I spent the last week in Milwaukee, WI with my daughter (thankful yet again for my 100% work-from-anywhere company!). She lives exactly 5 blocks north of the hospital at which I was born. That 38-bed hospital is long-closed although the building, originally built by a lumber baron and listed on the historic register, still stands.
Talk about a “we’ve come full circle” moment.
This trip, beyond providing me with the opportunity to indulge in Wisconsin delicacies like walleye, cheese curd and czarnina at Polonez, (so so good; I simply refuse to think about the duck’s blood part) really put me in a contemplative mood about the different places I have lived in my life. Not so much “where” I have lived (Wisconsin vs. Louisiana) but more so the types of environs in which I have found myself. I realized my life has been split fairly neatly into thirds:
- one-third of my life in the suburbs
- one-third of my life in a city
- one-third of my life in a town
For the bulk of my childhood my family lived in a pastoral (at that time) suburb of the greater Milwaukee metropolitan area. We had big yards, wide streets, and minimal traffic. We took the school bus every day and my best friends lived, on average, 5 – 10 miles away from me in their own suburban idyll. Across the street from my family’s home were several empty lots overgrown with shrubs and trees in which the neighborhood kids carved out a baseball field (I generally was relegated to the outfield) as well as a few hide-aways (under those canopies of trees) where we experimented with cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana (pilfered from the supplies of parents and siblings). To travel anywhere outside the immediate confines of our neighborhood required either a car or, for us kids before we had driver’s licenses, a bicycle. I truly don’t remember actually “walking” anywhere except for strolling through a few back yards as the short cut to my friend Lisa’s house down the street.
The Big City
When I returned in my early 20’s, post college in small-town Wisconsin, I settled in an apartment in the city of Milwaukee. Suddenly I had sidewalks and streetlights and a bus stop right outside my front door. Across the street was not only a grocery store but an actual by-God department store! I could walk to my hairdresser’s salon (4 blocks), my bank (6 blocks), the corner store to pick up a Sunday paper (2 blocks), innumerable restaurants, and my auto mechanic (3 blocks) if I needed to drop-off/pick-up my car for an oil change. I lived in the city (with a few address changes) for close to 20 years and while, obviously, used my car, I always enjoyed being able to head out down the sidewalk to take care of a few errands or walk to a friend’s house.
Technically, Baton Rouge, LA where I currently live, is a city. Yet, with a population just slightly over 225,000 people it “feels,” to me anyway, like a small town. Our downtown, at just over 1 square mile is the very definition of a commuter destination; workers (the vast majority state government or the businesses that support them), drive in from far flung parishes in the morning and then head back out as the sun sets. Of course there’s plenty to do in BR of if one is willing to get in the car and traverse the sprawling metropolitan area while battling with the nation’s 4th worst traffic according to February 2022 rankings. Oy.
And while we live “in” the city in a centrally located neighborhood (with sidewalks! and streetlights!) we go everywhere by car. We may walk around the block but there is no way to take a stroll to the grocery store or a restaurant or even a coffee shop. I could just as well live 30 miles out in the country.
So I realized, while spending the week in my daughter’s top floor apartment just several blocks from the shores of Lake Michigan, that I miss – and actually crave – the hustle and bustle.
- It was energizing to be surrounded by people whenever I wanted; even an elevator ride downstairs to check the mail was an adventure. (And after doing some back-of-the-envelope #HRmath I figured out the population density within a 2 block radius of her building alone far exceeds the approximately 3,400 people (1,428 households) in my neighborhood.)
- It was delightful just to take a walk up the street, shopping list in hand, to grab some groceries. To a store where, accustomed to walkable customers, the cashiers automatically asked if I wanted to double bag heavy items for carrying. I was able to walk to the store, complete my errand, and return home in less time than it takes me to navigate an automobile trip to make groceries in Baton Rouge.
- I found it thrilling to order from a restaurant and, instead of relying on Waitr delivery, taking a 5-minute stroll to pick it up myself. Naturally I felt it was my duty to uphold the Milwaukee Fish Fry tradition.
Was it loud? A bit. But I crave some noise when settling into bed at night. In the big city I simply found myself heading into slumberville to the sounds of street traffic and patrons at the corner pub rather than nodding off to my “Distant Thunder” sleep app.
Was it inconvenient? A bit. It does require more planning to maneuver purchases or packages from the parking garage (or the street) as opposed to pulling into one’s garage and just carting items into the house in a few trips. And I literally cannot fathom the thought of my dogs having to go down an elevator and out for regular walks as opposed to their existing life which consists of their doggy=please of “please open the door and let us out to run around the yard and bark and do-our-business whenever we want!”
Was it sensory overload? A bit. The lights were, well…BRIGHT; I found myself fervently wishing for some black-out shades at night.
Did I love it? Yes.
It was fully immersive. I found myself back in the city of my birth and in close approximation to a previous way of living. Would I live in the big city again? At this stage in my life? I don’t know. I’ve grown accustomed to quiet at night (and in the morning) with wandering neighborhood cats and the occasional possum showing up in the back yard. I know I will never get overnight (let alone same day) Amazon delivery which, quite frankly, I can easily do without. All things considered I imagine I am destined to stay in “The Town.”
But I am willing to try some Beach Livin.’