I was born in Chicago and lived in Cleveland, Ohio, from age 6 to 17, and attended college in Evanston, Illinois, but because I never lived in the region as an adult, my understanding of the comportment of Midwesterners was, for several years, distorted with memories of junior high Mean Girls and extreme family dysfunction.
This weekend I was pleased to re-discover that Midwesterners really are as courteous and pleasant as they are commonly perceived to be.
Art Son, who has logged a lot of time in New York City, was the first in our trio to give voice to what I'd been noticing but hadn't yet put into words. "Have you noticed that people who have jobs that jerks normally have are really nice?"
He said this as we were pulling out of the parking garage in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. Art Son went to art school at Cooper Union and lived in Brooklyn thereafter, when the 718 area code was still affordable for struggling artists. To him, people who staff parking garages, convenience stores, and toll booths are supposed to be gruff. But wherever we went we were told to have a great day, often by plump, white-haired women who would probably have called us "dear" if there'd been more time to chat.
We kept looking for a meanie. At the rental car agency. Gas station. Even O'hare Airport security. Not a grump in sight. Everyone was pleasant and wanted us to have a wonderful time. And so we did.
|on the studio door of Fred Stonehouse, who is one of the artists on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin. He came to our son's opening, and he's a lovely human. Born and raised in Milwaukee, he lives up to this print's motto, and then some|
|This is the window to the River Edge gallery in Thiensville, Wisconsin, where we attended our son's opening; that's me taking a picture of one of the two paintings I covet the most|
|The artist examining one of his new pieces; this photo does not do the color justice; the piece to the right is from the period before this one, before stripes took over|
|Art Son's father and I wanted this one in our home, but apparently someone beat us to it|
If the people here are pleasant to a fault, this is the fault: the squirrels are fearless. They will take over any public space if you let them. They think human beings are nice.
2. Food portions are generous.
Okay, we didn't look for tapas bars or tasting menus, but when we went out to eat this weekend, we were served enough food to share with the families in the surrounding three booths.
At the Sichuan place where we celebrated the art exhibit, we ordered two appetizers, three mains, and one vegetable side dish for three people. We realized that in any context, this is a lot of food, but in the Midwest context, we ordered enough to feed our son for the rest of the week. The smoked tea duck dish, for example, was an entire duck.
The same rule holds true everywhere, even the hot dog place where, if you order the signature dish, enough dogs to fill a baguette, you get to wear a clown's costume and be photographed on the wall of fame.
I love hot dogs madly, and given my love for actual dogs, this particular food craving sometimes makes me feel a little creepy. When I was a vegetarian, I didn't crave filet mignon or rack of lamb. I wanted hot dogs.
At first I thought this generosity must just be true of Madison, because the college is overrun by athletes who need to bulk up. But the same rule held true in Greektown in Chicago. One meal = three. Our friends went home with a heavy doggy bag, and we just headed back to our hotel heavier.
It's true. I've only been to maybe five Greek restaurants over the years in all my trips to Chicago, but I've yet to find an establishment that has let me down.
Okay, I wasn't wearing blinders. We all know that the Midwest has given birth to its fair share of serial killers, dog-haters, (and probably even hot dog-haters), and people who say "no problem" instead of "You're welcome."
Nonetheless, good times were had by all in our party, and I can't wait to return.
Our weekend was terrific, and I hope yours was too, gentle reader, and that wherever you were, the people were nice, the food came to you in a trough (unless you were at a tapas bar), and the cheese only burst into flame by design.
And if you live in the Chicago/Milwaukee area, do go to the River Edge Gallery in Thiensville, Wisconsin, to see "Standard Deviation," an amazing exhibit that will be up until the start of June. The color will blow you away, but the squirrels might steal your lunch. If a Midwesterner packed your lunch, you'll have enough to share anyway.