One of the fun things about being a tour guide in your own town is that it offers a shift in perspective that doesn't come any other way.
Last week, I played host to two foreigeners visiting Milwaukee through the International Institute of Wisconsin. The women, one from Israel and the other from Bulgaria, were here as part of program for volunteer managers to learn more about programs in the U.S. It was my job as a volunteer myself to orient them to the city in 2 hours - give or take an hour.
Two hours turned into five.
After picking them up at the airport my girlfriend and I meandered up Lake Shore Drive, then cut over to the near west side to stop at the Kosher Klub. Never been there before. As my guest shopped for food items, we asked the owner if she could recommend a strictly vegetarian and/or kosher restaurant nearby where we could have some dinner.
Nearby? How about far away, she said. As in 13th and Holt. That's right - not a vegetarian restaurant to be found near where we were. But that was OK, because I had never been there either! Neither had my girlfriend. So we drove across town, back toward the airport, and found Bombay Sweet. Our visitors were thrilled and I was enamored with the place, even though I could pronounce very little on the menu. If you ever go make sure you try the seasoned almonds. After a big meal of who knows what, the owner took our picture and we were on our way again.
Thinking we'd just take our new friends back to their hotel, we headed northeast. They peppered us with questions and observations along the way. "Why do Americans want ice in everything they drink?" "Did you know there are cameras at every streetlight?" "Michigan Lake looks like a sea." "What does the word 'Milwaukee' mean?"
We were chatting so much, we didn't realize it but we zoomed right past Koz's Mini Bowl. This was just too good to pass up. We made a quick U-turn and asked Julia and Atara if they wanted to see a classic Milwaukee haunt and sample some fine local beer. They nodded enthusiastically, "Of course!" they both said at once.
If you have never been to Koz's, go soon. You'll have more fun than you ever imagined. We got the jukebox going, our personal pin-setter and a round of shots from the bartender. What could be more "Gemutlichkeit" than that?
When we finally dropped them off at their hotel there were hugs all around. They didn't feel like foreigners anymore. I hope they didn't feel like we were either.
We were just a bunch of strangers thrown together like dice tossed onto a game board. We played the game of Life for a few hours and I'm confident to say that everyone came out a winner.