3800 W. Burnham St., Milwaukee, WI
“I want to go with my daddy,” I always said. Black faux-leather jacket, blue corduroys, plaid shirt, and no-name loafers from Payless. Sorta kinda matching my Pop’s swag—black polyester pants, gray wide-collar shirt, and leather jacket. We got in the car, a green Mercury, and rode with the windows down. Earth, Wind, and Fire with their silky smooth harmony and trumpet blasts, high hats and snare, a little keyboard for good measure. We cruised down 35th Street, wooden duplexes and corner stores, people sitting on porches and standing on the corners. My daddy hummed, off-key and off-beat, leaning toward me as I sat in the passenger seat staring out the window and snatching glances at my daddy’s hands on the steering wheel. Obsessed with driving, I watched the street and watched him steering, predicting when he’d do a one-hand turn, his fingers spread as he moved the wheel left or right, then fingertips sliding as the power-steering brought the wheel back again.
We’d take Wisconsin to 27th, passing pool halls and liquor stores. Twenty-seventh Street turned into a viaduct, and I stared out the window at factories and warehouses, church steeples and the river. This was the scenic route and I knew it. My mother, when we had to pick my father up or drop him off, took a different way, right up 35th Street, more efficient but less interesting. Anyway, I’d get excited at the sight of the glass, alien-like Domes, a frequent field-trip destination at the time, and even though I knew what they were, had even been inside, my daddy always pointed them out: “There go the Domes.” We [End Page 1] continued south, past Honey Dip Donuts, and when we finally made the right turn onto Mitchell and rode past the park, I knew we were close. My daddy worked at Union Carbide, a gas distribution center, loading and unloading cylinders of various gases—this is actually where he met my mother—and I would die if I couldn’t ride with him to pick up his check. We’d pull up to Union Carbide, my father would run in to get his check, and then we’d be off again, gliding through the wide streets flanked by short, squat brick buildings. We’d pass the park again and stop at the Winner’s Circle.
Winner’s Circle looked like a two-story house, like many Milwaukee bars and taverns do, smokestack brick and brown wood, two cement steps leading to a recessed door. My father would take me inside with him, the tavern much smaller inside than it seemed from the curb. Dark. Smoky. Warm. He would set me up on a black leather stool, cash his check, and order a drink. He would talk with a few people inside; everyone knew him, and everyone who knew him seemed to like him. Some of them would talk to me, but I was shy then so I wouldn’t say much. Most times I’d take to spinning on the stool. He’d order me a soda, and if his drink got good to him, he’d order me a burger. Back then that burger seemed big as my head; it came wrapped in foil and hot, both in temperature and in taste, pickled jalapeño rings like islands among the melted cheese and ketchup. Maybe this is when I fell in love with spicy food. My daddy would wink at me, folks clapping him on his back and laughing as he told stories and made smartass jokes. He seemed popular. He seemed happy. Maybe this is where I fell in love with bars, and by extension, this smooth, cool, easy-going dude I called daddy.
Road Runner’s #2
1218 W. Cherry St., Milwaukee, WI
There was no way for me to know that the Winner’s Circle trips were most times problematic. The drive home, my father drunk, was sometimes scary. City streets all...