A reprint of my column in the Kenosha (Wisconsin) News:
I have a confession. Brace yourself. I live in Illinois. There, I said it. Please, don’t stop reading.
Even though I’m from “south of the border,” it’s only by a block and a half. And that’s how I explain to people where I live, a block and half south of Wisconsin.
Here’s another confession. You’ll enjoy this one. I don’t like Illinois. We have found a way to be weighed down by astronomical debt and excessive taxes and fees, all at the same time. The highways are choked with traffic, potholes, and orange construction barrels. And four of our seven last governors became guests at the Gray Bar Hotel. Chicago is its own little arrogant, over-priced kingdom and the rest of the state suffers from too much flatness, corn, and soybeans.
Here’s another confession. You’ll really like this one. I love Wisconsin. Your have beautiful hills and forests, streams and lakes, awesome beer and brats, and a couple of decent sports franchises. I love Cedarburg, Port Washington, New Glarus, Old World Wisconsin, Miller Park, The Milwaukee Art Museum, Discovery World, and so much more.
Closer to home, I love Kenosha. When we first moved to this area, I vaguely remember, a huge pile of rubble and a large fenced off area on the lakefront. Now you have one of the most beautiful waterfronts of any city I have seen. You are an example to the nation of how industrial waterfront property can be reclaimed and redeveloped. It’s like a mini Grant Park, only the walkway is not totally choked with walkers, runners, bikers, and skaters. I regularly ride my bicycle from Carol Beach to Wolfenbuttal Park enjoying the beauty of the parks and the homes along the way.
You really know how to use your lakefront, too. You have lot of festivals! Taste of Wisconsin, the Frontier Rendezvous, and the Tall Ships are our family favorites. The weekly Harbor Market is a lovely way to begin your Saturday and my wife is a regular vendor there with her jewelry business. What an amazing location and charming market!
Your Fourth of July celebration is in a class by itself, and it keeps getting better every year. It is the perfect combination of lake, lighthouses, beach, picnic, carnival, live music, spectacular fireworks display, and lots and lots of people.
There is such a musical heritage in Kenosha. My wife and I love the Anderson Twilight Jazz series, the Kenosha Pops, and the Peanut Butter and Jam concerts. We go to several of these every summer. Besides offering great music and being free, it is the beautiful location that makes each venue so much fun.
We are drawn to Kenosha when we want to dine out because you have so many unique, family-owned restaurants, from Twisted Cuisine to The Coffee Pot, nostalgic drive-in restaurants, and the growing array of the national franchises out west.
When my Ford Escape comes to Sheridan Road or Lewis/39th Avenue, it hardly knows how to turn south anymore. You have Woodman’s, the one and only Tenuta’s, brightly-colored streetcars, marvelous museums, true neighborhoods with their own shopping areas, redeveloped industrial sites, very few blighted areas, a proud Italian/ German/Irish heritage, a great connection with the fine arts, and downtown populated with hidden gems that is destined for renewal. You gave the world Orson Welles, Don Ameche, and Mark Ruffalo. Things are looking up too, with all of the new construction and accompanying jobs.
The very best thing about Kenosha is that it is a real city with its own rich culture and not just part of a greater metropolitan area. You should feel good about your city.
If the necessary factors come together for us, we will eventually move to Wisconsin. I am one of a whole chorus of people I know in my little corner of northeastern Illinois who shop, dine, and seek out entertainment in Kenosha, who hope to join the wave of folks that have relocated on the other side of the cheddar curtain.
So, the next time you encounter an Illinois license plate; I hope you will look on us with less disdain. We can’t help the way we drive.
Photo credit: Jimmy Emerson. Creative Commons.