to our temporary home through the lovely streets of Milwaukee, humming “HSKT” and “Play It Right” the whole way.


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