Life is a Playground

By - Sep 17th, 2007 02:52 pm
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Last week I lodged a formal complaint about the lack of bike racks in my new East Town neighborhood. My somewhat irritated e-mail was answered warmly and in great detail by Dave Schlabowske, coordinator of Milwaukee’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force, who gave me pointers on lock-up locations (tree planters, for instance, are easy), offered to find me a winter storage locker in my neighborhood (noting the office address on my e-mail signature), and invited me to join him for an “urban underground” bike tour that night as part of the annual Urban Playground Festival. I didn’t even know a Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force existed, but I did my homework and learned that they were the good people responsible for most of the city’s bike lanes, the Milwaukee by Bike Map, the Brady Street pedestrian bridge, the Marsupial Bridge over the Milwaukee River, Bike to Work Week, and other smart, progressive initiatives.

We met outside Cafe Hollander with a handful of other bikers from all walks of the bike world — a couple of serious guys with many gears on their mountain bikes, an enthusiast who wanted to know everything about my vintage Falcon, a family with a toddler in a trailer and a couple of kids on pint-sized rides with bells on their handlebars. Dave, of course, rode a beautiful European tour bike with saddlebags, a leather seat, a chain guard and headlights powered by a generator. “It reminds me of being in Amsterdam,” he said.

We cruised through the East Side, Riverside Park, cut behind the Paperboard factory and picked up the Beer Line Trail, a pedestrian corridor that runs along the abandoned rails that used to cart barrels of brew from the Pabst, Blatz and Schlitz factories. Halfway through our 90-minute tour, at the south end of the Marsupial Bridge, Dave unpacked some dark rum and (in true Royal Dutch fashion) some aquavit. He told us about plans to extend the Beer Line Trail all the way to Gordon Park in Riverwest and upcoming developments in the Gallun complex on Water Street that might turn the Marsupial Bridge into a more of a Commons. Before we turned back, we crossed the pedestrian bridge over the river that links up to the East Bank Trail and watched the sun come down; I talked to a fisherman about the cranes nesting in the sandbar.

Dave asked why he hadn’t seen me around at other city bike gatherings. Hadn’t I heard about Biketoberfest? The Santa Cycle Rampage? I told him I hadn’t even mustered the curiosity to go to Critical Mass, which, according to Dave, people only tend to show up at when there is the chance that there will be controversy, confrontation or a political button to push. Dave seemed to embrace the playful, have-a-beer, bring-your-kids spirit of biking, which made me — a rookie biker — pretty comfortable. Nice to know that there is a cooperative agent working inside the city that even those of us who without fixed gears, clipless pedals or the wherewithal to replace a sprocket can come to with concerns, ideas, and advice. I SHOULD go to Biketoberfest, I thought to myself: why not, after all, when I’m young, energetic, living in a city with a formidable bike scene, riding an antique bike that I’ve sunk at least a couple hundred dollars into by now, and when the outdoors are enjoyable for such a short period of time? Biketoberfest it is.

That night I dragged a friend (who rides a single-speed bike, complete with clipless pedals, that he built by himself) to Weird Science III: Nikola Tesla Has a Posse at gorgeous Turner Hall to partake in that annual pursuit of radical rationalism, nerdy scenesterism, educational partying produced every year by our friends at Cedar Block. I beat my opponent pretty badly at Boggle, thanks, Matt Wild might argue, to the music of Weird Al Yankovic, although I think I probably would’ve have sunk the competition anyway. We arrived sort of late — just long enough to have a couple beers, chat with some smart computers, and guess whether an elephant or a mouse would die first if both were trapped together in an airtight room. Andrew Swant, Bobby Ciraldo and Drew Rosas of Fortress Productions talked to me about the Milwaukee International Film Fest (their short film Table Talk will screen in the Milwaukee Filmmaker’s Showcase on September 27) and their upcoming trip to Los Angeles to interview William Shatner; they are making a documentary about the ballet based on his 2004 album Has Been. Not a joke.

The night ended with our own experiment when a less-than-sober friend threw a gelatinous brain off the Turner Hall balcony to see if it would splatter. His hypothesis — that it would of course make a mess — was trounced when the brain remained intact. Apparently humiliated, he made sure to jump on it a few times in the parking lot.

It’s been a strange season. What will we all think up next?

Categories: VITAL

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