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Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

How not to succeed in business (or governance, love, or just about anything)

Pragmatism, Serb Hall, Unions, fish fries, Milwaukee

Last night I had the pleasure of being kicked out of a bar for the first time. I guess at 62, it’s about time. But then, I’ve never much enjoyed bars or confrontation. It’s no surprise it took this long.

The bar in question was Serb Hall’s, one of the biggest bars around. I’d gone to meet a friend for a fish fry. If you’re not a local reader, fish fries are a pragmatic Milwaukee sacrament started during Prohibition, when all the bars needed to find new ways to make money. The tradition is honored to this day, only with large quantities of beer and other adult beverages.

(Serb Hall is another Milwaukee institution, the site of weddings and union gatherings, presidential visits, and more. A vast building, it also holds a bowling alley and promises “extraordinary hospitality.”)

I didn’t know at the time that this wasn’t any random gathering. Most of the others in the group of ten, people I didn’t know, were union supporters and activists, and they were there to show support for the handful of union staff left in the organization. The idea was to go, ask to be seated at the server’s tables, enjoy dinner, and leave a generous tip. You can read the backstory here.

But it was not to be. The host announced that we couldn’t be seated, as the waitress already had a table of 15 (people I later learned were doing the same thing we were, supporting union employees). That made sense to me, although my daughter, a waitress, informs me that she’d be delighted to be given two big parties. We were offered other waitstaff’s tables in the largely empty room but declined.

At which point the bartender, also a union employee, came up with a quick-minded pragmatic solution. “If you eat at the bar, I can write your tickets. You’d have to do the buffet: I can’t serve tables while bartending.” So we all said yes--good idea, paid our money, and started heading toward the buffet.

One or two of us actually made it. The food looked lackluster and smelled worse, but that seemed beside the point.

The rest of us were stopped before we made it to the dining room. The manager, sitting bulldoggedly at the bar between us and the buffet line, started yelling at the bartender and the one union waitress serving in the adjacent room, who, although we'd requested her, had just been "cut" (sent home early for lack of work in restaurant parlance).

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Why can't the chicken cross the road on a bike?

Oak Leaf Trail, Complete Streets, Wauwatosa, LaCrosse, Mayfair Road, Bluemound Road

In the past, it was just, ‘We're going to rebuild this road.' Now we're trying to pull in the ideas of, while we're doing this, can we lessen the stormwater impact? Can we improve bicycle, pedestrian, physically disabled accommodations? LaCrosse city planner Larry Kirsch

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Who should we care about?

Wauwatosa Common Council, transmission lines, Mitt Romney, 47%

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's statement that he didn't need to concern himself with 47% of the population was a shocker.

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"4 sale - playground"

Recess, Wauwatosa, Jefferson School,


Right next to the "Kids eat free" sign in the old Lutheran (now Baptist) church yard: "4 sale - playgound."

The for-sale playground structure fills the entire pocket between the church and its former school on North Avenue. I recognize the church's original name, carved in stone, from my father's baptismal certificate, over one hundred years old now and written in German. I doubt they fed kids there in my dad's day, though they were not strangers to hunger. But those old Germans believed in exercise to build the sound body needed to house a sound mind.

Children don't live by food alone, regardless of who provides the food. To grow strong and whole, they need to climb and jump and play. Move through space, bend and stretch, reach for the sky.

Play is how children learn. Educational research shows that kids learn best when their entire bodies are engaged, at least up until age 9. And yet Wauwatosa's Jefferson School recently eliminated recess for 6 and 7 year olds, saying there's no time for it.

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Eagle Scouts to the rescue?

Root Commons, Eagle Scouts, Eschweiler Buildings, community development

Daughter Liz and I spent some pleasant Saturday hours at Tosa Fest, munching sweet potato fries and sipping Chimay white ale on the edge of the Menomonee River. We met some old friends, relished Paul Cebar's music, and picked up Save the Eschweilers yard signs.

If walking around Wauwatosa's village doesn't remind you of the delight and importance of preserving history and the places it happened, not much will.

Some fine work has been done on some of the old buildings there. Interesting businesses are growing roots, while new ones are sprouting because the area's attractive and there's foot traffic, the key to prosperity in villages.

But our hearts sank  we came upon  Root Commons. Even the road signs are askew. Mostly hard dirt now, the ground is oddly pitched, with a wooden picnic table dropped here, a random Port-a-Potty sitting alone there at a rakish or alarming angle, depending on how much history you have with outhouse tippage. I suspect the one cheerful note, a popcorn wagon, was less than delighted to find itself parked next door to a potty.

The commons used to be a real gathering place, with a central structure, grass, and seasonal plantings. Long before that it was the village green, just down the road from the first public school built in the city. Whatever it is now seems to have just happened, a combination of small attempts and large neglect. It's an eyesore. An embarrassment to a city trying to stay upscale.

That's what happens when you don't take care of things.

In 2007 the Community Development Committee passed Resolution R-07-94 for a proposed improvement project plan, subject to approval by many folks. Was tearing down what was there the extent of the plan? I doubt it.

Parks Board minutes from August 21st of this year note that they currently are waiting for central scouts office funding for an Eagle Scout project to fix the park, and that a mason will be around to supervise the work. No plan or description is available. Apparently this will happen sometime after the scouts finish another project, replacing a fence on 68th Street. Who knew we were outsourcing construction projects to children in search of community service and merit badges?

My enthusiasm for the nobility of volunteers is a little tempered by the belief that this pocket park needs to be a village centerpiece, not an after-thought. It's a big job. I hope the scouts are up to it.

Of course, it will take more than Eagle Scouts to save the Eschweilers. Maybe a couple former Eagle Scout, current millionaires. Though it really seems we should be able to steer our own civic destiny, make a smart investment in oursleves and our future, without having to depend entirely on good deeds and individual charity.

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