Brian Jacobson
Deep Fried Romantic

Tis the Season for cruising

By - Jun 2nd, 2010 04:00 am

In this decade, cruising has become less of an all-American past time and more of a nuisance. People-watching is fascinating to read about in other people’s blogs, that is unless the scrutiny is somehow about the reader. In both social acts, there is a thick gray line between observation of human nature and creepy voyeurism.

Yet both activities remain popular in Milwaukee, even when the location to do them keeps shifting.

More accurately, the best locations for showing off — be it in vehicles or, uh, bodily displays of personality — surges and wanes like a tide. This was none more evident than the return of Bradford Beach’s popularity in recent days.

In the past few years, even throughout global warming temperatures, the sands off  our portion of the Lake Michigan shoreline were often nearly deserted. No city agency contemplated building another parking lot at the bottom of St. Mary’s Hill to handle capacity crowds, or considered returning the train along the man-made Lincoln Memorial Drive to accommodate citizens without transport.

I bet they’re thinking about it now, as they argue the viable need of this sign that went up for a few days following May 23. In a way, the series of reported incidents and panic that followed that Sunday under the glare of excited television cameras was a marketing boon for the Sheriff’s Department, County Parks Department and even the Northpoint Custard stand.

It was as if people watching at home said, “wait, we have a lakefront?!”

The picture to the right is the scene at 5:30 p.m. the following Saturday, which also happened to be Memorial Day Weekend. There were battalions of brownshirts with badges, girls in bikinis, dog walkers and people looking for parking.

Meanwhile, the stream of cars heading north down the  Lincoln Memorial Parkway slowed to a crawl.

Cruising in Milwaukee has a grand and also troubled history. In the 1950s, it was the thing to do on a Friday night ( American Graffiti anyone). In the 1970s, the boulevard of Hwy 100 was the place to rev up and be seen. Then the crackdowns and bans started. Hwy 100 got so militant that police enforcement gave way to “No U-Turn between 9 p.m. – 6 a.m.” signs; now it’s no longer an issue there and the practice is non-existent. In recent years, the areas near 27th and Capitol and south National Avenue have become popular spots for cruising.

I’m not condemning the idea, nor am I or defending/praising it. It is what it is. But the reason cruising gains attention is when a few spoil it for many. In the modern “Xtreme!” times, getting attention can be difficult. Booming bass, LED underbellies, spinning rims and hydraulic chassis are not enough — so rebellious youth peel out, race, hang out windows and sometimes shoot guns. This tends to historically raise the hackles of neighbors and aldermen.

On the other hand, there are the joys of people watching at such fine examples as Summerfest and Wisconsin State Fair (let’s just forget about Riversplash for the moment). Sometimes you wonder why it’s considered acceptable to pay inflated entrance and beverage prices at these events, until you pause long enough to watch the steady stream of people passing by and let the fascination begin.

These two favorite Milwaukee-centric events can differ greatly in personalities yet hold a common midwestern thread. Compare them to Cedarburg’s Strawberry Festival or Brady Street Festival, where you can pretty much guess what major sub-set you’ll see: in Cedarburg you’d expect to see older folks, and on the East Side there would be the modern hippies and old, tattooed bohemians.

On the lakefront in late June (Summerfest), you might see an old tattooed bohemian or two in cutoff jean shorts and a Hannah Montana t-shirt. Better yet, in West Allis during August (State Fair) that same guy could very well be Willie Nelson wandering incognito.

As long as people find ways to dress up their vehicles or their bodies for recognition, there will always be something to do in Milwaukee.

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