Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Beach Flambeau

Dig if you will this picture: I've finally braved putting my toes in Lake Michigan (and the rest of my body as well), and once you get about 10 meters off the shoreline you can't smell the algae anymore and its actually quite lovely. I'm frolocking with the kids in the waves, and there's some huge volleyball tournament going on the beach. And what's blaring over the Bradford Beach PA? Couch Flambeau! Jay and Rusty and Neil are blasting out the "hits" and I can hear them all the way in the water, and I'm riding the waves with Sammy, and I hear "Helvetica" in the water. Maybe that's why I couldn't smell the fishy overtones, I just was too happy.

We dried off and trudged up the beach to see a couple more sets, and ran into Andy Aeros Kaiser, who commented that he'd never really been to Bradford Beach before and, come to think of it, never had I until last Saturday. Oh, sure, I jumped in the water here back when I was pregnant with Sammy (which was the last time the water quality was good enough to risk it!) and I've ridden my bike past, but otherwise, no, never really explored it. I'd heard they fixed up the pavilion, and now I'm here and I'm really liking the design of the place, despite -- or maybe even because -- it's not completely renovated. It's just fixed up enough to be functional, retaining the rust and some of the grime of years of use since it's original design, which is actually way cool. It's beyond any beach house you could see dotting the Chicago coast. And every Saturday, they've brought out a different local band.

I just wish they'd tell some people that, no, if you're going to get some of the best local bands in the city to play, they're not going to play covers all day. Apparantly sombody complained to the band that they weren't playing "songs that anybody knows" and later they responded with a wonderfully snotty version of "Helter Skelter," because everybody knows the Beatles, right?

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Still, it was a nice thing to hear, while watching some beach volleyball tournament (even though, after the Olympics, if I never see another beach volleyball game again in my life, I won't feel deprived on my deathbed), and heading down to the snack bar with the kids. "Who's that girl with the big forehead" is coming from upstairs and I'm pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food -- the chitpotle steak tacos are flavorful and reasonably priced -- and I've totally forgotten that this is the last weekend of the summer. I'm glad the park district has taken the steps to fix up this place, bring in the kinds of things that get people to come -- without forgetting to keep it all diverse. I couldn't help but laugh at this couple scavenging for cans and sitting their dogs under this sign and that's the mark of a good beach -- plenty of people watching was to be had, both on the beach, and reacting to the snotty musical act on stage.
In the meantime, the bikers are beginning to roll into town, and this makes me happy. Like the tink of a bat against a ball at the park across the street, the rumble of the bikes on the freeway near our house is a sound I associate with wonderful summer evenings, and parties. Just on my lunch hour, I ran into some bikers who'd come from Switzerland, and it's lovely to see people from all over the world. I know there's killjoys who are going to whine about the noise, (like the guys at the beach whining about the lack of covers) but I love being in the town where it's the place to be, and everytime Milwaukee plays host to the bikers, Milwaukee is the place to be. I actually get kind of choked up, hearing stories of goodwill and hospitality. Driving past 4 and 5 star joints with signs that proudly proclaim "Welcome Bikers!" Seeing the valets at the Pfister polish the bikes of their guests as carefully and skillfully as they'd perform this task for a Mercedes-Benz. Reading stories of in the paper about hometown hospitality. And just knowing how much good this does the tourism and hospitality industry should drown out the naysayers.

My only complaint? I'm sooooo confused about all the parties and stuff. I know Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is somewhere tomorrow night, and family favorites Blue Oyster Cult will be here this weekend, but trying to get a sense of what's going on overall is like trying to read the entire menu at a Greek family restaurant.
The actual true only bummer is that this is sort of the final gasp of summer, a summer that flew by too fast. This was hammered home last night at the last Humboldt Park Chill on the Hill, with Swing Nouveau playing us out. I think they're tied with the Swing-O-Matics as my favorite big band sound group. Amongst a bunch of standards, they piled on arrangements that were faithful to the sound, but with great little flourishes they used to put their personal stamp on. And they're giving the Swing-O-Matics a good run for their money in the terrific Zoot suit department -- these guys will keep Johnnie Walker in business for a while. Favorite take: a great big band version of "Caravan" that keep that cool big band sound and interjected a bit of danger as well. And I learned toward the end that my Sammy can really cut a rug! There's something about jitterbuging that just comes natural to American kids, especially those who haven't learned about self-consciousness. And I lose all self-consciousness when I hear big band jazz done well, anyway. Bravo, Bay View Neighborhood Association -- you did a great series this summer and I can't wait to see what's on the bill next year.

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