And so the adventures began.
I left Holland this afternoon around noon after finishing up a little work before I hit the road. I spent the morning at Mt. Pisquah out by Holland State park shooting some footage with my good friend Kylen Blom. Fog lingered in the trees which made for some really beautiful shots, leaving me satisfied with what was accomplished. After a quick shower, some scrambled eggs with toast topped off with coffee, I threw some clothes in a bag and hit the road.
The first few hours of the drive were pretty standard. Driving to Milwaukee brings you through Chicago, which is a city I have driven to plenty of times over the years. Familiar images passed by and I let my mind wander about life, my future and the many things that are waiting for me around the bend.
I was excited about this trip, about the potential of meeting new people and capturing videos and photos of the city. On the highway, however, I remembered that I had forgotten the battery charger to my camera, and hadn’t charged the battery in the camera in a while. So, that was slightly discouraging. But, nothing I could do about it then, so I just kept on trucking.
On I-80/1-96W south of Chicago traffic began to slow, which didn’t take me by any surprise given the surroundings, but then I noticed a car pull over into the left shoulder, and ducking through the slow traffic, 3 young gentleman and a man in a reflective vest. My curiosity began to rise and within an instant, I saw the cause of the delay.
The car was wedged underneath the tanker, and upon further inspection it appeared there was no one left in the car as I assumed the gentlemen standing on the shoulder of the highway were the passengers of the vehicle. They looked shocked, but stable, with no visible signs of massive injury. When I first caught site of the accident, my heart sank. I was afraid for the drivers and began pondering if I should offer any aid to the situation. After seeing the gentlemen safely on the side of the road, however, I felt there was nothing more that I could do for them that hadn’t already been done, and I continued on my way. Needless to say, I was very relieved that this situation didn’t play out any worse.
I passed by the familiar city of Chicago, enduring the stop and go traffic for 20 minutes and finally accelerated back up to a normal cruising speed again. When I reached about 10 miles north of Chicago, though, I realized that I was no longer surrounded by familiar images, and was, for the first time in a while, discovering new sights. It was refreshing. It was downright inspiring. I believe man has a natural desire to explore and to learn. Even if I was just driving down a road for the first time, being guided by the GPS on my phone, I was, for lack of better terminology, exploring uncharted territory.
An hour and a half later I was met with the Milwaukee skyline. And man, it was awesome. As I drove along the highway peaking through the tall buildings, the city reminded me a little of Chicago, but cleaner. Not to say Chicago is gross or anything, but Milwaukee looks like the after picture after Chicago was soaked in Oxyclean. It also felt quite a bit like if Grand Rapids had a big brother. A smart, responsible older brother who made smart decisions all through college. Oh yeah, not to mention that Milwaukee is right on Lake Michigan with sweet rivers running through it.
I checked into my hotel and began looking up addresses to different places I wanted to visit, the first being a coffee shop where I could get some work done. Not 5 minutes into me being in my room, I hear the door open and a befuddled maintenance man staring at me and asking “uh, did you just check in?” Avoiding the obvious sarcastic response, I simply replied with, “yup” and he ducked out apologizing. Luckily I was just sitting at the desk on my computer and not, well, you get the point.
The drive back into the city was great, and the coffee shop I went to (Alterra) is located in a section of town called Historic Third Ward. This place is swanky. Brick buildings, newly renovated apartment complexes with a complete artistic feel; I was sucked into the surroundings and began thinking, “I could totally live here,” which is something I haven’t thought in a long time. Anyways, moving on. After sitting down with my latte at Alterra, I realized that I had not grabbed my headphones that were in a bag that I had left at the hotel. Well, that was just perfect, so much for editing. But I wasn’t going to let that spoil my time. I used that time to organize some footage, labeling and placing it in folders and bobbing my head back and forth to Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’ which was playing throughout the store. I hadn’t listened to that album in quite a while, but it brought back so many memories for me, one in particular being that I had forgotten how good that album really is.
I left the coffee shop and walked around the Third Ward with my camera snapping a few photos so that I didn’t have to use descriptors to portray how beautiful I found this area to be. The sun was beginning to set, and was ducking behind the clouds ever so slightly, making for some pretty killer lighting. (To preface, I’m a video guy and still trying to figure out how to use my camera in normal person picture mode. So basically I just set it to auto and mess with it in photoshop later.) And we’re walking…
Dinner time came rolling around and so I set out to find somewhere to eat. I drove around a little while and came across a sign that read, Coquette Cafe. Oh, a cafe, that seems simple enough, I thought to myself. Many of the restaurants I had walked by earlier in the evening looked a little too fancy for me wearing a plaid shirt, jeans, and zip up hoodie. Google called Coquette Cafe a casual environment, which to me means, jeans and t-shirts are cool with us. Well, when I walked in all I saw were fancy people. Not like tuxedos or anything, but the men had collars and their shirts were tucked in, and the women were in business skirts and fancy tops. I gave the hostess a strange look and asked “am I underdressed?” to which she replied, “no, we get people who come in here wearing hats, so its nice that you’re not wearing a hat.” Oh I feel better now.
Coquette Cafe was dimly lit, with candles burning on the centers of the table. I was shown to my seat and handed a menu. The dish names were all in french. Awesome. Luckily the descriptions were not, but when it came to order my Rôti de Boeuf, I claimed defeat in not being able to pronounce it and just pointed to it on the menu. Luckily I felt no judgement from the waitress as she set down my dinner roll and slab of butter. It was a quiet restaurant and made for a nice relaxing joint to enjoy a nice meal.
Just across the aisle from me were a man and a woman, sitting across from each other, both leaning in intently. I noticed immediately that this was a date, perhaps one of their first, so I did my best to casually eavesdrop on their conversation. Upon first listenings, I perceived the woman to be French, and the man an American which brought the thought, “wow, dude, taking a french girl to a french restaurant in Milwaukee? That’s like me flying to Switzerland to meet a girl and her taking me to McDonald’s because it has great food.”
After a few minutes though, I noticed that her accent was not in fact French, but Russian, or at least hailing from that part of the world. The two talked about the kinds of music and movies they were into, and other first date talking points, but then I overheard her telling a story that involved concentration camps and other various atrocities. I sat contemplating whether it would be the decent thing to focus my attention elsewhere, but the story sounded so intriguing that I wanted to hear. I couldn’t pick up much between her accent, my chewing and the fact that the couple weren’t speaking that loud, but I did catch one thing. After she finished her story, the man grabbed her hands on top of the table, smiled, and said, “well, I’m glad you’re here,” to which she smiled back and said, “me too.”
That moment made me remember a Moth podcast I listened to the other day about a Somalian immigrant in New York during the time of the worst part of the Somalian wars. This woman had taken in her family as part of asylum, one of which being her rebellious younger sister. At one point in the story an immigration worker told the rebellious sister that she did not deserve to be in this country. The older sister responded by saying something along the lines of, “you’ve screwed up a lot and taken this country for granted, and he’s right, you don’t deserve to be here.” That hit me really hard. People immigrate to the U.S. because they believe it is the best country on earth, while Americans spend their time bickering and complaining about trivial matters, all the while seemingly forgetting what makes this country great.
The fact that children have an opportunity to dream and to pursue those dreams, almost without resistance, and without fearing for their lives, is priceless. I am truly blessed to be able to hop into my car, drive 400 miles to the opposite side of the great Lake Michigan and spend a few days in a city I’ve never been before, solely for the purpose of my own curiosity and enjoyment. For many others in this world, this freedom and liberty is just unheard of. Does not mean that we should not pursue or enjoy our dreams because others can’t? I don’t think so. I think it just means that we should take advantage of the opportunities around us, and not take them for granted.
I look forward to exploring more of what Milwaukee has to offer, and look forward, even more, to exploring more of what the rest of this country has to offer.