Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Who says travel has to be a drag with nothing but plastic over-priced food, long stress filled lines and TSA officials with big chips on their shoulders. If this has been your travel scenario then you haven't been to Milwaukee. General Mitchell Airport is no slouch of an airport.
In "Love Actually" you see Colin Frissell entering the US and leaving from an airport with Milwaukee Airport signage placed in a snow covered art director's version of Christmas in Milwaukee. Had it been the real MKE Colin might have thought twice about his hasty departure.
First there's the shopping. For the conservatives there's a Brooks Brothers
and the PGA Tour shop filled with monograms, Weegens, and LaCoste. It's all a little stiff for me so I'm safe bypassing these two shops. But if tartan plaids and shoes with tassels and spikes on the bottom are your thing Milwaukee's got 'em.
For those with a bit more zip there's a Harley-Davidson shop for your Easy Rider side. If the smell of leather and feel of real steel are your thing then spread those legs and mount a hog at this store. Actually I'd never connect my desires and the word "hog" in the same sentence but the leather fashion can still be a real turn-on.
The gift stores sell the ubiquitous objects you can find worldwide: earphones for your ipad, blow-up neck pillows and four dollar bottles of filtered water but what makes these gift stores special is the ability to purchase real synthetic Wisconsin cheese heads. You can drop some real coin for cheese heads in four different sizes from Papa bear to Mini Me.
Yet the most impressive retail outlet on the concourse is Renaissance Books, a rare and used bookstore that would be equally at home on the Left Bank in Paris as it is in Milwaukee.
Peter Greenberg, The Travel Detective, said it is one of the reasons he inserts a trip through Milwaukee into his itinerary at least once a year so he can submerge himself in the smell of old books at Renaissance Books.
History is not left out of the package of things to do at General Mitchell. There's, appropriately, the Mitchell Gallery of Flight. A museum dedicated in general to the history of aviation and in particular to how it connected to the Milwaukee area.
There's a replica of the Wright Brother's plane attached to the ceiling rafters.
A model of Lindbergh's "Spirit of St. Louis" flies just outside the museum entrance commemorating Lindbergh's visit to Milwaukee on August 20, 1927.
General Mitchell was a significant military figure and is considered the father of the U.S. Air Force establishing air power over ground conflict as the over-riding force in combat.
There is also a large tribute to the astronaut, James Lovell, another Milwaukee hometown hero.
The dining and drinking, what would Wisconsin be without beer, are not neglected at General Mitchell. There's a standard food court,
the ever present and ever needed Starbucks (at least for me)
and one of the best burger and malt joints this side of the Mississippi. I've downed a slider and slurped a super thick black and white while waiting for a flight sitting at one of their formica table and vinyl chair sets.
The newest addition to the food emporium is the Miller Brewhouse. The swankiest bar in Milwaukee serving perch tacos, steamed edamame, the world famous Wisconsin butter bacon cheeseburger and what else…beer.
You can sit at your own personal pub table with self-serve draft beers purchasable with a credit card. The only catch, a two-pint maximum on your card.
But the most amazing bit of Midwestern creativity isn't in the shopping experience but occurs after having passed through the metal detector machines on your way to your departure gate. After having suffered the humiliation of stripping off my watch, my shoes and my belt, after having to place my computer in a separate plastic bin and then being asked to take off my jacket, after dumping my change in a small plastic cup, after having to walk through the detector for a second time because I forgot I had my cell phone in my back pocket and had to dump it on to the conveyor before I could proceed through the metal detector for the last time, I finally crossed to the other side and what to my wandering eyes should appear but an area with extra chairs and a very official sign  designating it as a legitimate recombobulation area. Now I know the word and I can easily define it but my spell check won't recognize it no matter how I try to reconfigure it. With my shoes, belt, jacket, watch and change tucked under my chin, wrapped around my arm and grasped tightly in my hand I could think of nothing more likely to put a genuine smile on my face and diffuse any hostility I might be harboring than an area officially designated as a place to recombobulate. I dumped my belongings onto the floor just in time to catch my unbelted pants before they slipped to somewhere above my ankles and below the point of decency and began recombobulating. As I secured my pants and redistributed my worldly wealth of quarters and dimes to their proper pockets I began to relax and reflect. My recombobulating made me wish the world had a recombobulation area, a place where we could all reombobulate. It's nice to see that even in the most serious of places, an airport screening area, TSA employees in this part of the world still have a sense of humor and you can have a laugh without feeling as if you're jeopardizing the safety of the planet.
If you end up having to fly from New York to San Francisco or any itinerary that could possibly pass through Milwaukee. Take the one stop flight and rest a bit at General Mitchell.

Southwest Boeing 737-700
Jeffrey Milstein, photographer
Represented by Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles


  1. I love that bookstore and the Mitchell museum. But recombobulation is too amazing. Why we live in the Midwest in a nutshell!

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