Chicago Midway to Milwaukee; September 8 – 12, 2016

For those of you who wonder how I do this when I travel by air, my PBW brand folding bicycle fits in a plastic Samsonite suitcase.   I carry my clothes and stuff in a small trunk bag that I strap to the back rack of the bicycle.   The trunk bag has a shoulder strap for when I am not cycling.   The only drawback to the arrangement is that I have to find somewhere to store the empty suitcase.   Tootie took this picture of me leaving for the airport from our apartment with the bike and the trunk bag, everything I need for four days Chicago to Milwaukee.




Chicago Midway Airport is on the southwest side of Chicago.  It is unique in that it is completely surrounded by dense city residential neighborhoods on all sides.



I was flying into Chicago on Southwest Airlines from Raleigh/Durham on a Thursday morning to meet my buddy Lyman Labry who was flying in from Austin, Texas.    We met in Midway Airport at about about ten thirty that morning.  Our mission was to bicycle north to Milwaukee in the coming four days.  There is an excellent bike path that runs most of the way.  Having done Chicago to Milwaukee twice now I really think this is one of the best city bike trips in America.    We had reserved a one-way rental car to drive back from Milwaukee in time to fly home Monday night.

Lyman also has a folding bicycle, a Bike Friday.   Enterprise Rent-A-Car graciously agreed to hold our suitcases at Midway airport.   We spent about half an hour putting the bicycles together, then set off.

On the left of this photograph the car rental parking garage immediately abuts the residential neighborhood of Vittum Park.


We had chosen for this trip to ride directly north through the city from Midway Airport, rather than taking the lovely lakefront bike path which starts downtown.   Since we were bicycling on the South Side of Chicago we felt it important to check the crime rate of neighborhoods we were cycling through.     Going directly north looked safe, and this would also allow us to cycle up to Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Oak Park, about eight miles north.    We headed off from the rental car garage through neighborhoods on residential streets.   The cycling through these neighborhoods was delightful.  The land in Chicago is as flat as a pancake and almost all streets are in a grid.






Twice we had to leave neighborhood streets to get on bridges to cross canals or rail lines.   Cycling on busy highways across a bridge was scary but we usually could ride on the sidewalk.  At the top of one bridge we could see downtown off in the distance.


We saw several early (1893-1909) Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Oak Park, including these two.




Our lunch of hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and baba ghannouj in downtown Oak Park at a Middle Eastern place run by a Moroccan was one of the best meals of the trip.   After lunch we continued cycling through neighborhood streets to Evanston, which is on Lake Michigan north of downtown Chicago.   At this point we had cycled through almost thirty miles of continuous residential neighborhoods.

We did not want to push ourselves physically on this trip.   Lyman had had some kind of heart “event” less than a month earlier.   We had planned this trip before that, and his doctor OK’d he continue with the trip as long as he did not exert himself too much.   The doctor had given him a setup with wires connected to little suction cups to keep stuck on his chest.   This apparatus connected wirelessly to a souped up Blackberry.   The device had a cartoon picture of a heart on it which you could see pumping.  This would allow his doctor to look back and see what Lyman’s heart had been doing during the entire long weekend.


We stopped at a Starbucks and I looked at on my phone.  I found a hotel in downtown Evanston near Northwestern University called The Homestead.   When we got there I was impressed that The Homestead, built in 1927, seemed to have changed hardly at all.    It was well kept up but everything seemed 1927.

They gave us a place to put our bicycles and we walked in through the back door.





The single tiny elevator was too small for modern fat Americans.



The hotel had a nice front porch scene in the pleasant late summer cool weather.    The women just to the left of the front door were talking loudly in some language other than English that we could not recognize.  When we ate dinner outside three hours later they were still talking.   When they got into a cab later that evening we asked them what language they had been talking in.   They said it was Turkish, they were here to drop off a relative at Northwestern.


We cycled north on the lakefront bike path the next morning.   The Northwestern campus is right on the lakefront but did not seem particularly attractive.




Going north we cycled through Chicago’s richest suburbs like Winnetka, Glencoe, Highland Park, and Lake Forest, all spread out along the lake.    We could have gone on a parallel bike path but it seemed more interesting to ride on Sheridan Road and look at where rich people lived, and them out walking their dogs.




In Glencoe we biked a few blocks off the main road to a small cluster of houses called Ravine Bluffs, for which Frank Lloyd Wright designed this tiny bridge in 1915 along with several houses.  The houses are examples of Wright’s “$5000.00 fireproof house”, his idea of semi-affordable housing.



This very Friday was Lyman’s 65th birthday, so we celebrated for lunch at a Cuban/French restaurant in Highwood IL.    I got the feeling that this restaurant started out as Cuban, but changed to French so they could charge more.   Still, the salade nicoise was good and not all that expensive,  the atmosphere festive, and the tile decor fetching.  The doors were open to outside.      Everyone eating there looked prosperous and idle on this workday afternoon  (O.K., so were we!), with lots of examples of what seemed to be Ladies Who Lunch.



Back on the bikes, after we cycled past the even more prosperous town of Lake Forest, we began to see the income divide in America.    The bike path followed an arrow straight former railroad line through poor mixed race neighborhoods in Waukegan, Illinois that went on for miles.


The path looped around the Great Lakes Naval Base.   There were few hotels along this route and our only real choice was a Country Inn & Suites motel in Zion, Illinois, just a few miles south of the Wisconsin line.    The motel was new, clean, and friendly and faced the huge parking lot of a Piggly Wiggly.    The motel atmosphere could not have been more different from that of our lunch at the French restaurant.   Apparently there is a large Cancer Treatment Center of America hospital in Zion and people come from afar for treatment there.    There were lots of very sociable working class people staying at the motel while they or their relatives had cancer treatments.    There was always two or three people hanging out in front of the motel, smoking cigarettes.    I walked over to buy some beer at the Piggly Wiggly.  Almost everyone in the very slow moving line at the supermarket looked white, unhealthy, and poor.  Country Inn motels have a front porch, and it was relaxing to sit in the rocking chairs and each drink an IPA.


Because we were on bicycles we could not go far in the dark to eat dinner.   We did not really like the choices available.  We ended up talking to the African American owner of Herm’s Bar-B-Que.


Herm said since he rented his space from the owners of Al’s Tap & Package Liquor next door they would not mind if we bought takeout and ate it at their bar.   So that is what we did; I had fried chicken and Lyman had a brisket sandwich.   The three other people seated around Al’s bar, all guys about our age, were very cordial.   They told us what it had been like to work at the American Motors factory just up the road in Kenosha.   Note our bicycles in the lower right corner of this picture.


We left the next morning for Wisconsin.   I have a particular interest in the former American Motors (AMC) factory in Kenosha WI,  about fifteen miles north of our motel in Zion IL.   My dad was the owner of Marshall Rambler in Virginia Beach, and the whole time I was growing up we drove nothing but Ramblers.   As a kid I was fascinated by cars.   Essentially all AMC Ramblers had been built at the Kenosha WI factory and my Dad was always talking about it.   This factory started making cars for Nash in 1902 and finished with making engines for Chrysler when the plant closed for good in 2010.     The factory was completely torn down in 2013.     The huge site is surrounded on all sides by Kenosha neighborhoods and we biked by it on the way to downtown Kenosha, looking for a place to eat lunch.


Downtown Kenosha had American Motors memories on a wall.



It was noon on a Saturday so brunch at an Irish pub on Kenosha’s renovated waterfront seemed to fill the bill.


Wisconsin has a deeply rooted bar culture.    This pub claimed it was their tradition that bloody marys be accompanied by a small glass of beer.   I did not get a bloody but this lady got two!


On the other side of us at the bar we talked to an older couple who said they had worked about thirty-seven years each at the American Motors plant.  They did not dwell on the fact that it was closed and torn down, but rather what great jobs they had had there, depending on one’s view of “work”.    I would have taken this all in stride except their description of excessive drinking at the AMC factory was exactly what the guys had said the night before at Al’s Tap in Zion IL.   The men in Zion had said the factory had more bars adjacent to it than “any auto factory in the world”  (their words).     These stories took place mostly in the nineteen seventies and eighties, a time when American car companies were being pummeled because of their reputation for poor quality.   The lady here in Kenosha said that her job had been wonderful because  “where else could you just tell your supervisor just to go f*** himself?”   She said that anything and everything went on in that plant; drinking, smoking pot, sex, all of it.    She and her husband remembered “covering” for a co-worker who was drunkenly passed out on the factory floor.    She also said women had to be tough to work factory jobs in those days; there was a lot of harassment going on.   Neither of them talked about any job satisfaction of making quality cars.  They did say they had always owned AMC cars.   She was a really funny person and she let me take their picture.


We reluctantly left this pub about two o’clock.  We rode across town Kenosha and stopped for a coffee.


It was about fifteen miles to Racine where we would spend the night.    The lakefront north of Kenosha was inviting.


It was an excellent paved bike path all the way to Racine.


We were looking forward to Racine for two reasons.  One was that we had made reservations for a tour the next day of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Johnson Wax building.    The other was that we Racine connections; my good friend Tom from Jacksonville, Florida; his father was born and raised in Racine.   Tom’s cousin Charlie, a judge, lives in Racine.

Racine had a Midwest factory town look.


I biked past a wedding party across the street having their picture taken and they saw me take out my camera.


We stayed at a hotel on the Racine lakefront.   Charlie was not in town, but gave us another invitation to Wisconsin bar culture. Charlie had relayed to us that we HAD to get a drink at Rickey’s on Main Street downtown, and ask for Suzette.

We did get a drink there before dinner.   Suzette was great.


We had dinner at a restaurant with the linguistically awkward name of Olde Madrid.  Tapas were non-Spanishly huge in size, but the food was quite good, and one tapa each was plenty to eat.    The Spanish American chef came out after dinner and pressed the flesh.

I got up the next morning and walked around downtown Racine at seven-thirty in the morning.    Its downtown has some empty storefronts but it is unusually well preserved.   Racine more recently has built a yacht harbor adjacent to downtown.







Lyman and I biked around Racine that morning.   Racine has a beach.   I only got my feet wet but you could almost imagine that you were at the ocean.



That afternoon we took our tour of the S.C. Johnson headquarters,  built in 1935 and designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.   The company which makes Johnson Wax, Glo-Coat, Raid and many other products is still headquartered here in an inner-city Racine neighborhood.    Wright did not like cities, so he built this building to draw attention to the inside rather than making a splashy presentation to the outside.     He wanted to create his own natural world within.

We saw the Great Workroom.  We were not allowed to take interior photos so this picture is lifted from the internet.   Wright designed all the furniture including the desks and even the chairs.

We then toured inside the adjacent Research Tower, also designed by Wright and built in 1950.

The tour finished about three-thirty, and we pushed off to bicycle the almost thirty miles to Milwaukee that afternoon.   A bike path goes only part of the way.   We rode most of the way on Wisconsin Route 32, weaving through a succession of towns.    The road had two lanes but a fairly large shoulder.   The wind was at our backs.    Along the way I kept thinking that these Milwaukee suburbs are the political base of so many nationally famous Republicans:  Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus, but most of all Governor Scott Walker, who built an entire career by playing up fear and resentment of the people in these towns towards the more urban Milwaukee.

Eventually we were able to get off Route 32 and ride through a grid of city streets.  At some point we realized we were in the city limits of Milwaukee.   Milwaukee feels like a big city.    We rode through city streets for quite a while, finally settling on a hotel on the north side of downtown.      We walked that night to an Italian restaurant.

I got up early the next day and walked around, first towards the lakefront and the Santiago Calatrava designed Milwaukee Art Museum.


I also walked to the central part of downtown.    Milwaukee clearly was a wealthy and important place at the turn of the twentieth century.  The city hall was the tallest habitable building in the United States for four years, 1895-1899.   The only taller building was the Washington Monument.


After breakfast we biked north to the Glendale area where we were to pick up the rental car.   We passed through miles of early twentieth century neighborhoods.



Milwaukee is famous for neighborhood bars.   This is one of dozens we passed.


On the north side of town the Milwaukee River Greenway is a great bike path that led almost all the way to the rental car place.


We both had flights departing Chicago Midway early evening.    We put the bikes in the Prius and drove back to Chicago.  We had time for a Greek lunch near the Loop, and to walk around downtown Chicago for an hour or so.



One response to “Chicago Midway to Milwaukee; September 8 – 12, 2016”

  1. Genial! Muy buenas fotos de Racine, hasta parece bonito. Besos

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