Off-Topic Tuesday: Cork and Sprinkle

Since a couple of readers seem to like the travel pieces, here’s one more, which was written for my original blog, the Daily Aneurysm. Back when I was traveling for work, I found that in hotel rooms late at night, it was a lot more pleasant to write about my journeys than it was to write about politics.

Nope, no politics for me tonight. Too much highway. Today I traveled from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, to Kalamazoo, Michigan—not a scenic ride, but the place names are poetic, at least. “Wauwatosa” is another of those Wisconsin place names unpronounceable by outsiders without help (it’s “wau-wah-TOE-suh”), like “Waukesha,” (“WALK-ee-shaw,” not “wau-KEE-sha,” as foreigners often guess), and the king of them all, “Oconomowoc.” When Wisconsin natives want to know whether someone else is a native, we just point to Oconomowoc on a map and ask how it’s pronounced. If you’re from Wisconsin, you know that it’s pronounced exactly like it looks: “oh-CONN-oh-moe-walk.”

The ride from Milwaukee on I-94 to Chicago (known locally as the Tri-State Tollway and Edens Expressway) was a new experience—I’m not sure I’d ever been that way before. Among the odd sights along the way: a sign along the Edens, obscured by overgrown shrubs, that read “Buy your TV from a technician!” (Hey kids, once upon a time, there were men who would come to your house to fix your TV when it broke!) I also passed a truck with the words “Kosher Meat Klub” stenciled on the driver’s door. It figures, I thought—I was passing near Skokie, after all, the most heavily Jewish city in Illinois. It turns out that Kosher Meat Klub is a supermarket located on Burleigh Street in Milwaukee. The locals pronounce it “BURR-lie.” In my family, we pronounce it “BURR-lee,” because it happens to be my father’s first name. (He is kosher, though, but only in the non-Jewish sense of the word.)

I also took the Chicago Skyway on this trip. It’s widely assumed to be part of I-90, but because it was built and operated by the city of Chicago, it never became an official part of the Interstate Highway System. It’s impossible to miss once you get on 90 south of the Loop, and so everybody passing through Chicago ought to take the Skyway at least once. It’s a spectacular high bridge that provides some impressive views of the southern end of Lake Michigan and the industrial heart of the Chicago area. It was nearly abandoned in the 1980s, but has just undergone a renovation, and in January of this year [2005], was privatized—a group called SCC paid the city of Chicago nearly $2 billion for a 99-year lease. At $2.50 toll per car times the number of cars passing through in a day times 365 days a year times 99 years, I think the city got hosed.

Off the southern end of the Skyway, on I-90, you pass through the steel mill district of Gary, Indiana. I’m not sure how much steel they’re making anymore, because it seemed pretty quiet down there this afternoon. Once you clear the mill region and rejoin I-94, the stretch of northern Indiana along I-94 beyond Chicago would get my vote for the ugliest interstate landscape in the country. But it’s only about 40 miles’ worth, and soon you’re in southern Michigan. It’s wine country along the first 60 miles or so, with several wineries located within a few miles of various interstate exits.

Pretty soon, you roll into Kalamazoo. The hotel in which I am staying is at the corner of Cork Road and Sprinkle Street, which I find unaccountably humorous. If there isn’t already a liquor store somewhere on Cork Road, I may have to open one.

But not tonight.

(Originally posted on September 28, 2005.)

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