Posts Tagged ‘Wisconsin


10 Reasons to Love Weyauwega: the Night Life





dairy treats,


and quiet streets.



10 Reasons to Love Weyauwega: the pool, the parks, & the pace

Many small towns have swimming pools. Although some prefer to call them Aquatic Centers these days. But both terms are a bit high-falutin for Weyauwega. So instead, we have a swim lake.

Swimming Lake Sign

It’s basically the same thing as a swimming pool, in that it has locker rooms, showers, life guards, and a concession stand, and is surrounded by tall chain-link fences to keep children and the inebriated from wandering in and drowning. But instead of a rectangular structure with vertical walls, a concrete floor, and a bright blue vinyl liner, Weyauwega’s swimming hole is an irregularly shaped structure with gently sloping sides, a gravel floor, and a concrete shoreline. In short, it’s exactly like a real lake but without the mucky bottom and the fishy smell.

In other words, it’s nothing like a real lake. But I’m new here, and I’m not one to make waves. Even at the pool. Or the swim lake.

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The Weyauwega Swim Lake (or Swimming Lake, depending on which sign you’re reading) is located within Weyauwega Community Park.

Community Park Sign

Established in 1972 (according to the sign at the High Street entrance) the park sits on 12 acres, and is host to ball fields, tennis courts, picnic tables, covered pavilions, a playground, and a handful of buildings operated by various local civic organizations.

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A few blocks from Community Park is Mill Street Park. Located at the intersection of Mill and Sumner streets, Mill Street Park features a half-court basketball area, a swing set, and a couple of benches. Across the street and kitty-corner from Mill Street Park are the Sumner Street tennis courts. The park and the tennis courts flank the Weyauwega Public Library which is located at the same intersection, which means one can exercise both one’s body and one’s mind in one trip if one were so inclined.

Incidentally, kitty-corner from the library at the intersection of Mill and Sumner Streets is ThedaCare Physicians Weyauwega. Which means, if you happen to skin your knees jumping off the swing at its forward apex, or pull a hammy while chasing your opponent’s killer serve, or slice your finger open while paging through a copy of Weyauwega Remembers, medical treatment is not far away. Unless it happens after 5pm or on a weekend, in which case you’re probably going to die.


I’m kidding. We have paramedics in town who will happily patch you up if you can’t walk it off. Just limp or crawl four blocks north and take a right onto Wisconsin Street. The firehouse will be down two blocks on the left.


If you reach to the post office you’ve gone too far.

Post Office

In that case, just turn around and go back a half block. The firehouse will now be on your right.

A few blocks north of Mill Street Park sits Petersen Park.

Pete Park 2

Straddling both Mill Street and the Waupaca River, Petersen Park boasts a small playground, a few picnic areas, and a boat launch. Here you will also find the famous rye mill silo.

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Of course, famous is a relative term. They don’t know about it as far away as, say, China, Europe, or possibly even Milwaukee. It’s famous because it’s where the old Weyauwega rye mill used to operate and because you can’t look up Weyauwega on Google without a picture of the structure coming up in your search results. Built in 1855, according the Weyauwega Chamber of Commerce ( the mill was the largest in the world at the time and was considered a state of the art facility in the field of flour manufacturing.

A few steps away from the rye mill silo puts you on the Yellowstone Trail.

Yellowstone Trail Sign

Established on May 23 of 1912 (with thanks to Wikipedia) the Yellowstone Trail was the “first transcontinental automobile highway through the upper tier of states in the United States.” As you can see by the map below the trail will take you all the way from Plymouth, Massachusetts to Seattle, Washington by way of Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone_Trail_Map(courtesy of By JRidge at English Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5,

Of course, you’d have to walk many a mile to get from Petersen Park to Yellowstone National Park. I suppose you’ll just have to pace yourself.

And speaking of pace: in Weyauwega the pace is fairly slow. Not slow as in ploddingly or painfully slow. More like slow as in smooth, or gentle. Like a light breeze, or trickling stream. Here, the words hustle and bustle are rarely used, and then only to refer to 1970’s disco-era dances and 1870’s ladies’ undergarments.

If you think I’m kidding, check out the city’s very own slogan, which appears at the bottom of their very own homepage.


That sorta says it all, I think.

And it may not be for everyone, but it suits the Jarhead and me just fine.




10 Reasons to Love Weyauwega: the Cheese!

We’re talking about Wisconsin, so you probably figured cheese would come up sooner or later; you just didn’t know when.

Well, here it is.

Weyauwega is famous for its cheese. So much so that there is a company called Weyauwega Cheese that isn’t even located in Weyauwega. Misleading? Yes. Savvy marketing? Definitely.

To be fair, the family that founded Weyauwega Cheese also owns Weyauwega Star Dairy, which IS located in Weyauwega, and Weyauwega Star Dairy has a store front in Weyauwega that sells—drumroll please—Weyauwega Cheese. They also sell their own cheeses, processed meats, and frozen custard.

I’ll bet you’ll never guess what else they sell? Besides cheeses, processed meats, and frozen custard, I mean. Check out this photo and see for yourself. I’ll wait.

Isn’t that awesome?

Now some of you may have a hard time believing that Bud Light is available for purchase at a place called Weyauwega Star Dairy. Especially if you haven’t spent a lot of time in Wisconsin, you may doubt that this ad for Bud Light is in any way affiliated with the Weyauwega Star Dairy. But if you zoom in on the red and black logo to the left of that beer can, you’ll see not only that there is an ad for Bud Light on the side of the Weyauwega Star Dairy, but also that the Bud Light ad on the side of the Weyauwega Star Dairy was created specifically FOR the Weyauwega Star Dairy. Here is a close-up shot of that red and black logo, just so you know what you’re looking at:

Star Dairy Logo

According to its website, Weyauwega Star Dairy “has been in the cheese business for over 30 years, and specializes in a variety of Italian cheeses.” If that logo looks familiar, that’s not just because you saw it on the Bud Light sign a few paragraphs ago. Rather, it may be because it closely resembles the logo for Weyauwega Cheese, which is sold under this eerily similar label, which you may have seen in your local grocery store.

Weyauwega Logo

The company that makes this cheese has been around since 1912, so it’s a fair bet that you’ve seen it before. Even if you have seen it before, you may not have paid much attention to the name and, like my friend Mary, never realized until she found out we were moving here, that the word ‘Weyauwega’ refers to a place and not to any person, persons, or things.

According to the company’s website, the most important ingredient in their cheese is family pride. I’m not sure what sort of flavor that imparts, but I’m not going to dwell on that. Besides, it’s much more fun to contemplate the 1.5 mile-long string of cheese that was made by the President of Weyauwega Star Dairy and which reportedly earned him a spot in the 1995 Guinness Book of World Records. You can find these and other fun facts at and

Another Weyauwega cheese maker is Agropur Inc. Previously known as Trega Foods, Agropur claims to be a “worldwide supplier of award winning cheese & whey products. With more than 300 employees & 3 facilities located in Weyauwega, Little Chute, & Luxemburg, WI, Agropur’s rich cheesemaking tradition is the gold standard by which so many other cheesemakers measure their product.” Their Weyauwega facility, founded by Jacob H. Wagner, partnered with Kraft Foods to pioneer “the development of the ‘640 Square Barrel’ to hold and store natural cheese for cutting.” I’m not sure what that means, but I imagine it’s a pretty big deal among cheesemakers or they wouldn’t be bragging about it on their website. Find out more about their cheese and ingredients division at

Taylor Cheese Corp, meanwhile, is a small cheese operation in Weyauwega that has been “cutting and wrapping quality natural and process cheese for more than 40 years. “ Founded by Lowell “Abe” Taylor in the late 1950’s to service “the largest grocery store chain in the USA,” Taylor Cheese Corp employees 23 people. They can process and custom cut, wrap, grind, shred and package cheese to order, and pride themselves on “the use of only natural cheese manufactured in Wisconsin and using a high quality Wisconsin-based manufacturer of Pasteurized Process Cheese.” Read all about them and other Wisconsin cheesemakers at

So it seems you don’t have to visit Weyauwega in order to get a taste of Weyauwega cheese. But if you ever do make it out to Weyauwega and you want to sample the cheese and see where it is made, let me know. I’ll happily bring the crackers.


10 Reasons to Love Weyauwega: The Ponies!

France has the Eiffel Tower. Italy has Vesuvio. And Weyauwega has its ponies. It has a lot of other things, too, but today we’re going to talk about the ponies.

To be clear: I don’t mean ponies in the technical sense of the word, which (according to our old pal Wikipedia) in the singular–pony–officially refers to smaller, compact breed of horse with a slightly thicker mane than the average equine. Nor do I mean ponies in the fantastical sense of the word, which (according to my formerly five-year-old daughter and a significant number of her peers) lovingly refers to a smaller, highly prized breed of plastic one-toed ungulate with resplendent, multi-color manes and tails, symbols called “cutie marks” stamped on their butts (which are simultaneously the most adorably deceptive and politically correct synonym for livestock branding you’ll ever read here or anywhere) and a diverse and devoted following of obsessed fans.

Rather, I’m using the word ponies in the diminutive sense, as one does when saying kitties to refer to cats, puppies to refer to dogs, or bunnies to refer to rabbits. Or like when someone uses the phrase ‘playing the ponies’ to make off-track betting sound less like gambling or to jokingly convey to the detectives on Law & Order that someone else’s harmless pastime may be in fact a serious problem.

You may be surprised to find horses included on a list of reasons to love Weyauwega. Especially since Weyauwega is geographically part of the Midwest (as opposed to the Old West or the Wild West) and doesn’t have a significant number of living, breathing horses within its borders, the town has a relatively high number of non-living, non-breathing horses adorning its streets, signs, and other fixtures. The perhaps unsurprising explanation for the ubiquitous equines is that the city leaders—past and present—wanted to recognize the importance of horses to the history of the community by adorning the place with images of them at work and play.

Incidentally, a similar phenomenon occurred with respect to the Native Americans who originally lived and traded in the area. Although the city leaders chose to recognize the importance of Native Americans to the history of the community by giving it a Native American name and, later, by designating the Indian as its high school’s mascot, there are proportionally fewer living, breathing Native Americans residing here (.2% of the population, to be exact) than there are images or likeness of them around the community. I’m not suggesting that the disappearance of the horses or the Native Americans are in any way connected, but I won’t be seeking recognition from my newly adopted city any time soon, lest I disappear and/or wind up replaced by signs, statues, or swizzle sticks bearing my likeness.

The first ponies I’d like to present are these four lovelies.

Hitching Post Ponies 3Hitching Post Ponies 1

Hitching Post Ponies 2

Resembling hitching posts, they stand, two by two, on the north and south ends of the central crosswalk on Main Street. Their metal bases are cast in the same shape as many of the lamp posts lining Main and Mill Streets, and are maintained thanks to the generosity of Weyauwega citizens, businesses and civic groups.

Speaking of lamp posts, if you ever get the chance to see Weyauwega for yourself, you’ll want to be on the lookout for these beauties.

Light Post Pony 1Light Post Pony 2

As you can see, these ponies can be found, accompanied by a buggy and driver, atop many of the lamp posts along the main drag as well.

While you’re in town, you may as well drive around enough to see this pair of ponies.

Water Tower Pony

They appear on the west side of the old mill silo on the north end of town. In addition to this team of ponies and its carriage, the tower also bears several images that are of cultural significance to the city, just as totem poles of the Native Americans bear carved images that are/were of cultural significance to their communities. For the Wikipedia photo of the tower, click here.

If you can spare the time, head east on Main Street and hang a right onto Lincoln Street. From there it’s just a few blocks before you reach the entrance to the Weyauwega Senior Village (aka my future home) where stands the sign bearing another pretty pony.

Senior Village Pony

If instead you head north from Main on Mill Street, you will find the city’s largest pony.

Civil War Pony

He or she is part of the Taggart Civil War Cavalry Monument donated by George W. Taggart. According to the Weyauwega Historical Society, Taggart was a veteran of the American Civil War and the First Wisconsin Cavalry, who presented this statue to the City of Weyauwega in 1931.

The final photo in this post WAS going to be of a gorgeous, life-size bronze statue of a horse rearing back on its hind legs. Unfortunately, after spending more than 9 years at the corner of Main and Pine Streets, the statue is suddenly and inexplicably gone.

That’s right. Hoping to provide a photo of the amazing and detailed creation for this blog, the Jarhead and I drove over to the corner of Pine and Main streets only to discover the sad, sawed off remains of its wood and metal mount sticking out of a berm beside the sidewalk.

Pony Stump

I seriously could not believe my eyes. Or my luck. For more than 9 years, folks driving through downtown Weyauwega couldn’t miss the blooming thing and then days—perhaps even hours—before I’m scheduled to capture it for posterity—boom! It’s gone.

Disappointed, the Jarhead and I drove all over town—arousing the suspicions of untold numbers of residents, visitors, and local law enforcement officials—as we searched every yard, driveway, street, parking lot and alleyway in hopes of discovering it standing with its front legs raised high in at its new home. But alas our efforts proved fruitless.

I’m hoping it was taken down for maintenance and due to be back on display later this summer. If so, you can count on me to provide a photo of it all spiffed up and clean. But for now, we’ll both have to settle for this street view image captured by Google Earth in 2009.

Pony 2009 Google St View

It doesn’t begin to do the subject any justice, but I suppose it’s better than nothing.

Meanwhile, thanks for tuning in again for 10 Reasons to Love Weyauwega! With any luck, the items I plan to discuss in the next post won’t disappear before I can photograph any of them!


10 Reasons to Love Weyauwega: the Neighbors

It must be said that among all the moves we have made, the welcome we’ve received from our new Weyauwega neighbors has been one of the warmest. That’s not to say we haven’t been greeted warmly in the past. It’s just that when you move as many times as we have, you’re bound to run across some folks whose attitudes and actions make you wonder if you’ve chosen the wrong place to live.

Case in point: The first public official to greet us when we moved to our last house was a member of the Oshkosh Police Department, who drew his gun, commanded the Jarhead to freeze, and subsequently handcuffed, detained, and interrogated him right in the middle of our own driveway (for more on that story, check out Mistaken Identities  posted 10/27/14.)  Compare that example with the actions of the first public official to greet us in Weyauwega, who walked over from his place two doors down, told us we had quite a project on our hands, handed me a business card that identified him as the mayor, and invited us to come over for a beer any time we like. Talk about neighborly.

“Well of course he’s going to be nice to you,” you might be thinking. “He’s just hoping you’ll vote for him in the next election.”

But it’s not just the mayor. Last winter, the guy who lives just across the street from us plowed our driveway after almost every snowfall without our having ever asked. We would show up at the property planning to clear the driveway before the contractors arrived and work commenced, only to find it already cleared and ready to go. It took some investigation to figure out who was doing us this tremendous favor, and when we finally discovered who it was, we were even more grateful because this guy and his wife not only have lives and jobs of their own, they also have a toddler with a rare form of cancer. Again, talk about neighborly. I mean above and beyond neighborly.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have neighbors like ours. I recall a former colleague of mine once telling me that when she moved into her home, one of the neighbors welcomed her not with a smile or a wave but with legal action demanding that she trim and/or remove a tree that had been growing on the property for years before she ever bought it. And what’s even more shocking is this: not long after our son and daughter-in-law bought their first home, their neighbors came into their yard and literally tore out a 20 foot-long retaining wall while the ink was still drying on the closing documents. So not cool. So NOT neighborly.

Now, some may assume we’ve been greeted so warmly because Weyauwega is a small town. But having lived in my share of small towns—and in case you haven’t—I can tell you they’re not always what they’re cracked up to be. One can hope the folks there are all sweet and sunny like the Mayberry-ians on The Andy Griffith Show, or crazy and charmingly kooky like the Cicely-ians from Northern Exposure.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Because for every calm, reasonable Andy Taylor there’s a paranoid pain in the ass Barney Fife, and for every philosophical piano-flinging Chris Stevens there’s at least one Ed Gein (for more on THAT guy, check out Turnabout and Fair Play posted 3/21/16.) Besides, to suggest that these folks are neighborly because they live in a small town implies that folks who live in larger towns and cities less neighborly, which simply is not true.

But our new neighbors are top notch, and one of the best reasons to love Weyauwega!


Oh Why, Oh Why Weyauwega

According to industry experts, the average person moves about every 5 years or so, for an average total of about 12 times over the course of a lifetime. Like most military families, the Jarhead and I have far exceeded those averages, having relocated from one locale to another a whopping 12 times between 1985 and 2015, and having changed addresses within an individual locale 7 more times on top of that.

Impressive, I know. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

Okay. That was a lie. I’m actually exhausted from doing the math.

You may recall reading some of these statistics in a post I published many moons ago that included other figures of an equally arresting and fascinating nature. Essentially I boasted that the Jarhead and I had just set a record for the longest time spent living in a single residence. At the time, I had expected to occupy that home for quite a while, and was looking forward to seeing just how high we would be setting the bar for that record if and when the time came to pick up and move again.

Well, if-and-when came a lot sooner than I expected. It arrived on September 6, 2017 to be exact. Although we had bought another home more than a year before that, it needed a lot of work and we weren’t entirely sure what we would do with it once the repairs and improvements were completed. Eventually, however, we decided it made sense to downsize and so, after 8 years, 10 months, 2 weeks, and 2 days in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, we officially became residents of (drumroll, please) Weyauwega, Wisconsin. In case you’re wondering and/or are not of the Cheesehead persuasion, it’s pronounced “why-oh-WEE-guh.

Since we began the process of moving to our newly adopted city, we’ve been asked the same question by many people: why Weyauwega?

Oddly enough, the majority of the people asking this question are themselves of the Cheesehead persuasion. In fact, 90% of those asking, “why Weyauwega?” are current or former residents of Weyauwega, with another 9.9% being residents of Oshkosh and other parts of the Fox Valley. The remaining .1% are from out of state and I mention them only to prove that I understand percentages and can add to 100.

At first I didn’t know what to make of such inquiries. Given the derisive laughter that accompanied some—okay, most—of them, it seemed as if the people asking the question weren’t seeking our perspective as much as offering their own. But having passed hardly any time there apart from the handful of hours we’d spent house-hunting up to that point, we had no clue as to what they might be trying to say.

So I would tell them the truth: We chose Weyauwega because it’s 30 miles closer to my dear Auntie Chachi (who was in failing health and who, sadly, has since died) without being further away from our son and daughter-in-law. In short we chose Weyauwega because of geography. Pure and simple.

It wasn’t a particularly sexy answer, but what was I going to say? That we were looking to cash in on the hot real estate market? That we wanted to pay more money for less variety at the local grocery and convenience stores?

I wasn’t about to say any of that to anyone–least of all a potential neighbor. Nor could I cite climate as the basis for our decision. Oshkosh and Weyauwega are only 30 miles apart, after all, and while I’m no meteorologist, I suspect they share an atmosphere. So I stuck with geography.

The reactions to our explanation were mixed. Most people nodded in amusement or smiled in a way that suggested we were naïve. Or maybe stupid. Or even crazy.

A few, however, appeared mildly offended. I imagine they were expecting us to wax romantic about the many virtues of their fair city, like the views, the lake, the boating, and the fishing. But unlike my brothers, we don’t fish or own a boat, and the only views to be seen from our place were the backyards of the homes behind and beside ours, and the feral cats who routinely hunted, mated, and defecated outside the condemned house across street.

A few others posed follow up questions, such as, “What are you going to do there?” and, “Make meth?” Which, I suppose, is an option. But unlike my brothers, we don’t know how to…

I’m just kidding. My brothers are hard-working, upstanding, law abiding citizens. Besides, if one of us were going to wind up making meth, it is far more likely to be me. Everyone knows I’m the bad seed.

Again, I wouldn’t know how to respond. Like the previous questions, I suspected these were less about our personal employment goals than a comment on the economy and/or job prospects in and around our adopted community.

Combine that with the fact that we didn’t really KNOW what we were going to do. As the proud owners of a beige 1950’s ranch with urine soaked hardwoods, bad plumbing and rotten subfloors, which we’d only bought after forcing our realtor (aka El Noble) to show us every single 3-bedroom fixer-upper and/or foreclosure that came on the market within the city limits, we didn’t have a firm plan other than to fix it up and sell our current home.

We briefly considered selling the new one instead. Especially after my Auntie died two weeks after we’d bought it and I no longer needed to live closer to her. But the new house was smaller and had fewer stairs, and the Jarhead and I aren’t getting any younger.

So we decided to forge ahead with our plan to move to Weyauwega. The Jarhead would keep working. He’d just have a longer commute. Unless he decided to retire.

After that, who knows? Maybe we’ll start a business flipping houses. Maybe we’ll get an agent, buy some musical  instruments and a big bus, and go on tour like the Partridge Family. Suffice it to say: we’ve got options.

And now—eighteen months and thousands of gallons of plaster, primer, and paint later—we know exactly what we got into, and have a far clearer picture of what Weyauwega has to offer.

Take the name, Weyauwega, for example. It doesn’t look to me like it should be hard to pronounce, but for some folks apparently it is. So much so that there are articles and videos all over the internet that include it as one of the Wisconsin towns that out-of-staters most often mispronounce. Check out one of my favorites by clicking HERE! Stick with it til the end, and ye shall be richly rewarded!

Although the folks in the video are Texans, the difficulty isn’t necessarily related to proximity. The men in my family were all born and raised in a state with towns and streets with names like Hiawatha, Minnehaha, Winona and Shakopee, but they still have to say “Weyauwega” three or four times before they get it right.

Hard to pronounce or not, it’s still a cool name. According to Wikipedia, Weyauwega means ‘here we rest’ because “the town’s origin was a stopping/resting point between two rivers when Indians had to portage their canoes.”

Seems appropriate to me. Although I don’t foresee myself and the Jarhead doing a lot of portaging in the future, once he’s retired, we do expect to get our canoe on, and to do a lot of resting.

Well, that’s it for this episode. Be sure to tune in next time when I present—

The Top 10 Reasons to Love Weyauwega!

See you then!


Wisconsin: What’s not to like? (Okay, so there is ONE thing.)

In case you’re new to my corner of the Internet and/or haven’t been following this column for the past three years, the Jarhead and I are relative newcomers to Wisconsin. We moved here in 2009 after relocating about every two or three years for the past twenty-four.

That’s not hyperbole. Take a look at my resume if you don’t believe me. Based on how many jobs I’ve had and in how many states, it would not be unreasonable to wonder if I have a problem with authority or commitment. Or if we’re on the run from the law. Or in the Witness Protection Program.

It’s tempting to think I’m exaggerating. Especially, it seems, for folks who have lived in the same town their entire lives. To them (or you, if you’re among them) the idea of having lived in more than ten dwellings in eight states is daunting if not unfathomable. In fact, the very thought of moving to another HOUSE makes many of them weak in the knees—never mind moving to another city, state or country. So when they find out just how many times we’ve packed and unpacked our stuff and how many homes we’ve had to buy and sell, they tend to get short of breath and start having heart palpitations.

It only gets worse when they find out that we’ve never spent more than one day touring homes before buying one of them, and have always bought one of the first six we’ve seen. Because most of these folks will have looked at between 30 and 60 homes before deciding to buy their first, and those we’ve met who would like to find a different one will already have spent years looking before finally pulling the trigger or giving up the hunt.

Talk about a waste of time. I mean, as much as I love looking at houses on HGTV, I do NOT want to spend days, much less years looking for a place to live. Find me five to ten options, and I am happy to look, compare, and then choose from among them the one that suits me best. Just as I don’t need to see every head of broccoli in the grocery store in order to choose one to cook for dinner, neither do I need to see every house on the market—today, tomorrow, and next week, month or year—in order pick one to live in for the next few years or so.

In fact, never the type to do things half-way (or the easy way, for that matter) we bought our current home—a Midcentury Eyesore, to be exact—before the old one even sold, and started contributing to the local economy by purchasing the tools and materials we would need to fix it up way before we understood everything that needed fixing. In short, we went all in. And we’ve never regretted it.

And why would we? Wisconsin is wonderful. The people here are the most personable in the country.

By that I don’t mean Wisconsinites are nice. Minnesotans are nice. We’ll smile at you and open doors for you, and insist that you take the last of whatever’s available at the sample stand at Cub Foods (which counts as nice EVEN if we know there’s something fresh coming out of the toaster oven in 90 seconds, by the way.) But as many have observed, our niceness seems rather deliberate—as if we want you to like us, if only in passing, or we’re hoping it will stop you from killing or maiming us.

But Wisconsinites aren’t just nice. They’re not necessarily even all that polite. They’re actually very direct and honest which is refreshing—if somewhat disconcerting—to someone who is accustomed to indirect speech and habitual courtesy. More importantly, they’re warm and personable—as if they are really glad to see you.

But it isn’t just the people and their warmth that makes Wisconsin great. Or the cheese. There is also the scenery, the parks, the pace—which is perfectly situated right around brisk but never reaches frantic—and the fresh, clean air. And it probably doesn’t hurt that Milwaukee, Madison, and most of our relatives are close enough to visit but not close enough to see every day.

In fact, about the only downside to living in Wisconsin is having to deal with some really lousy drivers. I say this because among these warm and personable people dwell some of the most confounding operators of motorized vehicles I have encountered in my life. Chief among my complaints in this regard are those who underutilize their directional signals; those who turn right or left or go straight from the wrong lane; and those who can’t seem to fully grasp the purpose of a passing lane.

Of these, the underuse of turning signals is the least infuriating. Sure, it’s frustrating when the driver in front of you starts to brake for apparently no reason when you’re going 55 on an open road—especially in broad daylight—and continues braking past four or five possible turns before simultaneously putting on his or her signal and executing a left. But it’s not as bad as getting into the left lane behind a sedan whose driver decides only after the light has turned green that he/she would like to turn right, forcing you to sit idle as he/she waits for traffic to clear so he or she can switch lanes while kicking yourself for taking that route in the first flipping place. And while it can be annoying to sit at a stop sign waiting for a vehicle coming from the left to pass only to have it suddenly, and—again—without signaling—turn onto the very same street you are on; this pales in comparison to almost being fatally injured because a driver chose to come straight through an intersection from an oncoming lane that is designated for left turns only.

Most confounding of all, however, are the drivers who view passing lanes—those rare and beautiful features of the rural landscape that were designed, I’m sure, to preserve the collective sanity by making it possible for one to overtake slower drivers on single lane roads without risking life and limb—as their own personal race tracks. On virtually every trip I’ve made between southeastern Minnesota and the Fox River Valley I have become an unwitting competitor in a drag race against someone who had been driving sub-50mph for the better part of the previous hour.

Maybe that’s why they’re so friendly in person; they’re making up for that fact that, behind the wheel, they’re dangerous.

It bears mention here that not all Wisconsinites are bad drivers, and even those who are don’t count among the world’s worst. Having lived on both coasts and in Italy, I can attest that this distinction belongs to suburban Philadelphians. Technically, suburban Neapolitans are just as bad, but they’re sexier with it. Like leather and miniature cars, vehicular incompetence just looks better on Italians.

A significant difference—besides the languages—between bad drivers in here and those near Philly and Naples is that you expect Neapolitans and Philadelphians to be bad drivers. Around Philly—where some have raised rudeness to an art form—bad driving is but one aspect of a general lack of courtesy. I won’t pretend to understand this since Philly is supposed to be the City of Brotherly Love, but it goes a long way toward explaining why someone will cut you off and flip you the bird for being in the way in the first place.

In the case of Naples, bad driving is also an aspect of the general approach to life. Although they are not a rude people, Neapolitans are impatient and intensely competitive, and this translates into what looks like rudeness to Americans (especially Minnesotan-Americans.) Not wanting to wait their turn, they will cut in front of you not only on the road but also in line at the store—and attack you verbally if you attempt to stop them or return the favor.

It is with this in mind that I am so profoundly confounded by some of the drivers in Wisconsin. Given how genuinely warm and friendly they are in person, I’m at a loss to explain the utter lack of sense, awareness and courtesy they show behind the wheel. It’s positively fascinating—in a circus side show, or Unsolved Mysteries kind of way.

Still, if being surrounded by bad drivers is the price you pay to live here, I can accept that—although apparently not quietly.


December 2019
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