It’s my favorite day of the year–the annual pilgrimage to Summerfest. The Fest is a tradition that’s picked up momentum over time and created a focal point for an annual Milwaukee reunion of a bunch of friends that go as far back as Catholic grade school. This was my time to let loose!
We’ve been going together since the largest music festival in the U.S. wasn’t much more than a muddy field with a raggedy tent, a rickety stage and a beer stand on the shore of breezy Lake Michigan. We danced our butts off on top of picnic tables to CCR, Tina Turner, Kool and the Gang, Tom Petty and the Heart Breakers, Bonnie Raitt, The Thunderbirds, Morris Day and the Time, Joan Jett, The Go Go’s, Pearl Jam, Stevie Wonder, BB King and way too many others to recount.
Typically, the event starts with me, Tom my husband, and California Dave heading off to Slim McGinn’s (Now O’Lydia’s) where a quick vodka and lemonade buys us a trip on the “slimozine” to the front gate of Summerfest where we meet the rest of our posse.
Dave left Milwaukee for warmer weather in 1977. He vowed never to come back again in the winter. And he didn’t except for one snowy December 22 years later when a family member died. He showed up at our door wearing snow pants. Dave is the party instigator too. He’s the one all of the old friends gather to see. The one who says, “Of course we can go to Summerfest five days in a row” not considering that some of us aren’t on vacation.
This year, we parked the car a few blocks away as usual but when we walked around the corner to Slim’s, we were surprised by the presence of a horse and carriage “parked” right in front of the door.
“Why not?” said Dave.
“How much to take us to the Fest?” he asked the top-hatted driver.
“Ten bucks a piece,” she said.
Given that we were now empty nesters with 401k’s and pension plans, $10 for a one mile ride meant nothing and we jumped right in without question.
A big smile spread across my face as we began our journey. The lowly people who had to walk gazed upon us with envy. Anxious drivers stalled in the tangle of traffic and gas fumes rolled their eyes as we passed.
“This is the life,” I said and the three of us giggled at the clop, clop, clop sound of the big Clydesdale.
But after a few blocks I started to notice that the walkers were moving faster than we were. In fact, they were passing us. The driver was doing her best to be gentle while encouraging the horse to keep moving. The three of us exchanged wary glances.
“How old is this horse?” I ask.
“This old girl is about 27,” she said.
“Is that pretty old for a horse?”
“It depends,” said the driver. “If they’re well cared for like old Cindy here, they can live 25 to 30 years.”
We didn’t say another word for the rest of the slow trip which concluded with sighs of relief.
“Well, it’s a good story to tell,” said Dave, as we walked toward the entrance.
Tom legitimately qualifies for the senior citizen discount so we sent him to the ticket booth to make the purchase while Dave and I held a place in line for the gate. Saving a few bucks on the tickets would make up for the splurge on the horse and buggy ride. We still like to be frugal 401k and all.
We inched our way forward until it was our turn to submit to the search which is now standard for all big public events. Back in the day, I just shoved a few bucks and my ID card in my pocket and went. But now I have to bring a purse, a big cloth hippy bag to carry my wallet, cell phone, lipstick, glasses, allergy pills, some tissue, and a sweater in case I get cold. I strap it across my chest so I can keep my hands free to hold a beer. The guards waved a metal detecting wand over my body and took an obligatory peek into my hippy bag and I was able to join Dave and Tom who were already through.
We headed straight for the nearest beer stand. A Miller Lite in my hand and I was awash with euphoria. Let’s get this party started. Dave calls the look I get on my face my “perma grin.”
Now it was time to hook up with the two other Toms, Tom P. and Tom H., and Tom P’s kid, Rudy. (Tom was a popular name during the Baby Boom.) We surfed through the streaming crowd like the Summerfest pros we are and found them quickly.
“Heyyyyy,” the guys said and slapped each other high fives. And right behind us, a group of younger guys snickered and did the same thing.
“We’ve been mocked,” Dave said with mock outrage, and we laughed. We started to head off for the first band together and to meet some more friends– Pat, Carl, Terry, and Gebs but we had to wait for Tom P. to pee first.
There they were, right in the usual location, Miller Stage to the left of the beer stand on the far left. The conversation was lively. Catching up on kids and jobs, health and erectile dysfunction. Dave’s daughter started college. My grandson started first grade. Carl got another promotion. Tom’s brother had prostate cancer.
I went to get another beer and find a nearby picnic bench to sit on. My bunions were killing me. I watched my friends from a distance for a few moments and noticed that everyone except for Tom P.’s teenage son was wearing glasses; and that they all had grey hair; and that some of them hardly had hair at all. And except for Dave who wears a circa 1994 Mexican Fiesta shirt, when did they all start wearing baggy Hawaiian shirts?
I stood up to rejoin them and as I did I felt a quick slap on my ass. What the hell? A guy actually smacked my butt. I was stunned. It was a young guy who just kept moving through the crowd with his buddy without even a backward glance. The feminist in me wanted to go after them and give them a stern talking to about respecting women.
Only Dave saw what took place. He moved to my side quickly.
“Did that guy just do what I think he did?” Dave asked.
“Yep,” I said.
“See, Elaine, you’ve still got it,” said Dave with a laugh.
For a moment I was flattered. And then my face flushed as the realization overtook me. “No, Dave. I think I was mocked,” I said.
After waiting for Tom P to come back from the bathroom again, we reassembled and took a position on the benches for the main reason we were there—George Clinton and Parliament, a funky band that fills me with glee. The band came out with a blast–Red L:ight/Green Light. It was their big hit when I saw them the first time in 1978 and it took me right back there. I was instantly a vibrant, energetic, sexy 22 year old again.
It was a spectacle. I was disappointed that guy with the big diaper was no longer part of the show but there was a young woman roller skating around the stage in a skimpy outfit, a paper mache monster with a doobie in his mouth, and one of the extraterrestrial brothers looked like he was wearing cellophane pants. Instead of the multi-colored dreds and bright clothes he used to wear, George wore a pimped out admiral’s uniform.
We all bobbed our heads and swung our hips to the funky beat, and screamed every lyric loud “WE WANT THAT FUNK, GOTTA HAVE THAT FUNK!” enjoying every blessed second of it. George took a few breaks and let his son and granddaughter do a few numbers.
Midway through the show, we slowed down and had another beer. Tom P. had to go to the bathroom again. Tom, my husband, put cotton in his ears because the loud music was getting to him. He had come prepared.
During the second set, I stopped shout/singing every lyric. A few of the guys had enough and left. After all, it was the late show and it wouldn’t be over until 10 p.m.
After the last song, Tom, Dave and I made long trek back to Slim’s on foot like we always do. “Another great Summerfest memory,” said Dave as we walked.
I tried to ignore the blisters on my feet which I thought I would have avoided given the special orthopedic sandals I was wearing. Tom and Dave talked about how the line up at Summerfest wasn’t as good as it used to be and that they hadn’t even heard of a lot of the bands that were performing. We had a drink at Slims and waited for the traffic to die down before heading home.
I was looking forward to a long sleep. But I was up before 6 with an aching neck and back. My feet were on fire and my calves felt stiff as a pirate’s peg legs. Thank god for Aleve. I feel like such a cliché. The old gray mare ain’t what she used to be.