This Too Is America – III – Milwaukee

Author trying out the 2014 Harley Davidson bike

Author trying out the 2014 Harley Davidson bike


No thanks to Amtrak which turned a six hour journey into a 12 hour nightmare, the bus approached the Greyhound Station, Milwaukee at 2:30am. Even that late on Sunday, I could hardly wait for daybreak to locate the Harley Davidson Museum. Although I do not owe one, HD power bikes have been childhood obsession.

After paying $25 for the ride to 28th Street North that early morning, I decided that if I was to stay on budget, I would have to do a bit of trekking or find out the schedule of the Milwaukee County Transit System. My host, a charming Chinese lady, speaks no word of English, so early in the morning, I carry out my usual recce of the neighbourhood. What I saw informed me that I would have to be careful who I associated with and that I would have to trust my instincts to get by.

An Indian owned shop on 27th Street assured me there is no day pass in Milwaukee.
‘You can buy a vignette or a week pass for $17’, he said with finality. I thank him and walk back home to a nearby shop where I bought three vignettes for $6 from an Arab shop-keeper who I found out runs the only shop not barricaded in.

Within minutes, I was on the 57 back to Greyhound Centre first because I had noticed wifi and second, it was clean and looked like the kind of place to get adequate city information. The bus driver told me to walk down and take another bus to the HD Museum but I ended up on the pristine campus of Marquette University and decided to check out its Haggerty Museum.

The Haggerty Museum – Marquette University

Visiting museums has always had a sombreness for me akin to visiting place of worship. The most treasured that links generations, the hours of work that culminated in the arts and artefacts and the stories that accompany them evokes reverence. There are two floors to this one. The first is titled ‘Print Room’ heralding arts of the European Renaissance, mainly paintings, photography and ceramics dating to the 16th Century among which is an ornate Harvest Jug dated 1810.

The top floor is titled ‘Aesthetic Afterlife’, the work of six Wisconsin contemporary artists working around the theme of globalization and consumerism. They include William Anderson’s Mi er wa qi, Heather McCalla’s whose appeal to retaining domestic objects blends thematically with Hongtao Zhou’s Reconstituted. These artists turn jetables furniture, fashion and accessories into objects to be reexamined. Admittance to this museum is free.

The Harley Davidson Museum

From here, I got a proper direction to the 111 year old Harley Davidson Museum across the lake. With my student ID, the total tour package, including the audio tour amounted to less than $20. This museum with its collection of perhaps over 3,000 motorcycles is perhaps the only one which permits flash photography, a bonus for me and two of my best accessories – my Nikon D3200 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Dodging visitors in range, I reasoned that the best way to do justice to this tour would be a combination of video and flash photography.

Watch it here –

The museum was built to keep you, and it is worth staying. There is a fantastic restaurant serving food and drinks and a souvenir shop selling the odd Harley Davidson memorabilia and rider’s accessories. They do not come cheap but neither do the cycles which range in retail price from $19,000 to as much as $50,000 and has kitted among several army and police forces, including fire services and courier companies. The icing on the cake of this tour is the opportunity to pose on the latest models of the power bikes, get your pictures taken by the computer and mailed to yourself or loved ones. Then, a unique opportunity to test ride them outside the museum entrance.

Milwaukee Art Museum

Designed by Santiago Calatrava, the Quadracci Pavilion’s Burke Brise Soleil sits on the banks of Lake Michigan like a bird with its wings in full span. Indeed, you can watch the wings open and close at specified moments. There are two other buildings incorporated – the Kahler Building and the War Memorial Center designed by the duo of David Kahler and Eero Saarinen. This 117,000 square feet gallery holds over 30,000 works from antiquity to the present. Tour tickets are less than $20 without the audio tour.

It is made of four levels with ample underground parking, restrooms, restaurant and cloak rooms. Non-flash photography is allowed in certain areas, large bags and backpacks are not.
Museums are difficult to write about in the age of video and a few clips would illustrate the objects in this museum.

General comments

Milwaukee is cool except that every one in three adult puffs cigarettes. Power biking here is done without helmets, same with driving without belts. African-Americans seem to be on the lowest rung of the ladder. From 12th Street up, you will find young men in groups smoking and totally prone to mischief. Indeed, a shooting incident occurred two days after my arrival on 28th Street. Sirens blared through the day and night. Shop owners, (including gas stations) are barricaded in with bullet-proof glass casings. Indeed Milwaukee’s prisons are swarming with inmates, 20,000 of them according to local radio. While downtown Milwaukee is in construction boom, parts of the residences are dilapidated and in urgent need of fixing.

Next destination Chicago, Illinois – daylight stopover.




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