The agony and ecstasy (and accidental crack smoking) of Riverwest Missed Connections
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I moved to Milwaukee’s free-spirited Riverwest neighborhood during the summer of 2010, annoyed with the beefed-up adolescence of the East Side, but—not to sound like an old fart here—mainly fed up with my UWM neighbors shouting profane slurs while playing Halo. Grumpy fist shaking aside, the East Side didn’t seem to fit my style. Like most twentysomethings, I enjoyed drinking some alcohol with friends out on the town, but the list of watering holes I refused to set foot in again started growing longer than the ones I actually appreciated. Riverwest just made more sense. It was cheap and vaguely dangerous, like a mustachioed lead in an action-packed, low-budget B-movie. The eclectic bars and restaurants interested me. The residents seemed more closely connected to their peers than any neighborhood I’d lived in. Plus, there were the community gardens! The homemade beers! The fixed-gear bikes! The sustainability! I say those a little tongue-in-cheek, though, in all honesty, Riverwest did feel like an oasis from the burliness of North Avenue and Brady Street. Also, it felt peaceful not to hear so many people holler at their video games.
Living in Riverwest turned out to be the most enchanting, adventuresome time of my life. Any night of the week my favorite places—The Gig, Uptowner, Foundation, Art Bar, Fuel, and Bremen Café—bustled with aging bohemians, scraggily beatniks, and, of course, heaps of arty intellectuals. There were many boozed-up nights spent smoking cigarettes outside of one of those establishments and happening upon some strange, engaging individual. Anybody contained within the confines of Holton Avenue and the Milwaukee River should share a similar experience.
Lately, those late-night dust-ups have been circulating on a Facebook page called Riverwest Missed Connections. When I first came across the listing through a friend, my eyes popped. A format for residents to share their messed-up misadventures from the night before? Yes, please! Sure, many of the comments are pure, nasty trash—the types of things that only exist on the crudest parts of the Internet—but that’s to be expected from a place that anonymously posts people’s darkest inner sexual desires. What I enjoy most when reading the numerous updates—which hit your newsfeed in barrages—is that many encapsulate everything I found tantalizing about Riverwest. The comments are funny, self-aware collages of neighborhood debauchery. I believe a page like this works best (or is at least the most bitingly funny) in Riverwest because its residents are likely to do some crazy shit, and are self-aware enough to poke fun at themselves. On top of that, it’s nearly impossible to separate the true stories from the made-up ones.
I reached out to the page creators, who were hesitant to divulge their identities for obvious reasons; instead, they claimed the Top Gun call signs Mav (Maverick) and Ice (Ice Man). The idea, they tell me, spawned after Mav accidentally smoked some crack outside of a Riverwest establishment, and felt like it might be fun for Riverwesters to share their bizarre neighborhood experiences. They started back in March, and a dedicated following started to form, culminating in under 2,000 “likes” as of this writing, and a spin-off—another must-read, Riverwest Confessions.
“I posted one myself once—a confession anyway, because us moderators have confessions, too—and everyone commented on it thinking it was fake when it most certainly was not,” Ice said. “So really, who knows? That’s kind of the beauty of the thing.”
“I think you’d be surprised at how many of these are at least based in truth or composites of several true stories,” Mav continued. “I mean, if I’ve learned one thing over the years in Riverwest, it’s to not underestimate the completely insane shenanigans that people get into here. We’re a proud community of ne’er-do-wells and horny misanthropes. It’s a delicious recipe for madness.”
I moved south to Bay View about six months ago, which comes as an unmistakable heresy to every hardened, crusty Riverwester. It’s a change that seemed right at the time, but now feels like some retreat to the suburbs—but that’s an entirely different conversation. I still make the six-mile trip north to Riverwest routinely to relive those scummy days. What I’ve come to realize is that I mainly miss the people you happen on randomly. I even attempted to garner a notable “Riverwest experience” last Saturday night with the expressed intent of meeting some rough-and-tumble neighborhood people, but the results were underwhelming. Other than being offered some enhanced weed (definitely not crack, I think), everyone seemed like extremely nice, normal human beings with no ultra-peculiar perspective. Ugh, how dull. I immediately realized that those experiences could not simply be manufactured. They just happen. So, for now, I only have to look at a Facebook page for some good nostalgic escapism; but frankly, nothing beats the real thing.
So what say you, readers? What are your favorite Riverwest encounters?