Surviving Milwaukee

After an arduous week-long journey from Scotland via Ireland and England and Canada, I’ve been living in America, in my new city, Chicago, for a grand total of three days… and its now time to up and leave again on another trip. As coincidence would have it, two of my very good friends are getting married (to each other) in a town called Wausau in up-state Wisconsin this weekend. I’ve come this far, I’m sure as hell not going to miss this. It’s only the neighbouring state, how hard can it be?

How hard indeed.

The first part of the journey was actually without much drama. I did get of the Blue Line a stop too early and had to walk the rest of the way to Union Station without actually knowing where I was or which direction I needed to walk in, but that went surprisingly well and I made it to the Megabus stand with plenty of time to spare. My bus to Milwaukee, where I’ll be spending the night, was on time, and in just over 2 hours I was standing at Mulwaukee Intermodal Station at about 11:30 pm, with a fairly good idea of where I was going next. I had actually chosen the hotel I was staying at for two reasons. First off, I am poor and it was cheap, but second, It was about 30 minutes walk in a straight line from the station. And that sounded like a pretty manageable endeavour, even at this hour.

Milwaukee Intermodal Station

I had been walking on this non-complex trajectory for about five minutes, and I was standing at a crossing waiting for the walk signal, when a bus peeped at me. I smile politely at the driver and go back to staring at the lights. He peeps again. I look into the bus and he’s waving at me to get on, so signal to him that I really am quite happy walking, and go back to waiting for my light to change. He then opens the doors and starts to shout at me to get on…

…I oblige, because at this point it seems like he really hasn’t understood my pedestrian intentions and I’ll need to explain them to him in person. Just because I have a suitcase, doesn’t mean I’m needy, right? He asks me where I’m going and I tell him I’m staying at the Days Inn and Suites, that it’s about 25 minutes walk up this very street, and that I am quite capable of walking there unaided. He looks at me like I’m crazy. “You shouldn’t be walking around this part of town at night on your own.” I assured him that I would be fine and that it really wasn’t far, but he frowned a lot and told me that it was actually quite far, that it was all uphill, and badgered on about this side of Milwaukee like I’d probably be killed or something before I got there. I gave in, and started rummaging in my purse for some coins for the ticket, but he waved me on. “Just sit down and I’ll tell you when to get off!” What a lovely man. I feel guilty for trying to shun his services… there was me thinking he was trying to wangle an extra fare.

After about 5 minutes he pulls up outside my hotel. I stood up, thanked him for his kindness and was about to get off when he stops the engine, gets out of his booth, grabs my arm and pulls me off the bus. “What’s your name?” he inquires. I tell him that my name is Hannah. “Well Hannah, I don’t like that you’re staying here. This is a bad neighbourhood”. After a brief Q&A session he manages to establish that I was staying for one night, and that I’d be leaving at about 7am to go back to the Intermodal Station. Might I add that at this point we are still standing on the pavement beside the bus (which is full of passengers that are staring at us, probably wondering who this damn white girl is and why on earth the driver has stopped the bus and got off just to speak to her). Anyway, turns out he was super worried at how I’d be getting back to the station in the morning, so he gave me a free ticket for the bus in the morning, told me that there would be one at 7:05, and that I should NOT hang around. He then shook my hand, bade me farewell and got back on his bus, leaving me standing, semi-baffled, on the pavement, looking around at the neighbourhood that had instilled in him such fear for my safety. It wasn’t exactly beautiful, but it didn’t seem too much worse than some other places I’d been. I scoffed inside my head. How bad can this place be?

How bad indeed.

The door to my hotel was around the side of the building, and I walked into the lobby to a full blown riot. People were yelling, bottles were being thrown, there was broken glass everywhere, security was manhandling people out of the building, others fleeing the scene, a girl was screaming that her phone had been stolen, people had been punched. You get the picture. I still have no idea what actually happened, but I just stood there by the door, taking it all in as things calmed down, drunk people started milling out of the bar, and people swarmed the reception desk wanting moved to other hotels. Apparently the police had been called a while ago but, as one of the security guys said “This is Milwaukee, the police never come if something’s actually happening“. The poor girl at the desk was obviously pretty shaken up, but she handled the whole thing really well negotiating early check-outs and refunds with enraged guests. I continued standing by the door until everything with them was sorted (this was about an hour later and the police still hadn’t come) at which point I approached and said “can I please check-in?”. She seemed surprised that anybody would want to check in to this place after everything that had just gone down, but by this point I just wanted a bed, behind a locked door, so that I could get some sleep before my early train.

[UPDATE January 2015: apparently at this very same hotel last week, two people were shot and one woman killed in a robbery. Looks like the bus driver was right, and I have really shitty judgement about what constitutes a safe place to stay…]

The hotel itself was actually very nice, and I bolted myself into the room, shut the curtains, put a chair in front of the door (just in case), had a shower and went to bed… waking up in the morning not refreshed at all. Breakfast was really good; full cooked range, sausages, eggs, hash browns and whatnot. Turned out there was actually a free shuttle from the hotel to wherever you want to go, so I didn’t even need to use the free ticket the lovely bus driver had given me, and I arrived back at the intermodal with plenty of time before my Jefferson Lines bus to Wausau was supposed to arrive. All was good again…


…Except that the bus didn’t come. They said it would be an hour late, then they said two hours, then they said three. It was supposed to be a four hour bus ride, and the wedding was due to start at 4pm. My 8am bus therefore would have got me in with plenty of time to get to my hotel, get myself beautified, chilled out with some of my friends that I hadn’t seen in years, and gone with them down to the country club. Even factoring in time for a pretty serious delay, I was going to have plenty of time. More than FOUR HOURS LATER, after having sat in the freezing cold station where the only thing on television was GOLF (in Scotland, of all places) and with some dude persistently talking to me about his coin collection, the bus finally arrived. Probably not on time for me to make the ceremony.

By some miracle of unfathomable magnitude, there was a decent wifi connection on the bus, but, predictably, none of the electricity sockets were working. Having already wasted 5 hours worth of battery life sitting at the station I was seriously low on juice by this point, which was not ideal as, once (if) I arrive at the bus station in Wausau, I’ll be needing to call a cab to take me, preferably at 100mph, to the wedding. Looks like the travel chaos isn’t over yet…

Did I make it in time for the nuptials? Did I get stranded in back-of-beyond Wisconsin with no phone and no hope?

Tune in for the next post to find out.

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