Christmas at the watering hole
I’ll admit it. I could be projecting here. But as I spent the last month and a half on assignment for Lisa and the Thoroughly Thrilling ThirdCoast Crew, eavesdropping on the local barflies to gauge the collective level of holiday cheer in the Milwaukee bar circuit, I found my personal feelings on the season reflected in the disbelieving townies propping up the bar; they were also double-checking their calendars.
Talking about the weather is rote and cliché, sure. But this is the bar scene we’re talking about — if people aren’t bitching about the Packers or Bucks (or if it’s Bayview, why their band didn’t get signed to Sub Pop), they’re asking each other if they “ordered this weather.” After two particularly oppressive winters and a summer that seemed to last for approximately three hours on July 23rd when it got a little sticky, Milwaukee’s traditionally hearty cold-weather stock felt beaten down and nearly broken. So, as we approached Thanksgiving, any conversation I started with a friend at Blackbird or overheard during a night at Riverhorse, seemed to reflect my internal malaise — one in which the onset of freezing temperatures overshadowed the promise of impending eggnog and garish sweaters.
But like I said — it could have been me. It could have been a case of selective hearing. After all, when you’re determined to be a grinch, you’re more likely to gravitate to fellow grinches.
But here’s what’s cool about Milwaukee — once that initial cold snap hit like Indiana Jones’ bullwhip or one of those “Slipice” monsters from the original Mario Bros. game, cabin fever bands people together. My job this past month or so was to observe and eavesdrop, and once winter finally let loose with the freeze, the classic Midwestern suck-it-up-iveness was observed blasting through the cold like a dragon. Well, winter’s here, so I guess we can stop bitchin’ and make the best of it, right?
Chats about the holidays quickly morphed from “oh god” to “oh good — so and so came out tonight!” as the barflies of Milwaukee started to keep each other warm and jolly, bonding in the shared “holy hells!” and “damn, that wind is nasty!” And with that, maybe there was a connection and maybe there wasn’t, but this whole holiday thing started finally taking hold, which I suppose it does every year.
Sure, there are still a few grinches out there, a few townies unexcited about impending family obligations — heck, I’m one of them at least two days out of the week this time of year. But in Milwaukee, there’s nothing like a wintery night out with the substitute family out at the corner bar. And that’s not something to curse at into the arctic air. Heck, for some of us, it’ll do just fine.
And ok, fine — I guess the slow holiday burn rubbed off on me, too. It snowed outside my window at work today, and instead of cursing the drive home, I actually thought to myself, “Aw, that’s pretty.” And while I never get excited about waking up early on my day off of work to drive an hour and a half north to the ol’ homestead, now I can’t wait for my godson to open the present I got him. His first Transformer! Aww. (An aside: Anyone else dealing with the surrealism of remembering your favorite Christmas presents growing up — Star Wars, Transformers and GI Joe — while the next generation of little boys are asking for Star Wars, Transformers and GI Joe toys? Or is that just me?)
So, here I am — from “Already?” to “Get here, already!” in a month and a half’s time. Thanks, Milwaukee … I think I needed that.