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Riverwest: It's not for everyone.
Riverwest: It's not for everyone.

Goodbye, Riverwest

I moved to Riverwest in 1993 and rented an apartment with a friend on Pierce Street. I came in search of cheap beer and cheap rent and because so many of my friends had relocated already to the neighborhood in search of the same things.

When I wasn't writing confessional poetry on the forearm of a philosophy major, I drank Stein at the Stork Club and the Hop Inn. I danced at the Mars Hotel, watched crappy punk bands at Quarters (hey, I was in a crappy punk band so I can say this) and ate mayo-heavy sandwiches at this brand new cafe that brought the '90s coffee shop concept to Milwaukee called Fuel Cafe.

When I was super broke, I went on the Lakefront Brewery tour for $2 when the brewery was still a one-room operation on Chambers Street, next to Dino's, where I ate about a thousand plates of fried fish.

In 1997, I bought two houses in Riverwest: a single family and a duplex for about a nickel each. In 2003, I sold these houses for about a dime each to pay lawyers so I could bring a 9-month-old Guatemalan boy with wild curly hair and a penchant for mushed-up bananas over the Texas border.

Both of my kids spent most of their lives hanging out in Riverwest, from friends' backyards to the Riverwest Co-op, Gordon Park, Children's Outing Association (COA), the playroom at Rio West Cantina and in stimulating, colorful classrooms at La Escuela Fratney.

In 2005, I created an outdoor communal living space on Booth Street with a friend who owned three properties surrounding my property. We literally tore down fences, put up one fence around the parameter of the four yards and created a green space that, over time, looked like this place my kids believe in called heaven.

Riverwest inspired me. I wrote hundreds, maybe thousands, of poems and essays and articles from my bubblegum pink home office. I planted begonias and broccoli and gourds and garlic and tomatoes and tulips and sometimes, sunflowers on the sly in public places just to spruce up the neighborhood. (Actually, many of the Riverwesterners I know are like sunflowers with hardy stems that soak up toxins and with faces filled with cheer and light.)

So many people and places defined my 18 years of Riverwest bliss, from the lady with the snake wrapped around her neck at Locust Street Festival to the always-2-for-1 happy hour at Art Bar to Wednesday night bowling at the Polish Falcon.

Over the years, people moved from Riverwest in fits and spurts to "safer" neighborhoods. And I witnessed crimes, even took a couple of direct hits, but I never felt the need to move away despite suggestions that I should.

"Riverwest is not for everyone," was usually all I would say. "But it works for me."

And then, one day, it didn't. Not because of the neighborhood, but because of my need to plant sunflowers in fresh spaces. After a series of endings, I had this deep desire to bust out of the one-square-mile radius I had lived in my entire life. And so I folded up my futon, extinguished my incense and moved to Walker's Point.

Talkbacks

space_cadet | March 8, 2012 at 4:15 p.m. (report)

Very nice article that reminds me of so many great times and interesting people I knew in Riverwest from about 1993 until about 2006. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, knew Molly when she was 18, glad to see her recording worthwhile experiences to share. I think I understand the comment re. snobbery, based on nickles and dimes, though I never saw her as such. Perhaps there is something unsettling about referring to a house price as a "nickle", which is apparently code for a large amount of money ($50,000?). I'd love to be wealthy enough to see 50 grand as a nickle, 100 grand as a dime!! Thank goodness some of us made it, and the rest will keep trying. Love.

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ntylla | June 24, 2011 at 10:15 a.m. (report)

I too have just left Riverwest after 6 years. I'm now back in Bayview after living there first in the early 90's( when it wasn't cool to live there.) I didn't move for any reason but Molly's, a new perspective on life. New view. I miss Riverwest for it's originality and tenacity, my numerous excellent friends and acquaintences. It was the first neighborhood I truly cared about, proud I was an important part of the texture of living there. I volunteered at the power down festival, helped out at Rockerbox, enjoyed the Locust St. Festival, spent my money in all of the neighborhood restaurants and bars. Indeed there are issues, but as with anywhere, you take the bad with the good and try to do your part to make it just a bit better. (ie planting flowers, starting a block watch, attending meetings at the police department, etc) And, if you look at is as a whole, it's Milwaukee. And anywhere in Milwaukee is cool enough.

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bennyjet | June 22, 2011 at 10:22 a.m. (report)

35432 you had me up until the ending. Was there a larger reason or specific incident that led to the move? Why Walker's Point? Feels like a lateral move to me. Will there be a follow-up: "Hello, Fifth Ward".

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bennyjet | June 22, 2011 at 10:20 a.m. (report)

35432 You had me right up until the end. It seems like you have more to say, like an incident which leads to the move, or better explanation to the specific choice in the move (which feels kind of lateral, quite frankly). Is there going to be a part 2: "Hello, Walkers Point"?

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Bayviewboozer | June 22, 2011 at 5:47 a.m. (report)

Why all the bayview haters? Not enough violence for you.

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