Milwaukee: Close Distance Relationships
My Milwaukee experience starts with me in Oakland, daunted by father time and the promise of America’s dream of white picket fences and PTA meetings. So, when my long time, on and off again long distance girlfriend started tempting me with those possibilities, I jumped at the opportunity of having my very own 2.5 kids. Step one, we needed to find the perfect city for “us”. We narrowed it down to Hollywood or Black Hollywood. Los Angeles or Atlanta. Step two, quit my job, move to, and help her transition out of the city she lives in, Milwaukee. So I did.
I was adamant about staying in Milwaukee for no longer than a month, because...Milwaukee. From my knowledge Milwaukee is essentially a homogenous midwest city overrun by simple-minded Budweiser drinking, fried cheese curd casserole eating, absurdly dedicated Green Bay Packer fans. The third day I arrived, we ran into Flow in all his drunken glory at ‘Jazz in the Park’, downtown Milwaukee’s Thursday evening, summer to-do. Flow was an acquaintance from Chicago, we ran in the same Chicago Arts circles. I was a fan of his photography, I eventually hired him to photograph OTIUM COLLECTIVE, the collective I founded. It's been over a year since we last crossed paths in Chicago.So you can imagine our disbelief. We did the expected “What the fuck are you doing in Milwaukee!?” line of questioning and insisted we’ll party, before I moved.
As planned, a week after my arrival we had a road trip to Atlanta. I had some job interviews lined up and she had meetings with modeling agencies. This was a chance for us to explore Atlanta, I had never been. I quickly discovered Atlanta had everything I wanted in a city. The city was full of beautiful bike trails through vibrant green parks, amazing southern, and west indie eateries. It had an art scene that was alive, inclusive, and inspiring. A vastly eclectic nightlife. Atlanta is full of black excellence yet wonderfully diverse. Conspicuously, a majority of the fashion scene didn't look homogeneous. Even my style received compliments, notable by somebody's auntie at the Lexon Square mall. “Now that’s how you do it!” she proclaimed. It was, as the kids said a year a two ago, everything! Due to the unfortunate unlawful shooting of Philando Castile, I was able attend a Black Lives Matter rally and 3 day march! It was essential. It was powerful. I was falling head over heals for this densely forested city. When that 10 day ATL trip ended our future seemed so bright!
Back to Milltown, brew-city, America’s most segregated city -- Milwaukee to tie up all the loose ends and prepare for our journey south. I had to depend on her and her hand full of friends to show me a good Milwaukee time. None of them seemed to be knowledgeable about much of the city but the typical tourist traps. I opted to go it alone. So, Brady Street it was. Which was fine and dandy, but as the search for my level of “lit-ness” returned with only frathouse worthy drunkards at every turn, I found my spirit killed.
Luckily the summer of Milwaukee are filled with weekly street festivals. I'd get her to go out people watching and I noticed the city was rather diverse. And while I was attempting to “click” with the city, honestly, something just wasn't clicking between us, we weren't connecting. I never read, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Long Distance Relationships” as I’m sure it’s dated and holds no truth to my actual reality. But either way, there should be a chapter on the transition to... close distance. It was clear we were different people than the two who met over 2 years ago. I wasn't that person anymore, you would think those long phone calls covered all that ground. Or maybe the reality of choosing to have kids with someone forces a slight change in perspective. Religious beliefs and opinions. Love languages. What type of television show’s we waste our time on. Race relations. Failed relationships. Loving or hating horror films. It all seemed so substantial. Could that be ego? May be old fashioned gender roles beating at our psyche. Could be. Either way, the dream was abruptly falling apart.
After a few coincidental run ins with Flow, we made a conscious decision to go the, “Did we just become best friends?” route. Flow is from Milwaukee so he already had a really good scope of the city. Was introduced to Hotel Foster (RIP) on a friday, left at bar close accompanied by 5 people we didn't arrive with, all willing to get weird. We made 3rd ward’s Kimpton Hotel's rooftop bar “The Outsider” our go-to spot. For their bourbon selection and artfully crafted cocktails. It was then, I started to vibe with Milwaukee accompanied by my trusty sidekick, Flow. We found restaurant's with absurdly cheap happy hours, Buddha Longue, and made an effort to get out and support the local music scene. Flow organized “The SOCIAL” dinner party at Swig, it had live folk, neo-soul and hip hop performances, good eats, open bar and it was littered with attractive, interesting artists. I met new insta-friends and was introduced to the Milwaukee based collective ‘The New Age Narcissism’. I discovered the vibes in Riverwest, Milwaukee equivalent to Chicago’s Pilsen. Amidst my personal life falling apart, I started to do the unthinkable, I started to enjoy the city.
Had an epic jam session in 5th Wards’s AlphaBang arts space for Milwaukee’s Gallery night. That night I had a deep conversation with a perfect stranger about my failing relationship. Trying to answer questions like when do end things, when you know it's not right? And how does it feels to hurt someone? My mindset was this: I could either stay in the relationship, ride out this patch or leave peacefully before it blows up. The one thing I knew I needed was a bit of space from her. From us. So I took it. I spent 3 days wistfully walking/biking up and down oak leaf trail, weighing the pros and cons of my relationship woes. I knew her family. We won't be friends after this. I could wait until we moved to Atlanta. Does it need to get much worse before you end it? Do I continue to hold on to what it used to be? Will I ever find another person to accept the complexities that create me, like she did? Wouldn’t our kids be cute as fuck? How important is one's level of “woke-ness” and intellect when settling down?
I decided one more talk was in order to make that decision. I sent the text. “Let's talk”. We did. Met after her dance class. All my questions were answered. She wore a long black shirt that read, I DON'T CARE. I was 99% willing to start a new if that went well. It didn't. I didn't hear the words I needed to restore. The wrongs were still there and unaccounted for.The disconnect was clear. I, peacefully, I ended it.
Then I looked around and realized. I was in Milwaukee. A friend immediately looked out and offered up an apartment, while he ironically was finalizing his divorce. And then there was Atlanta, how I will reach you? That initial plan ended with my relationship. Do I still go? Do I go somewhere else? Minneapolis? Houston? London? I needed some stillness and time to think. I didn't want to just uproot without a plan. I figured, I had until mid fall to flesh-out a plan. Milwaukee for now.
That following weekend the word spread that Hotel Foster was closing and throwing an adult prom. Everyone was going. New Age Narcissism was performing, so I knew it was going to be Milwaukee level “lit”. Moreover, this would be the first time going out in Milwaukee where I was single! Flow and I got all spiffy and prepared ourselves to get seriously jiggy. Bow ties and suspenders. You couldn't miss us when we walked in. I was getting sex and drugs just thrown at me. I kept it classy...for the most part. I kept a glass of Chianti in one hand and the hand of an admirer in another. Too lit. More parties brought on more people. More friends brought more experiences, more insight which brought more opportunity. This city wasn’t all hustle like the major cities I’m used to, it’s much easier to navigate and connect.
Then the Sherman Park incident happened. An armed black man was shot in the back by a cop who was also a person of color. The inciter of a mildly violent two day riot. A few businesses were burned to the ground and people and cops were injured. Sherman Park is a predominantly black neighborhood in the far north side of Milwaukee. I was informed that it's behind the “mason dixon line”. Oddly, I had to find out on the news, it was very isolated. I tried to gauge how the locals felt.The race relations in Milwaukee were some of the worst in the nation. It became very clear the riots were destined to happen but very few seem to carry the weight of this uprising, or the underlying problem; inclusivity. My mom called worried that I wasn't safe. I was. I had to explain I wasn't near that neighborhood. That didn't feel right to me. A week goes by and the incident felt so distant. A wrong no one is speaking up for. Bubbling under. Awaiting another blow up.
It’s been two months now and I'm still in Milwaukee. I’ve started to listen to what the city was telling me about speaking my mind. Righting the wrongs as soon as they are identified. About not running away from a bad situation and being open to wait it out ‘til the storm clears. How the details change when you get to see them incredibly close up. I heard it loud and clear. So, I wanted to speak to my ex, possibly for the last time. To simply apologize for causing any hurt. I knew my part in our demise and took accountability for it. Her faults were no bigger than mine. We just didn't work anymore. It wouldn't work. I couldn't accept all the bad with the good. All the trash with the art. The feeling we once had dissolved, I was willing to admit it. But it isn't quite over yet for Milwaukee and I.
I’m currently working on vocals with a funk band, and trying to get involved with the Mojo Dojo company, Milwaukee’s long form improv troupe. Hitting up the Up and Under for their live band open mic. Exploring all the areas from the warehouses in Walkers Point to bradford beach on the eastside. Flow and I are cooking up some great things for the city. Truth is, there's loads of untapped talent and opportunity. It is blindly segregated and there’s an overwhelming feeling of complacency, that I will wash off shortly. But Milwaukee was speaking to me, moving things through me. With so much bubbling under the surface, it was noticeable that we just needed a little work. Milwaukee planted a little seed in me...and I am planting a little seeds in Milwaukee. That sounds like a pregnancy metaphor, but I assure you it's not. I do not want to impregnate anyone here, or anywhere for that matter at the current time... unless it’s with some knowledge and ideas of what the communities could be. If the seeds of community, understanding and individuality just had a little water to grow, this could easily be an Austin or Portland of the midwest. I can’t say I plan to stay with Milwaukee but for now, I'm riding the wave and see where it sends me.