Milwaukee, MN

November 8 2012

A Testimony to the town where I grew up, Milwaukee, Minnesota

                         By Anne Stratton

     A few years ago, my husband and I spent three days at a lodge in the wilds of the Florida Keys. Tastefully linked condos formed two-thirds of a peninsula around us. On the other third was the sparkling spit of water between the U. S. and Fidel Castro.

    While the other guests were catching fish, we were busy eating the catch and catching the ultra-violets. One afternoon we were up to our ears in the whirling, steaming waters of the lodge’s hot tub,  all alone, until Mr. and Mrs. Texas ambled down the steps and into the tub.  Mrs. was stuffed into a bikini, her extra flesh settling wherever it wished. Mr. Texas had a friendly face and more hair on his upper lip than on his head. He didn’t bother to extinguish his cigar as he lowered himself into the tub, his paunch displacing quite a bit of the water. He settled back to make a call on his cell phone, his drawl loud and strong as he placed an order with his stock broker.  Once he clicked off his phone, he eyed us. “Been here before?”  “Caught any fish?”  “Like your condo?”  He was loaded with questions.

    We took turns responding. When the big guy finally advanced to “Where’re you from?” we answered in duet, “Milwaukee.”

    “So,” he nodded, flicking the ash from his cigar, “How’s the weather been up there in Minnesota?”

    In Minnesota?  I admit that wasn’t the first time I’d heard that gaff, so I muttered, “I don’t know.  You see, Milwaukee isn’t in Minnesota.”

    The fella was from down south. Why should he be expected to know anything about places in the middle of the country?  I suppose it's natural to learn the names and locations of nearby states and then shrug off the rest as unnecessary info. It’s also possible people mix up cities that begin with the same letter, like Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

    That incident wasn’t the first time I’d given a quick geography seminar.  It turns out lots of people think my hometown is in Minnesota: Milwaukee, Minnesota. Apparently even published authors make this mistake. My husband collects books on architecture. One of them showed plans and photos of the “Center for the Performing Arts, Milwaukee, Minnesota.” (Paul Heyer’s 1966 Architects on Architecture, New York: Walker & Co.)  No editor caught that one. 

    I attended college in New York state with lots of intelligent, educated people. Nevertheless, some of them had only a fuzzy grasp of the territory between New England and Los Angeles, which is why the New Yorker Magazine’s cartoon map of the U.S. isn’t really an exaggeration. Many easterners know just enough. The Great Lakes are out there somewhere. There are five of them (or is it four?). And they must be pretty nice, or they wouldn’t be called “great.”  As long as you can pinpoint Chicago and keep moving west, the details don’t matter.

    Quite a few years ago a national meeting of garden clubs was held in Milwaukee. One of the officers from a tiny New England state left a lovely note for her hostess, raving about her enjoyable “three days in Minnesota.” That story always leads to another. One of the members staying at a home overlooking Lake Michigan admired the view and asked what lake that was. 

    After Bank One became part of Chase Bank, the New York Times wrote up the transaction and included a map showing the locations of all the Bank One sites. The map highlighted Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. Close, but no cigars. The state identified as Wisconsin was actually Minnesota.

    The gaffe which triggered this rant occurred last summer. (I coddle rants for months.) USA Today has a column entitled “Across the USA” listing one news item from each state. Here’s the listing for Friday, June 1, 2012: “Wisconsin: Minneapolis—An engineering company linked to an interstate bridge collapse in 2007 continues to work for the city, receiving more than two dozen contracts in the past five years…” (BTW, the bridge that collapsed stretched across the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River meanders along Wisconsin’s border. However, it happens to be nowhere near the aforementioned Milwaukee.)

    In case the bumbling USA Today author simply transposed the city names, I also checked the June 1 listing for Minnesota.  It read: “Minnesota: St. Paul.” Finally I noticed an entry that made me smile. “Oregon: Milwaukie.” The west coast version of my hometown may be spelled differently, but I bet no one thinks THAT city is in Minnesota.     

    End of Rant. For now…