I left Chicago behind in the fall to set out on a new life adventure in the wild Northern hinterland– or as close as someone like myself raised on public transportation and urban decay can get to the concept of “hinterland,” which in this case would be Milwaukee, just an hour and a half away from the good old Windy City. I have utterly failed to do so.
So far I’ve got to say that it hasn’t really grabbed me like previous places have. It’s nice and all, and it’s got the kind of things a hipster would deem as essential on a checklist: thriving microbrew culture, a restaurant scene isolated from highway chains, local artsyfartsy coffee joints that even sell their own house-roasted beans at the neighborhood organic food market. Oh yeah, and a neighborhood organic food market, music venues with indie performers often playing the day before or after a show in Chicago, record stores, and it’s even the homeland of the one and only Pabst Blue Ribbon, which has got to score MKE some extra cred. Everything is ripe for the kind of atmosphere that can take a person and sweep them into a storm of “omg SOOO indie” that they might never escape from, or at the very least wake up ten years later with eight awful tattoos and a baby that they’re raising on soy milk and gluten free bread with a hyphenated last name and a first name like Willard.
So… why hasn’t this happened yet?
I can think of a couple of reasons: pace and space. There’s no energy here, at least none that I can sense. It might be possible that everyone else is on a totally different wavelength, but I suspect that the pace of life, even in large cities, is more variable than I originally thought. A city like Chicago or New York is just fast; something that you know by instinct your whole life, even if you have never gone there. And once you do, that pace is like an atmosphere or a gas that seeps into you, you can feel it and sense it by the way the people are driving on the road. Even pedestrians on the sidewalk move faster. Try to spot the tourists the next time you’re in a fast city: even without cameras or gawking, people are passing them up on the sidewalk because they just know. And once you live for a while in a city like that or even take a vacation there, after day five or so you’re converted to their fanatic’s pace. Now sleep is no longer important; if the day suddenly had 36 hours in it, that’s 30 hours a day to do shit! Hit the bars, catch that show, spend an afternoon crate-digging with your friend for German new wave records that you can use to sample in your instrumental hip-hop side project that you have together, and still manage to meet up with that one guy who wanted to feature that weirdo cabinet you found at the thrift store in his art gallery, after the two of you decided that it would look a lot better with stolen subway graffiti fixed to it. You’d still only get five hours of sleep and it would be hipster as fuck.
Of course, something like that happens only because you’re forced to meet people, and you meet people a whole lot easier when everyone lives on top of each other. Your upstairs neighbor might be a stick in the mud who hates when you and your hipster associates party on Tuesday nights because Friday nights are passe, but you know and like everyone else in your neighborhood because the code minimum distance between houses in the city is six inches and if you don’t live in a house, your’re in an apartment with shitty rent so a three bedroom has six people living in it.
The pace is off and the space is too plentiful, and everyone eats too much cheese which slows people down and makes them boring, and has got to be the hidden third reason I’m moving back to the 312 as soon as I figure out how to fake my own death to escape my student loans. And hack a billion dollars from someone’s Wall Street hedge fund so I can live as the undisputed God-Emperor of Hipsters.