Travelogue: Joliet…via Mukwonago – The Road to #MAMA17FR

2017 Lexus LX 570
All Photos by Randy Stern

I really wanted a vacation…

For some, a vacation is a week away from home, going somewhere enjoyable, and doing something relaxing. I should be doing that. I know I have to do that. But, I'm constantly working. I have to hustle to get content to you. I'm doing what I can to get you to read this…

Sadly, vacations for me usually range from a day to maybe a few more days. Then, it's back to work. Heck, I end up working when I'm supposed to be on vacation. I guess I'll survive on minimal sleep and forget about any health issue I might have…

However, I did the following. I planned a getaway to return to the Midwest Automotive Media Association's 2017 Fall Rally at Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois. Part of this plan is to stay with a friend in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, southwest of downtown Milwaukee. Also part of this plan, I will spend some quality time with said friend to do things in a place I have not visited in eight years – the aforementioned city of Milwaukee.

This meant some changes in the annual MAMA Fall Rally routine. Normally, I would stay overnight near the venue in Joliet. Due to some budgetary issues, I opted to stay overnight at my friend's and drive down that morning to MAMA Fall Rally, with a plan to return back to Mukwonago for my final night there.

I knew that this would not be a straightforward road trip. There were some challenges along the way. One just happens to be a huge one: the 2017 Lexus LX 570 I was sent to drive to the MAMA Fall Rally. As I established in my review of it – it's pretty big. We're talking 6,000 pounds of large SUV powered by a 383-horsepower V8 wearing Illinois license plates.

I know I should not be worried about driving a large SUV from Robbinsdale, Minnesota to Joliet, Illinois via Mukwonago, Wisconsin. How many Cadillac Escalades and Lincoln Navigators have you seen traversing Interstate 94 between the Twin Cities and Chicago? A lot, to be exact. So, I should have nothing to worry about, right?

If anything, I am very glad that all of the construction projects were put away. No single-lane traffic for miles or any lowering of speed limits. Just a smooth pre-dawn departure out of the Twin Cities into Wisconsin. Somehow, I retraced last year's steps: Breakfast and fueling at a truck stop in Roberts, a rest stop at another in Black River Falls, a refuel in Mauston and another rest stop in Cottage Grove.

The LX 570 arrived into Mukwonago after a brief stop to get my friend Jason's (belated) birthday card at the Target in Delafield. I was great to see him after a year from the last time I saw him. We need to stop these once-a-year visits. He is a wonderful friend and is worth many visits year-round.


For his (belated) birthday, I took him to a great restaurant in Mukwonago – Fork In the Road. It was busy that Saturday night, thanks to Homecoming dances at both nearby high schools in Mukwonago and Waterford. They sure dress up fancy for Homecoming in these parts. You'd think it was prom night or the Fall Formal.

I did surprise Jason with a birthday tiramisu. Well, I did tell our server that it was his birthday two days prior. And, lo and behold…he was surprised. Jason's definitely worth it.

Sunday was all about spending some time with Jason. We began our day with a fundraiser pancake breakfast at the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee. They reside on a campus that included the convent, a beautiful chapel and a school on a campus at the corner of Greenfield and Layton. The surrounding neighborhood was charming as it sits at a crossroads between two blue-collar cultures. The campus was indeed a haven amid classic Milwaukee.

Why did we go to a pancake breakfast? Jason works as an information technology analyst for a consortium of libraries located at smaller colleges and universities across Southeastern Wisconsin. He is based at Alverno College, another Catholic institution in the southernmost section of Milwaukee and one of eight institutions Jason's position supports. He learned of the fundraiser from his colleagues at Alverno, therefore Jason pointed our way there. He even pointed out how this group of nuns were involved in social justice and did not care who was around them at any time.

It was indeed off of my usual beaten path. Though I was born Jewish, I am not someone who does religious things anymore. It was also a very Milwaukee experience that embraces generations and many cultures together – both supportive of the city's legacy and an antithesis of what it has become today in the eyes of the public outside of this community.

Afterwards, Jason and I made our way to the Landmark Oriental Theater for a showing of a film that was part of the Milwaukee Film Festival. This theater sits in the heart of Milwaukee's East Side – Farwell and North. The neighborhood is an intersection unto itself – the old monied Eastsiders living in mansions and older apartment towers near Lake Michigan and younger, hipper people coming either from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee campus or have since moved into the area.


The film we saw was a Portuguese suspense thriller called "The Ornithologist." Rather than describe the film, let's just say that (a) it was indeed a film festival-goer selection, (b) it gave Jason and I some interesting reactions and (c) it was a complete juxtaposition of the pancake breakfast at the convent to a film based on the story of Saint Anthony of Padua. As Jason remarked, "well, we supported the arts today."

I suppose you can get a real review of "The Orinthologist" from Rotten Tomatoes or my acquaintances who are movie reviewers, such as Alonso Duralde, Dave White, and Chris Hewitt.

Jason and I needed a bit of a drive after the movie. We did stop by the Milwaukee LGBT Center, located at the old Blatz brewery site near downtown Milwaukee. The staffer we spoke to told us the challenge of the location – a mix of converted condominiums and office space. They were talking about another location move with five years. For the services they offer, they would need a more geographically accessible space with the balance of parking and transit access. It is a good center that seemed right for the community it serves – and beyond.

One thing that I came away from our visit to the Center was the lack of a true LGBT press in Milwaukee.They used to have a newspaper for the community, but they have since acquiesced most coverage to another alternative publication and to Madison-based Our Lives magazine. As a writer for my local LGBT press back in the Twin Cities, I was looking for another publication to find a syndication partner for my work. Perhaps I do not see Our Lives as a partner in that respect. Then again, who knows?

To round out Sunday, we had a quiet evening. Sometimes, vacations can be about doing almost nothing. Perhaps a quick bite to eat, some grocery shopping, and some taking care of our business. It was a way to recalibrate ourselves.

As with vacations, there is a transition to another phase. For me, Monday was not the end of my time away from home, but it was a point where the focus was on work. My main goal was to do the photo shoot for the LX 570 in Milwaukee. I had a few ideas in mind, but I also know how tricky they would be on a Monday to accomplish. That also includes finding a car wash that would be convenient to ensure the cleanliness of the vehicle subject before taking photos.

2017 Lexus LX 570

Granted, I am not a hardcore photographer. Nor do I do hour-long-plus sessions with automobiles. I usually spot, position, aim, shoot…and get the heck out of there! Oh, and transfer the images to my laptop for finishing. Now that I gave away my photographing secrets…

Prior to getting out for the photo shoot, Jason and I woke to another report of a senseless act that occurred in Las Vegas. The magnitude of this incident was great – a challenge to those of us working in social media. Getting psyched to do any work that is not congruent to the temper of the world has been dampened by competing forces in the media. Do you go forth and do you work? Or, do you acquiesce to the temper of the world and pause?

Then, there was the report of Tom Petty's death. Rather, the bungling of the reporting of his death. The singer, songwriter, and musician did die after being taken off life support after a massic cardiac arrest at his home in Los Angeles, but the mixup in reporting through the source – the Los Angeles Police Department – and a mainstream news outlet – CBS – did throw me for a loop. It is a frustrating business that media people have to do – I know, I'm in it. But, Petty, the Heartbreakers, and the Traveling Wilburys did provide their contributions to a vast musical soundtrack that helped me get through the ebbs and flow of my life.

In-between these media dispatches were the reacquainting of Milwaukee. Several attempts of a photo shoot brought me to the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds, Miller Park, the Miller Brewing Company's (er, MillerCoors…or, should that be MolsonCoors?) historic plant, the Port of Milwaukee, the Historic Third Ward, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Lake Park, the East Side, and downtown. There was a decent yield from these locations. You probably saw them on my social media and on here.

Further explorations brought me to the suburbs. Mainly in Brookfield, Waukesha, and the community I was staying at – Mukwonago. It also yielded a car wash in West Allis after attempting to do one in Hales Corners/Greenfield. In all, Milwaukee is an interesting city that is often compared to as a Midwest version of Baltimore – on many levels. But, it should not detract from its uniqueness – a certain Wisconsin air in a community rooted in a deep industrial history encompassing of what it has sowed to the world.

Downtown Milwaukee 2017

In my meanderings on Monday, I began to question what kind of connection I have with communities. Before I even considered those questions, I had to recommit to my reason for being in Southeastern Wisconsin in the first place – a vacation with some episodes of work.

Those questions were set aside on Tuesday – my final full day in the Milwaukee area. It was a mix of final errands to prepare for the MAMA Fall Rally. Plus, the usual workload with clients, finalizing magazine assignments and other work-related stuff.

One thing I am grateful for is that my host/friend was cooking dinner for us. In turn, I would help with some preparation and clean up afterward. Mind you, this is not an Airbnb, but it comes with a sweet guy and a safe and consistent place.

Perhaps this is better than hassling with the out-of-towner hotel set up for MAMA Fall Rally.

It was a pre-dawn departure from Mukwonago to the MAMA Fall Rally in Joliet. My calculations show a run of about two-hour and fifteen minutes between the two places, using a route that is mostly on the tollway system. The LX 570 has enough gas to get there. I could top it off. I could just say "screw it" and go for it.

I left early enough. Perhaps too early. The route I ended up taking headed south out of Mukwonago into Waterford and out towards Racine before reaching Interstate 94. Then, it became a miracle. I always dreaded Chicago area traffic. But, I left too early to find out how easy it was to get down to my destination where there is just enough traffic to follow the flow. I reached my destination well before my estimated time. All I had to do was wait for registration to open up.

Downtown Milwaukee 2017

So, what did I really do? Vacation? Well, yes I did. Spend quality time with friends? For one person, absolutely. Did I accomplish anything? A few things? Did I have a good time? For the most part, I did. For those “most parts,” I thank Jason for those moments.

On to the next…the MAMA Fall Rally!

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.