Wisconsin 2014

wisconsin 2014 mileage
It was approximately two years after my first visit, but this time, the visit was about returning to school here.     Image Credit:  Mike Rana

Day 1

As I woke up, I could still vividly remember the Day 1 from 2012.  I awoke, showered, finished packing my suitcase, packed up all the technology I intended to bring, did a small once-over on the bathroom, vacuumed the apartment, emptied the trash, then realized I had some time to kill.  I knew I wanted to leave early, but I also woke up as I normally would for work.  I had everything done by around in just over an hour.  I killed some time on Twitter while still triple-checking to make sure I had everything I needed; all looked good.  With nothing else left to take care of, I grabbed my stuff and headed out.

I dropped by the Shell Station to top off – it gave me just shy of a full tank, but it would be enough to get me to my first stop.  Since I normally ate breakfast at work, I decided to stop by Dunkin Donuts.  From there, I hopped on I-290 and headed off.  Some people freak out at the thought of driving over a thousand miles, and for some it’s a scary proposition, but not me.  This wasn’t the first time I’d make this trek.  Given that my dad is a road trip-oriented person himself, we worked on a way that he and my mom could track my progress while I was en-route.  He sent me a link for an app called “PhoneTracker” that worked on iOS.  After we both created accounts, we thought it was a rather cool app.

I took the Massachusetts Turnpike to exit the state.  I stopped at the Lee Service Plaza for my first gas top-off.  I was also filming this trip as part of my road trip series, and I-90 in New York is one of the harder in the northeast to film, given it’s about a six-hour drive across.

After getting back in the car, I started my iPod touch’s camcorder and saw that I had roughly 300 miles remaining on the tank.

As I crossed the New York border, I took a shot of their welcome sign, and texted it to my parents – I remember doing this two years ago – I took pictures of each state’s welcome sign as both a novelty picture, and to let them know I had changed states.

As I traveled through New York in I-90, I couldn’t help but notice that the NYDOT had created ‘Text spots’ with signage that says “IT CAN WAIT.”  I suppose this was their way of trying to curb texting and driving; it was nothing more than a small pull-over area, equivalent to a rest stop.  I took a picture of it and sent it to both my parents.

In the span of five hours, I managed to do some serious multitasking:  Downloading the PhoneTracker app, checking with and interacting on Twitter, and having some simultaneous conversations with other friends.  Somewhere around Buffalo, I stopped for the first time to have lunch.  It was also here that I saw my first Amish family in the service center.  I also found it very amusing that almost no car in the parking lot had the same license plate. Among them were Tennessee, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Ontario, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and I even saw a New Hampshire plate.  After grabbing food, I also grabbed fuel.

After getting back on the road, I saw by Google Maps that I had roughly two hours to go through New York.  My only sources of entertainment were either radio, iPod, or Twitter.  At one point, the PhoneTracker showed that I was in Seneca, NY. I also ran across a sign for the area of Seneca that state that Seneca is its own sovereign area; it even states, “You’ve left New York and are under the jurisdiction of the Seneca.”

Two hours later, with three-quarters of a tank remaining, I entered Pennsylvania.

I-90 in Pennsylvania is roughly a two-hour drive.  I recall taking this road on the return trip, two years ago, only I was filming with an old Android phone whose quality wasn’t that great.  I took a picture of the sign, texted it to the parents, and my mom reacted gleefully.  I looked at Google Maps and realized I still had four hours to go until destination.  After taking care of the routine change of state stuff, I looked at iPod recording this trip, to find out that it had stopped recording.  Since it was about five minutes after crossing into Pennsylvania, and I already had a decent recording of I-90, I wrote it off and continued driving.  Between tweeting with people and swapping text messages with my parents, the time through Pennsylvania was nicely passed.

Two hours later, I approached the Ohio line, putting me officially in the Midwest.  I took a picture of Ohio’s welcome sign, and texted it to the parents.  There are two things you notice as you’re driving through Ohio:  The prominence of cornfields, and large billboard signs for fireworks.

Considering I had started this trip around 7:30AM, only stopping twice, my body was definitely read to call it quits for the day, but I had to make it to Cleveland.  Not that it was a major assist, but speed limits on rural highways increase to 70MPH.  I took advantage of average highway driving speed was 75MPH, and just kept on trucking.

Once I approached the city limits of Cleveland, it became clear that I was about to face their rush hour traffic, and when you combine it with it being a Friday, it was congested.

After clearing Cleveland rush-hour, I finally reached my exit.  Google Maps informed me that La Quinta was a right off the ramp, when in reality is was a left off the ramp.  I had to learn the hard way that the series of right-turns I was doing was not going to get me to the hotel.  I eventually had to reverse course.

I had never stayed in a La Quinta, but I know that it has coined itself as a ‘no-frills hotel.’

When I checked in, the clerk told me that I wasn’t scheduled to check-in until Sunday night.  At first I was a little confused, but then I realized that when I started making all of my hotel reservations (which were all initially with La Quinta), I had expected to be coming into Cleveland on Sunday, but after finding a lower rate on my Waukesha reservation, caused me to rethink my trip, and add some extra time to it, and move my Cleveland stay back a few days.  I still checked in, but with some day changes come different rates.

Once in the room, I checked into Facebook, and called my parents to let them know I’d made it.  Since I hadn’t eaten anything since the Clarence Service Plaza, I needed to find food.  With Google’s help, I found a TGI Friday’s, so I went there.  I also made it a point to setup the iPod and my iPhone that I’d been filming with so that it would download the video I’d shot to this point.

As you read this part, keep in mind that I hadn’t been in the Midwest in two years.

I arrived at TGI Friday’s within fifteen minutes, and found out that the restaurant was within a small plaza.  Once again, Google had it somewhere else.  It’s a good thing I’m somewhat aware of my surroundings.  I arrived, parked, and exited my car. Approaching the building, I noticed two signs on the front door:  A coaster-sized ‘No Smoking’ and an iPad Mini-sized ‘No Concealed Guns/Firearms’ sign.

I’m familiar with ‘no firearms’ signs, and they’re not a completely foreign sign to me, but in New England, there’s no gun culture, and as such, it’s not something most businesses have to worry about.  Every other region of the nation deals with it in some form, and businesses are cognizant of it.  People may not openly carry their firearms, but many do still carry them, and it’s up to individual businesses to decide whether or not to allow them in.

It was strange to sit up at the bar, have the bartender introduce herself to me, and shake my hand.  She was affable and cordial, which wasn’t totally foreign to me, but I’m used to bartenders simply carrying on with their duties, versus openly making conversation.  I think the couple that was sitting next to me was overhearing the conversation I was having with the bartender, because every time I started speaking, they would glance in my direction.  Nevertheless, it was a good time, and I had a nice conversation with the bartender.

After leaving, I headed back to the hotel room and called it a night, as I knew I’d want to get an early start.  I knew that it was only 7-8 hours to Waukesha, but I wanted to have as much of the day there as possible.

After returning to the hotel room, my Mac was showing error messages indicating that it couldn’t upload the six-hour footage I took while in New York.  I’d also found a phone call from my dad asking me how dinner went and my evaluation of the trip thus far.  I was also determined to find out why iPhoto was having issues uploading that footage.  While I was at TGI Friday’s, it had downloaded the other footage, but struggled with the longer video.  Apple doesn’t always give the most helpful error messages, so I started Googling.  I was getting suggestions including restarting my Mac and trying again, using a PC to download the video, to restarting the devices, even as far as looking for an update to see if iPhoto or ImageCapture had issues.  It was also occurring to me that I was tired and had been on the road awhile, so I decided to call it a night.

Day 2

Waking up wasn’t too bad; I probably slept seven hours.  I ended up waking up the The Weather Channel and listening to it talk about severe thunderstorms that were slated to go through the Midwest, mostly through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

After getting up, I was still bummed about the iPod transfer issue I was facing. I didn’t want it to occupy my day of travel, so I just packed everything up, did final checks, and headed out.  As I was loading up the car, my dad decided to call and check-in.  With everything loaded up, I set the GPS to Waukesha, mounted the iPhone for filming, and headed off.

I was maybe ten minutes into the drive when road conditions became rocky in the lane I was in, and the repeated vibrations on the car sent the phone off the mount, bouncing off the steering wheel and into my lap.  Since I was driving, and not in position where I could fix anything, I just continued to drive.  Once I was further down the road and not around many cars, I grabbed the phone, stopped recording, and deleted the incomplete video.  My dad called me back to let me know that the PhoneTracker app that we downloaded was not only a junk app, but also a major drain on the battery.  I asked him to see if iOS had a native app, as I knew that they had a ‘Find My Phone’ app; I just wasn’t sure if it could only be used if everyone had the same Apple ID.

Reviewing mileage remaining for I-90/I-80, and comparing time tables, I decided to stop and fuel up.  I probably could have done it while I was at the hotel, but I’d also been trying to push every gallon I use in my car.  I was also getting close to 310 miles to the tank with all this highway driving.  At this point, I was also getting close to the Indiana border and wanted to try filming again, so I remounted the iPhone and started recording.

I approached the Indiana border, snapped a shot of the welcome sign, texted to my parents, and drove on.  Aside of verifying that the phone was still recording, my entertainment for the next two hours was Twitter, and looking at the ‘view’ on both sides of the highway.  This was also the state where around mile marker 62, you enter Central Time.  With me was an iPad Mini, iPod Touch, iPhone, and my work-issued Galaxy S4; all of them had issues making the time change.  It wasn’t until I inched closer to Hammond that they all finally reflected the time change.  Thankfully, Google Maps also updated my ETA to Waukesha.  I would have ordinarily pulled into a service plaza for some food and fuel, but I was making good time and good pace, so I decided to stick it out.

Once you pass Hammond, and go through the final toll booth in Indiana, you depart I-80, and you proceed on I-90 toward the Chicago Skyway, which consists of going through a toll booth.  As you get closer to Chicago, the busier the freeway gets, and the more signage you see.  As I kept driving up I-90, I finally saw a ‘Welcome to Chicago’ sign, which I snapped a picture of, and texted it.  It was also at this point that I realized with the traffic pattern I was seeing that I wasn’t getting off this highway.  I proceeded to enter Chicago morning traffic which essentially was reminiscent of rush-hour, even though it was a Saturday.

After about twenty minutes in the busy traffic, just before merging onto the Express section, traffic came to roughly 5MPH.  My first thought was that this being a major road, that it is always this busy.  A half-hour later and several lane shifts, there was a three-car pileup in the middle of the road.  I haven’t had to deal with it yet, but I can’t imagine the stress incurred on the people in the accident being stuck in the middle of a highway like this.  As I passed by, it also occurred to me that with public services en-route, that traffic was about to become worse.

Forty-five minutes later, I passed through the Waukegan toll both for the final stretch.

While I was driving the final stretch, it occurred to me that I’d be back through this again tonight, as I was meeting up with a friend, her husband, and many of their friends at a birthday celebration.

I would have had a picture of the welcome sign for Wisconsin, but they etch it into a bridge, and the stand-up sign is off in the distance where almost nobody would see it unless they were looking; nevertheless, I sent the text message, took the phone call from my parents, and acquiesced the fact that I needed to stop for fuel again.  I wanted to wait until I arrived at the hotel, but when you’re in an area that you’re not very familiar with, pushing your gas tank is a bad idea.

Filling up, it turned out I was up near 325 miles to the tank with just shy of 45 minutes until destination.

I also stopped filming when I crossed the border as I knew I was going to be shuffling between different highways, and it would have been a rather disconnected movie at the end.

At approximately 2:42PM, I finally checked into the Ramada in Waukesha, WI.

Check-in was fairly smooth, and I received some advice from one of their clerks how to avoid future Chicago traffic.  When I arrived at the room, I settled in and looked over the room to make sure things were in good shape (something I always do when I check in).  The only two issues I had were:  They had a power outlet which housed three electrical outlets and two USB ports, which might be sufficient for the average tourist, and I had issues getting on the WiFi.  I had to call down to the front desk for the password, and even still I was having a hard time, prompting me to visit the front desk.  The clerk logged me in and wrote down the password on a piece of paper.

Back in my room, I let Facebook know I’d arrived, called my parents to let them know I’d settled in, and proceeded to kill some time before I was due in Chicago for my friends’ birthday.

Google Maps told me that the pub was roughly 90 minutes away, and after placing a phone call to the restaurant, I found out that the restaurant was a casual atmosphere, and parking was done in a garage.  My parents were surprised that I would drive that distance, when I had just completed this entire drive.

At this point, I had three hours until I was due to leave.  I unpacked my suitcase, setup the electronics, broke out a pair of khakis, a shirt, and the iron.  With the exception of the wall plug by the vanity, there weren’t many power outlets for this iron, but I made do.  After getting some additional information about the restaurant from the friend who created the original Facebook event, I decided to try and get there a little early.

After ironing my outfit for the night, I realized that I still had other video to download from my iPhone. I connected it, and the video downloaded without a problem.  This eliminated just about every symptom:  Device connectivity, software functionality, and it also showed that my devices weren’t the issue.  I was able to play the long video back from the device itself, so I knew the video was still good.  Googling the issue again, I wound up on an Apple forum where one poster asked, “Did you check to see if you have enough space on the hard drive?”

I went into ‘About My Mac’ to discover that I had 30GB of space left on the Mac’s hard drive.  According to ImageCapture, it was a 47GB video – I was definitely relieved.

It occurred to me that I’d been downloading all this road trip video to the Mac’s hard drive, instead of to the portable hard drive I’d brought with me, which incidentally, I purchased TO have a place to transfer video.  After completing that transfer of footage, and deleting it from the Mac’s hard drive, it left me with close to 80GB of space.  With just under 90 minutes until departure time, I started the video transfer, so it would be done by the time I returned from the pub.  Once I started the transfer, I called my parents back to let them know I’d figured out the issue.  My mom was fairly happy, and while I had zinged Apple for having some error messages that made no sense to humans, my dad reminded me of the helpfulness that is Microsoft error messages.

After completing that conversation, it was time to head out.

The 90 minutes back to Chicago weren’t too bad.  It was night time and there wasn’t much traffic.  It was 6:30PM and there was just enough light out for me to film the trip down, so I figured I would.  The only part of the drive that screwed me up was exiting I-294 and navigating through part of O’Hare International Airport.  Google Maps was beginning to make me wonder whether it delighted in taking me in circles because it kept having exit and re-enter highways.  Either way, I finally ended up in the city.

As I sat at a red light with right-turn prohibition, I noticed signage indicating that they use red-light cameras to enforce stopping at a red light, and proper stops at stop signs.

As I turned into the parking garage, I noticed a $13 parking charge.  My initial reaction was shock, but then logic kicked in; supply and demand as people need a place to park, as such it’s the perfect opportunity to make money. It is quite normal and expected in large metropolitan cities, but this is something I seldom do, so yes, it was unexpected, but I was fortunate to remember that parking is validated.

The pub I was meeting my friend was called Five Roses Pub.  It sat in a large entertainment area with a number of bars and clubs, hence the parking garage.  After exiting the parking garage, I headed toward the common area, grabbed my phone and called my friend to let her know I was on approach.  Once she realized where I was, she came out to greet me.  We headed inside, and I met her husband.  As time went on, and as more people came through, she introduced me to more friends.  Maybe 30-45 minutes after I arrived, another close friend walked through with her husband.  I greeted them, and the topic of chatter was my drive into Wisconsin, and they weren’t fully aware that I had just arrived hours prior.  After an hour of just standing around being social, a table was prepared for us, and we all grabbed food, as I learned more about Chicago, the its culture, and its people.  I was also reminded how similar the Chicago accent was to the Wisconsin, but having spent time in both areas, there is a subtle difference.

In summary, it was great to finally meet up with some people that I’d been conversing with and getting to know over the course of four years via Facebook.  I will say as the night progressed, the noise level incrementally rose, but mostly because a band began providing entertainment in the middle of the night.

Knowing that I had a 90 minute drive back and I was getting tired, I excused myself around 10:30PM.

Day 3

Yesterday, I had RSVPd to an event at the Harley-Davidson store in Madison, where Scott Walker would make appearance as his final stop on his touring of the state.  After waking up, I grabbed breakfast in the lobby, brought it back, and checked in on Facebook.  I decided that I needed to visit a mall.  I packed business casual attire in case I would end up going out with friends to nicer places, and forgot a belt.  I could recall going to the Mayfair Mall back in 2012, but I wanted something different.  Twenty-five minutes away was the Southridge Mall. The Harley-Davidson event started at 4PM, but I wanted to be there early.  I found out that another Walker-supporter and friend, Jay, said they’d be there at three, so I figured I’d meet up with him.

After I located the mall on Google, I realized that I could drive the highways and go the direct route, or I could take local roads as a way to explore and film the area.  Time wasn’t much of an issue, so I opted for the local roads.  After dealing with some detours in road construction, I made it to the mall within twenty-five minutes.  The first thing you notice off to the side is the immediate signage banning firearms on the property (which would include the mall as well).  I’m glad they cleared that one up.

I initially went out to the mall to buy a belt, but I also like to see how different malls are setup and what types of stores they have.  It’s your average two-story mall with a food court and the usual lineup of stores.  I would estimate I spent about an hour there, between walking around the mall and buying the belt.

I had contemplated taking the scenic route to Harley-Davidson, but I wanted to put the belt with the pants, and I wanted to download the video I took.

Once I returned to the hotel room, I connected the iDevices, transferred pictures and video I’d taken, and sent a message to my friend that would be attending the Harley event, to let him know I was en-route.

The Harley-Davidson store was, in my opinion, located in an awkward place. Perhaps, I say this because it’s uncommon for me to see an established business located in such a rural setting.  It was a nice turn of events that as I was turning into the road where the store was, Jay was arriving via bike.

We parked, shook hands, and just started chatting about the event.  It was about 3:30PM and for an event that would have the state governor swinging by, it was a ghost town.  He and I went inside and browsed the store as we chatted about my life in Massachusetts and my Wisconsin aspirations, including the differences in culture between the regions.

As conversation progressed, and the more time had elapsed, the more I realized that a security detail hadn’t shown up to clear the store or us people as potential security risks.  I wasn’t necessarily worried, as much as I was confused.  About 4PM, Jay’s family showed up – some of the nicest people I’d ever meet.  Not long after that, a woman who I’d only recently begun chatting with on Facebook, Terry, made an appearance.  After she came around, four people holding ‘We Stand With Walker’ and signs supporting the lieutenant governor.  Two people, presumably from Walker’s office, casually dressed, but with radios did their version of a security sweep, also offering support signs.  They also directed us to head outside to assemble where Walker would be arriving.

Within fifteen minutes, an casual entourage of bikers assembled in front of the building; some state patrol, some random citizens that chose to come in via bike.  As they arrived, I started quickly snapping pictures.

I also started looking around, for where the governor’s escort would be; it was then that I then heard, “Walker, how are you?”  I turned toward the sound, and he’d dismounted from a motorcycle and just approached us like an everyday person approaching friends.  No close security, just him.  He made small talk with some people and started talking to my friends.  Terry caught Walker’s attention and introduced him to me, stating that I came all the way from Massachusetts.

mike with governor walker
Me with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.  Image credit:  Terry Woodman

He and I shook hands and she continued to explain that I was one day looking to make Wisconsin my permanent home.  Walker responded enthusiastically, asking when that might happen, and I just responded with, “Maybe in the next year or two.”  I also informed him that I was looking to attend the UW school system.  Naturally, he was very supportive of the idea and thanked me for traveling out here.  Walker then posed with me as my friends took pictures and posted them to Facebook garnering a deluge of feedback.

Local media was around and they and Walker’s office wanted everyone with signs to gather behind him.  I clandestinely stepped away from the cameras.  It was obvious that I supported the man, but I had no desire to be in a news shot.  I took a few pictures of the small crowd, and while I didn’t get the whole thing, I took a small video of Walker addressing the camera, followed by a 360-degree shot of the venue.

Not long after that broke up, my friends and I all shook hands and departed, making a quick stop for fuel.  Since it rained on the way to the event, and seemed to be nice weather in the area, I decided to film heading back to my hotel.  About thirty minutes into the trip, it started raining; I sighed in disbelief.  Re-entering Milwaukee County, however, yielded sunny skies as if nothing had ever happened.

I returned to the hotel room, downloaded the videos I took, and made a few phone calls.

On the way back from the event, Ed made a comment on a post of mine mentioning that he wanted to meet up, so we made it so, meeting up at Applebees.

We caught each other up on our lives, discussed politics, and transitioned into a conversation about my future in Massachusetts, and ways to relocate me to Wisconsin.  He was supportive of my plans going forward, both in what would be my future time as a student at UW-Milwaukee, and making Wisconsin permanent settlement.

Day 4

I decided to take today as a combination lazy day and catch-up day on some things.  The only thing I did was that anywhere near productive was researching a suggestion made while I was at Applebee’s last night, for a shooting range called Shooters.  Much like the Mass Firearms School, they have a pistol range, they give lessons, and they’re open to the public. They’re also membership driven, but where I don’t live out here yet, the membership wouldn’t do me much good.

My dad called later in the day to update me on some family stuff, and we revisited the idea of making a day on the calendar to go out shooting. Ever since I took an interest in shooting, I think it rekindled his interest from his days in the Army.

Since I decided to blow off one day, I decided that I needed to be more serious about plan-making for the remaining five.  So far the only thing on my calendar is on Wednesday – a tour of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus, followed by some kind of Rally for the Wisconsin Republican Party.

Day 5

Unlike the last few, this day started without a bagel, but rather just started with me getting cleaned up, having a conversation with my dad, and heading out.  During my time interacting with the group of Wisconsinites that I have, Gander Mountain stood out as a place to go if you’re looking for either hunting accessories and apparel, but also firearms.  I also figured since I’m in an area where gun culture is prevalent and highly encouraged, it would be a great place get some advice on first-time purchasing. The fun part was getting there:  It was located off US-18, but you had to get there by way of China.

Upon arrival, I noticed a few things:  At the entrance of the store, there was a sign requesting that any firearms brought into the store be unloaded, unless you’re carrying them, that the store was undergoing some kind of either expansion or renovation, and that the firearms section seems to be the dominant area.

While checking out shotgun ammunition (I didn’t realize it was for shotguns until I looked at the box), the clerk must have picked up on how lost I looked, as he offered to help.  I started to brush him off, but I knew why I was there.  I asked him for his advice about first-time purchasing, he replied asking me which caliber I was looking for.

When it became apparent how much of a novice I was, he leveled with me, explaining the difference between .45, 9mm, and .380.  He also pulled out three guns from the storage case – one Smith & Wesson, and two Rugers.  He asked me what my intentions were, and I explained that I’m starting at a range gun and working my way to carry.  He recommended either a 9mm semi-automatic, or a revolver; I opted for the semi-automatic.  I picked up the Rugers and they both felt rather nice in my hand.  I even gripped them as if I were going to use them, but pointing the barrel down.  It felt strange, but I hadn’t had much training, so it made sense.  The Smith & Wesson felt a bit on the heavy side, but he explained that they’re made more durably.

I noticed off to my side that there were some customers that looked like they wanted to do business, so I released him to help them as I continued looking.  I also saw some brands and types that I hadn’t heard of, most likely because they’re not Massachusetts Compliant.

After browsing at more firearms in the case, a second associate came over to offer assistance.  I asked him roughly the same questions I did the first associate, but I included some more in-depth questions. The response was roughly the same, until we got into a conversation about open vs conceal carry.  Since he didn’t know me from a hole in the wall, and also through conversation noting how novice I am, he recommended a place near my hotel that teaches a beginner pistol class.  He also showed me three pistols, same brands as his colleague.  He also took them apart to show me briefly how I’d go about cleaning them.  I appreciated the valuable advice from both guys; they seemed to know their stuff, and they seemed to be very into helping beginners get into the culture.

After he put the firearms away, he asked me when I’d be looking at my first purchase, and without revealing where I came from, I just told him that I needed to save up some cash.  He had to take care of some things in the stockroom, so I released him from the conversation.  I decided to walk around and peruse ammunition, just to get an idea of cost.  I also walked around the store to the other departments to see what else the store sold.  The target demographic was clearly hunters and outdoorsy people.

After heading out of the store, and onto US-18 in the opposite direction.  I decided it was lunch time, and as my stomach started to growl, I happened to drive by a Hooters restaurant, so I stopped in.

After leaving there, I knew I wanted to visit a supermarket to pick up some drinks, so I had Google direct me to Pick N Save.

Their market wasn’t much different than other supermarkets that I’ve visited, but you could tell that there wasn’t much frill to it.  I did notice that their aisles were a bit wider than the supermarkets back in Massachusetts, and that their signage for product on shelves was easier to read.  I also learned that you can take care of some DMV functions there.  I’m not sure whether that’s because there aren’t many DMV branches in the area, or because of convenience, but I thought that to be very different.  I was in-and-out within thirty minutes.

As I left the parking lot, I decided I wanted to head back to the hotel to take care of some more writing. After taking a wrong turn, I ran into Menard’s, and decided to check it out.

Menard’s is basically a two-floor version of Home Depot.  As I looked through the aisles, I did notice that many of the brands they sold could not be found on the east coast.  There were some national brands, but it looks like they try to sell more products native to Wisconsin.  The two floors are separated by ‘people walkers,’ very much similar to what you’d find in an airport. I also noticed that they were hiring stock clerks at $11.30/hr.  I was impressed with the layout of the store, how clean it was, and it was good to see that associates in different aisles cleaning displays, straightening product on shelves.

Maybe thirty minutes after exiting, I headed back to the hotel.  It hadn’t occurred to me until a friend pointed it out, but I’d only dined at one Wisconsin-based food establishment.  I had three prominent suggestions: Culver’s, Sobelman’s, and Kopp’s.  I decided to go with Sobelman’s since it wasn’t a chain, and it was a local business.  Twenty minutes down I-94, followed by driving down a rough-looking neighborhood, I found it.  It also featured the first hilly area I’d seen since arriving on Sunday.

The place wasn’t too busy, but it also wasn’t that big.  You could tell it was a popular hangout for local residents, but that it also had been around a long time.  After sitting down and ordering food, I noticed that the menu had a history of the pub, and that it had received multiple accolades from local magazines, and won several awards.  Apparently, the establishment was well-liked amongst my friends, because the check-in I made on Facebook was met with positive responses.

After finishing up, I headed out and back to the hotel.  Upon arrival, I filled my parents in on the advice I received at Gander Mountain, and my dad simply responded by renewing his desire to go shooting with me.  I also dug out the paperwork I’d received from UW-Milwaukee that way I could plan what time I’d be waking up, and figure out where the campus was. It didn’t take too much longer for me to doze off.

Day 6

Today would ultimately be the day to accomplish one of the main things that I came here to accomplish:  Tour the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) campus.  For the months prior to coming out here, I was involved in many email threads with Financial Aid and Admissions about my options as an incoming out-of-state student.  Since I already had a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications, and considering this would be a return to school, I was looking into their Second Degree program.  I had received a mailer from UWM with a map of the area around the university, a parking pass, a card informing me of my important with an advisor in the Letters & Science building, and an invitation letter.  The appointment was for 10AM, and given Google’s ETA of 35 minutes, it was wise for me to leave early.

Traffic en-route wasn’t horrible and parking was fairly simple – I arrived thirty minutes early.  It turns out Vogel Hall, which is also the Visitor’s Center was a few blocks from the Pavilion Parking garage.  After parking, I headed over to Vogel Hall to check-in.  Checking in earned me a t-shirt, information packet, a map of the campus, and a soda.

Thirty minutes later, one of the tour guides popped in to get to us know us and get an idea of what major(s) we were considering.  I was not only the only double-major there, but I was the only out-of-region student.  Interestingly enough, the conversation started to fixate on me and my goals.  I didn’t know this, but apparently the English/Political Science double-up, combined with where I was coming from was not very common.

Fifteen minutes later, we were escorted into a smaller room with data projection – presumably where they hold all the orientations.  Over time, working in a college, I became semi-familiar with Prezi, and enough to know that it made my head hurt.  The speaker gave us an introduction to the university, talking up the campus, its offerings, activities, and its culture. Similar to the tour guide, she asked us all for a brief introduction.  I didn’t end up offering one, but there was an interesting variety of majors and locations.

Twenty-five minutes later, we headed out for the tour. The tour guide took us around to the different buildings, the residence halls, the Student Union, and ultimately back to the Visitor’s Center where we began.  Some things I learned during that tour:

  • Even though the majority of UWM students do commute back and forth between home and campus, there’s still a sizable resident population between all of the residence halls.
  • For those with specific interest, they have Learning Living Communities (LLC).  I inferred it to be a living community composed of students with certain common interests.  I also understood it to be that you had to be part of that common interest in order to live in this LLC.  For example, one of their LLCs is for student veterans and soldiers as a way for that demographic to connect with others like them.
  • Throughout the tour, we saw that many buildings were connected to each other, which the tour guide noted multiple times that it can be a saving grace in the winter time to avoid snow and cold, and during the summer to avoid scathing heat.
  • Like many campuses, they have emergency phones scattered throughout campus.  This conversation the tour guide into a discussion about campus police services which include police escorts if you need one, the number of officers that patrol the campus, and that they have an armed police force.

Once we returned to the Pavilion, I informed the tour guide that I had an appointment in Merrill Hall at noon, and he escorted me over.  I met with an admissions representative who ultimately wanted a better background of my goals, why I chose UWM, what drives me to my goals, why I wanted a double-major.  Over the course of an hour, I gave him the backstory, my goals, and ultimately where I wanted to end up.  While I had a hard time judging his facial reactions, he inferred that I seemed to have a good idea of what I wanted to do, and that the next step is to simply apply on their website, pay the application fee, submit my previous college’s transcripts, and I should hear back from the university within a few weeks of that application. I also sough his advice on housing external to campus, and employment while attending.

After heading out, and returning to my car, I took a few minutes to check out Facebook.  I must’ve had over thirty replies between my UWM check-in, and the status that I was heading for the university.  I didn’t want to try and reply to everything all at once, so I’d decided I was going to visit Culver’s.

Pulling out of the university parking lot and onto the main road, it wasn’t until it was too late that I realized I’d bypassed the street I wanted to turn onto.  I could have easily done a 180 and headed back, but I figured that I’d just pick up I-94 elsewhere.

Boy was I wrong.

For about fifteen minutes, Google was trying to direct me to I-94 West, but with one problem: Google hadn’t been updated to note that the onramp it wanted me to take was closed.  I chased DOT freeway signage for another fifteen minutes before I realized that I was getting nowhere.  I eventually just wound up driving down random streets that seemed to be connected in some form, and eventually returning to St. Paul, which I had been down the previous night.  A minute and a half later, I was back on I-94 headed West.

I programmed Google Maps for Culver’s and headed there for lunch.

I found it to be reminiscent of Friendly’s.  After grabbing my burger, I sat down, connected to their WiFi, and popped open Facebook:  Forty notifications.  It didn’t take me too long to catch up as close to one-third of them were ‘likes.’  It took me, maybe, forty-five minutes to finish lunch and catch-up.  I wanted to get back to the hotel room to download the pictures and video I’d taken.

Back at the hotel with some time to kill, I decided to knock out some more writing, have some conversations back home, and iron an outfit for the rally.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as I’m getting older, I’m learning that many of the social events I’ll be attending will involve attire upgraded from street clothes, but not quite a collared shirt.  Since I was anticipating meeting up with quite a few people that I’d only known through social media, I wanted to make a good first impression.  Despite leaving early for the event, I forgot to take into account that I-94 is a main freeway through Wisconsin, and people were likely leaving work around the time I’d be traveling.

I laughed at myself all the way to The Open Flame, as I was freaking out that I’d be late to the event.  I arrived just shy of 6PM, and it turned out that there weren’t many people in attendance.  One of my friends, Jeff, had already showed up, and we mostly passed time by as we chatted about my trip and how things had been going.  As the conversation progressed, the first person to ultimately connect with me on Facebook from this state, Lisa, jumped into the conversation.

It wasn’t long after that Lisa, Jeff, and I had been invited to the table.  There must have been five people at the table, and as the event drove on, more showed up.  Many of us had our mobile devices out, Facebooking, tweeting, or even just checking updates.  Some people might label it as anti-social behavior, but this is the 21st century.

I want to say it was an hour later when the speeches began.  For the most part, it was candidates running for office, some legislators, and a few public personalties.  Wisconsin is a very politically active state for a number of reasons:  One namely being that its governor was almost recalled.  Him winning re-election was to my understanding the best thing that could have happened, as it sustained my interested in him.  Incidentally, had it not been for the recall election being covered on FOX News, none of this would be possible.

After the speeches ended, some people had left as they had long drives home and work in the morning, and others of us stayed around to continue chatting.  There was chatter about residency requirements, my returning to school, the field I’m in, and my future goals.  Overall, a great group of individuals that I was honored to meet.  As it all broke up, I headed back to my car and headed back to Waukesha, both jovial to have met this group, but chagrined that I was going to be parting ways soon.

I’d had quite a few suggestions to try out the frozen custard at Kopp’s.  On a map, it was roughly five minutes away from my hotel, so, I plotted course.

I actually enjoyed the custard, and had a decent serving for myself.  Little did I know that they also served burgers.

Final stop of day the was back at the hotel room for the night to wind down, and reflect on the fact that I was forging a great friendship with a group of people, who I wouldn’t have known if it weren’t one piece of legislation.

Day 7

When I awoke, a sharp reality had hit me:  I was on the last two visiting days of this vacation.  On the bright side, I was looking forward to meeting up with a couple who I regularly interact with on Facebook.

My parents and I did our usual check-ins, and while I’d contemplated going out for breakfast, I just had no energy.  Today was another day that I’d considered hitting up a shooting range, but ultimately, I came down the conclusion that I wanted to go with someone for the first time.  My dad had been reminding me since interest in firearms first perked that he wanted to go shooting with me. I wasn’t feeling particularly picky as far as who I went with, but I also know that I wanted to learn and get some good lessons from someone who knew what they were doing.

I’d Googled up The Mineshaft to see what kind of menu they had, and how long it would take me to get there – roughly 45 minutes.  In an attempt to learn from the previous day, I decided to leave an hour early.

It was during this time frame, that the idea of making plans going forward was a smart idea.  In 2012, I made it a point to visit the Harley-Davidson Museum and tour the plant.  I also toured Lambeau Field.  I was beginning to learn that one of my bigger faults is not maximizing the hours spent on vacation, but I think some of that is related to my difficulty when it comes to taking a vacation.

I was due to meet up with my friends at 6PM, so I decided to leave early to factor in traffic.  I made it to the parking lot of the restaurant by 5:15PM, and when I messaged them to let them know I’d shown up, they informed me that the restaurant had a game room.

I headed down to the restaurant, entered through the front entrance, and was very intrigued at how ‘mine shaft’ in appearance it was.  They had one large bar inside the restaurant, a small area for families if they wanted to dine, and some raised booths which I could construe as being for people who were just looking to have a quick drink, or possibly just don’t want to sit at a table.

Their upstairs game room brought back the nostalgia of arcades when I was a kid.  They had many of the usual games you’d would have found at most arcades.  Not only was it nostalgic, but it was interesting to see a restaurant that while being modern in run and appearance, still appreciated the past.

The couple arrived, we grabbed a table, and sat down for a meal.  I had met Charles at the county fair I attended in 2012, but until now, I hadn’t met his wife, Deb.  I described my tour of UWM, and started comparing the university tour to what schools are like in Massachusetts.  He told me about his independent employment through his company.

Overall, it was great conversation and great food.

As I drove back, it was slowly hitting me that tomorrow would be my last day in Wisconsin.

Day 7

In keeping with my routine of waking up early as to not throw my work sleeping schedule off too much, I woke up, and declared the last 24 hours as I started packing.  I’d brought enough of a wardrobe that if I wanted to, I could have gone out somewhere nice, for each day of the trip.  Hunger overtook, which motivated me to venture out to the lobby to get some bagels.  After consuming those, I continued to pack, while doing the phone call back home to update the parents, and to also to catch up on what was happening with them.

After talking to some people about the restaurant where a Pints & Politics (P&P), was being held, one person told me that the menu was upscale, so that prompted to check out their website. It was definitely a nicer place – not to the extent of needing a shirt and tie, but street clothes were definitely out.  After I finished doing the packing that was possible prior to tomorrow’s launch, it was getting close to middle afternoon.  I started to reminisce about the times I’d been invited to a P&P, but geographically unable.  Being that it was the last full day of the trip, I needed to make a return:  A power strip I’d purchased given that the hotel didn’t have one.  Most hotels have started installing devices into their two-outlet wall plugs that will expand usage to up to four AC plugs, along with 2-3 USB chargers, as more devices are starting to use USB power.

For the average tourist or businessperson, this is sufficient, but for me, I needed more, and there was a Best Buy nearby.

To kill some time before P&P, I decided to head out to Best Buy and return the power strip I’d purchased (making a note to pack one for future trips).  Best Buy has become one of the few retailers that doesn’t ask many questions with returns unless you’re returning a high-ticket item, in which case they’ll likely open the box and inspect contents.  I also have a propensity for repackaging things in a way that makes them look they hadn’t been opened.

After completing the return, I headed back out to my car, as I started reading some more details about P&P.  I noticed in the distance, a store called HHGregg; I’d never heard of it, so I decided to visit them.

HHGregg slightly reminded me of Sears, but without being part of a mall.  I spent, maybe, thirty minutes in the store.

After leaving the store, Facebook was having trouble, leading to the quick trend of #Facebookdown on Twitter.  I tooled around on my iPhone for a little bit, before my stomach decided to send me the hunger signals.  One friend had recommended a restaurant just outside of Milwaukee called Saz’s.  I popped it into Google and headed there.

Saz’s was your average bar/restaurant, but a local spot.  They take their Packers seriously while putting out a delicious burger.  After checking into it on Facebook, I had the crowd hungry.  I was beginning to appreciate the local eateries, as well as beginning to developing a higher appreciation for supporting local businesses.

After leaving Saz’s and again getting partially lost in Milwaukee, I headed back to the hotel.  I had filmed both the drives to Best Buy and the drive to Saz’s.  Not that I was expecting to film too much in the next 12-20 hours, I always wanted to keep the devices as empty as I could.  While data dumping, I ironed my outfit for P&P, which was khakis and a polo shirt.  I was also reading about severe weather to run through the area.

While I departed early for the event to avoid traffic, it didn’t necessarily help, as it was brutal going westbound.  Construction seemed to slow some things down, but the one factor that I wasn’t counting on, was that it was Friday and often times, people will leave work early.  Either way, I made it there approximately 5:30PM, which gave me a chance to figure out where the event was being held, and a chance to see if I could find anyone I knew.  First, I tried going in the front door to see if there was any signage; didn’t see any, but perhaps I was looking in the wrong place.  They had a bar area around the back part of the restaurant – being called ‘Pints and Politics,’ I checked it out, but didn’t recognize anyone.  In fact, the crowd seemed more casual than what I was expecting.  There was a larger party happening in the gazebo across the way, but where there was one woman functioning as the event greeter for their party, I realized she weren’t who I was looking for.

A couple of people noticed I seemed lost, and offered assistance, but when there’s nothing specific to look for, it’s hard to ask for help.  After about forty-five minutes of being confused, I ran into Heather, the event’s organizer, who brought me down.  As we headed down, there were only two or three people that had shown up.  The place was Republican-decorated, and a cash bar established.  It also served as another reminder to me that cash is still widely used.

Much like I did at the GOP Rally, I signed in, and pulled up a chair next to her, as we just started chatting about how the trip was going.  She also asked me if I wanted to join the county’sRepublican Party.  I figured I’d be ineligible as I wasn’t a resident of the county, but that was quickly dispelled by an out-of-county couple.  I also knew and expressed that I was leery of joining a Republican Party due to some of the drama existing in the party.  This is where I learned that supporting the local party, helps support local candidates, campaigns, and causes.  After putting it together, she was also the organizer for all these events I’d attended during my stay.  As people started coming in and socializing, it also started raining, and got heavier as time went on.

As the crowd was getting heavier, I felt overwhelmed, though I was doing better with crowds.

After awhile, Heather decided she wanted to step out for air, so I followed her lead.  We’d also been chatting with another gentleman, who worked for an independent organization thus unable to join up with any party; even associating with another party could be seen as a bad thing.

Outside, was much nicer, a bit cooler, but also much quieter compared to inside.  More people saw us take some refuge outside and decided to join.  She went back in after a little while, leaving me outside with the non-partisan guy, two other older gentlemen, and a woman who worked with the attorney general’s office.

They all asked me what motivated my venturing out to Wisconsin, and I filled them in on the story.  One guy recognized me from Saz’s, and I was bothered that in spite of having a good meal there, I was having issues recalling the name of the place.  Overall, in the course of almost two hours, there was great conversation:  Discussing the morning rulings from the Wisconsin Supreme Court – Act 10, the marriage registry for same-sex couples, and the ruling on Voter ID.  While I have supported Act 10, I’ve only understood it in broad ways; one person was kind enough to explain exactly what it did.  What was nice about the conversation overall:  Very civil dialogue, an open forum for different points of view, and it was nice to talk to people who had an opinion on a topic and weren’t afraid to share.

Heather popped into the conversation to let us know that a meal was happening and invited me, and I asked to join, and she was very welcoming, even encouraging me to grab a Scott Walker sign.  We grabbed some other people that’d attended, and headed up.

We’d arrived to put our names in for a table, and were given a fifteen-minute wait.  As time was passing, I received some thumbs-up from various people, fist-bumped one lady, one lady commented toward my sign.

Roughly fifteen minutes later, we were escorted into the dining area to a table that was more designed for ten people, but was adequate for us.  Taking a step outside my comfort zone, I placed the Walker sign on the table, advertising our position and support.

One waitress came by and brought us water.  As I browsed the menu, Heather asked if I would be interested in the Fish Fry, and at this point she finally clarified how it works:  It’s like ordering fish as one would at a regular restaurant, only it’s served more as a meal.  After getting water, this new group asked about my interest in Walker, which while I was enjoying telling the story.  A few people had seen my picture with Walker and asked me if I enjoyed the event, to which I did, and I commented that I wasn’t used to such an informal governor.

Next waitress came around to take our food order:  We all ordered the Fish Fry, but with variations in how it would be served.  I’d revealed that it was my first Fish Fry, which at first the group seemed shocked, but then they realized that I was a tourist.  Heather shared her history with her county’s GOP and how she began involved with it, and invited me to the Tea Party rally that was upcoming the next day.  Sadly, I was due to leave early in the morning.

Another waitress came by to make sure our food order had been taken (her handling the Walker sign told me otherwise), and to express her support for the governor.  She opened up about her politics and affiliations, which weren’t much different than our group, but she worked and lived in an environment where her opinion doesn’t matter or count.

Food arrived about twenty minutes later.  She was very particular to make sure I was okay with the food.  After I had my first serving, it hadn’t dawned on me that it was unlimited, so I pigged out.  Short of sharing my political experiences in Massachusetts, I didn’t have much to add to the conversation, but it will still good to chat with the other people at the table.  I think we all cleared out by 10PM.

The reality that my vacation was pretty much over, started to overcome me.  While I wasn’t technically due back to work until Monday, I had a day and a half of driving back to Massachusetts, and even then, I didn’t bother to take a transition day off.

It also became clearer to me that while politics had brought me out to the Badger State, over the course of four years, I had made some great friendships.

Day 8

To say the least, this was an emotional morning.

I had met some truly wonderful people out here much like I did in 2012.  Originally, I wanted the vacation to be two weeks, but I knew that financially, I couldn’t make it work.  When I started to plan it as one week, it started out as Saturday-Saturday, but it ended up being Friday-Sunday.  Some of this was due to hotel rates that I was able to negotiate.  I also determined since I was capable of getting to and from within a day and a half, that I would stretch some things out so I’d have some extra time.  The only downside is that I get back Sunday afternoon/early evening, and am due in early Monday morning.

I’d already packed 90% of my stuff the previous night before I went to P&P, but I still had to do final checks.  I woke up at my usual time of five, showered, departed.

Day 9

I had the whole day to drive home and according to Google I had a ten hour drive ahead of me.

Since this was just the place to split the day up, I was up by five and out by six.  I wanted to film the final stretch home, and the sun still hadn’t attempted an appearance, which did worry me slightly.  Nevertheless, I decided to head out. I put the iPod up to the cradle, hit record, and headed out.

I-80 wasn’t too far from where I was staying, and according to the bartender at Ruby Tuesday’s, the Pennsylvania border was about 45 minutes away.

After getting into Pennsylvania, I faced the longest part of the drive; rural Pennsylvania, not much to see, and even lost cellphone reception for a small part of the drive.