It’s Wednesday night as I write this and I have just returned home from a trip to Milwaukee and Chicago. I have been home for about two hours and I am happy to be here. Buttfor and Bumhug are pleased to see us. I am relaxing on my own couch after staying in two generally marginal hotel rooms. I am not subtly (or not so subtly, depending on the temperature) sweating on account of the semi-oppressive summer Midwestern humidity. When a vacation ends, I am almost universally happy when it does. The only thing better than going on vacation is coming home from one.

With that said, one thing I will miss greatly from this trip is the uncanny politeness of Midwesterners. For as friendly as Westerners are (and they are), they’ve got nothing on the generosity, pleasant demeanor, and goofy charm of our Scandinavian friends to the east and north. That’s why they’ll always be a CJS Thing We Love.

When Lady E and I began planning this trip several months ago, we had always planned to go to the Windy City for Taste of Chicago and a Cubs game. Chicago is our nation’s 3rd largest city, so we would definitely not be lacking for things to do. However, after hearing too many anecdotes about tailgating before a Milwaukee Brewers game and a highly entertaining episode of “Drinking Made Easy,” we decided to tack on a two hour trip up the road to the town Algonquins refer to as “Milly-wah-kay,” or “The Good Land.”

Part of my cockeyed plan was to show up with beer and snacks at the stadium and just find some friendly folks to drink and bullshit with. Understandably, Lady E was leery of my half-cooked idea and expressed her trepidation thusly, “Are we really going to another state to drink with fucking strangers? Is that the whole plan?” Yep! I assured her pretending not to notice the genuine (and warranted) concern in her voice.

The truth is I knew it was a stupid plan, but had unyielding faith in the Midwesterners. I knew they’d come through and we’d be swimming in folksy conversation and grilled meats.

Sadly, our pre-game execution was poor and bordered on inexcusable. Thanks to a morning spent on the quirky Brady Street, where we visited stores with goofy names like Art Smart’s Dart Mart and drank $2 Blatz beers followed by a trip to Great Lakes Distillery where I unnerved a kind, young earnest gentleman with an ill-timed gay joke (that was at my own expense), we were running behind and a little bit buzzed.

With no grocery or liquor stores in the immediate neighborhood of Miller Park, we ended up at one of the most frightening bodegas either of us has ever set foot in with a lonely twelve pack of Miller Lite cans and no food. We wouldn’t even have anything to offer our new friends making the leap of faith that much greater.

However, all fear was assuaged when we arrived at the impressive tailgates of the Midwest’s finest folks. The precision with which these folks carry out their tailgating ritual is to marveled at, and probably should be documented, put in a time capsule, and studied by future generations. You’ve never seen people work so fast and so efficiently just to sit down.

In a matter of less than five minutes, everyone has exited their vehicles, propped open their chairs, lit the grill, set up the cornhole game (or “bags,” if you’re less into gross metaphors), opened a beer, and look like they’ve been sitting for the last hour. They work at roughly the same speed as the vampires on “True Blood.”

Since all we had was our sad ass twelve pack of beer, Lady E and I could just gawk the entire thing. It wasn’t until I got three beers deep that I broached conversation with our most immediate neighbors. We complimented their set-up and told them we were from out of town. We noted that we always wanted to experience a Brewers tailgate for ourselves and that we were happy to be there.

That was all it took. We were in. We became part of the family. Over the next two and a half hours we learned all about these fine folks who drove in from three hours away. Here’s a small collection of random tidbits about our tailgate neighbors:

  • The older couple’s son races motocross and they went to Denver once. They enjoyed their time there, but found the weather dry.
  • The grillmaster grilled himself a veggie burger in order to offset beer calories and stifle weight gain. (Savvy!)
  • They wish they could make more trips to the park, but living as far away as they do means they don’t get to come to Miller Park as often as they’d like. (Although it sounded like they made nearly weekend trips)
  • Noting some paint on my rear fender, the older gentleman told me a lengthy tale of getting shafted by his rental car company and hoped I’d “wrote down all the damage beforehand.” He seemed genuinely concerned.
  • They offered us burgers, brats, and old school Taco Flavor Doritos. We accepted all.

We even snapped a photo with them before heading into the game that will be saved just for us for now. As we walked in, Lady E turned a phrase around on me that I usually say to her (because it’s basically always true): “You were right. You’ve always been right. You’ll always be right.”

She had a blast with our new friends, and we showed up with nothing more than a throwback Brewers t-shirt on Lady E and a 12 pack of Miller Lite. And we were taken in by sweet, innocent, kindly Midwesterners who welcomed us like old friends. It was a great day at the ballpark.

For those of you who have spent significant time in Wisconsin or Minnesota, you’re simply nodding your head in recognition of this behavior. I knew a plan such as this would only work at Miller Park for a couple of reasons. The first is that only Miller Park has tailgating before a freaking baseball game. The second is that I know the spirit of the Midwest. I knew we could show up with basically nothing and still tailgate like a champ. (Sidenote: In a weird way, it was a lot like getting to experience what it’s like to be a good looking woman who goes out to the clubs on Friday night with no money and still expects to have a great time. It’s a weird feeling of confidence.)

Which isn’t to say we went with the intention of taking advantage of these folks. Quite the contrary. We fully intended to show up with fun snack foods, but simply drank too much and fucked up. It’s a common refrain around CJS offices. But I also knew I couldn’t plan to tailgate with strangers anywhere else considering the suspicion of the rest of the world. If tailgating before Cubs games was a thing, I’d never show up hoping to party with strangers. And that’s my own favorite team! This only works in Minnesota or Wisconsin.

Additionally, everywhere we went we were met with disarming friendliness and a delightfully off-putting upbeatness. Friday night as we bombed up the Edens Expressway at the tail end of a long day of travel, I said to a driver not moving fast enough in the left lane “Get the fuck out of the left lane, guy!” As if he heard me, the blinker of this car with the Wisconsin license plates immediately went on and casually moved a lane over as if to say, “Oh, sorry. Here ya’ go.”

I felt almost bad at my psychic poisoning of the good attitude well, so I apologized to the gentleman in my head. “Whoa, sorry for the hostility, pal,” I said to myself. “Ah, no problem there, buddy. I know ya’ didn’t mean nothin’ by it,” my diseased brain answered for him. Even my road rage is tempered by the Midwest.

In an increasingly cynical world, the parking lot of Miller Park is wonderfully anachronistic. Time stands still, and for the length of your tailgating experience, you’re part of the home team and the community. You drink beer, you eat grilled hamburgers, and you make new friends.

And then you never forget them.

Thanks for the great time, Milwaukee! Hope to see you again sometime soon!

edagger@crujonessociety.com