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Sherrif Clark is Milwaukee's Marlboro Man.
Sherrif Clark is Milwaukee's Marlboro Man.

Milwaukee's Marlboro Man

I've known Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke since before he ran for office and I've always found him a little bit of an enigma.

He runs as a Democrat but is clearly a Republican. And his combative style, with supervisors, the county executive, his officers, the police chief and just about anyone else who crosses him is legend.

I have now finally figured him out.

Sheriff Clarke is really The Marlboro Man.

You know the cigarette icon who was stoic, tough, a man's man, ready to ride his steed into any battle that needed to be fought? That's Clarke.

I was watching a local television news channel this week (which is a rare occurrence in itself because local news channel is an oxymoron) and they were covering an event where Clarke was present.

My jaw dropped when I saw him. Instead of his crisp sheriff's uniform he was wearing a white cowboy hat and cowboy boots. He had on a tight red T-shirt and blue jeans with a silver belt buckle about the size of your average dinner plate. He had a black gun on his hip and a grim look on his face.

If I didn't know better, I'd think that here was a guy wandering the streets looking for the OK corral. I think cowboy hats and big belt buckles ought to be outlawed for sheriff's as well as accountants, retail salesmen, bus drivers and school teachers.

But our very own Marlboro man isn't about to change.

Grand Avenue's still got it.
Grand Avenue's still got it.

Long live Grand Avenue Mall

I was around when Grand Avenue opened in Downtown and enjoyed all of its early success. It was a magical place in the early going.

Then things began to fall apart for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was a fear of coming to Downtown Milwaukee.

Stores left and new ones came and then they left, too. Vacant shops became a real eyesore and the mall continued to try and reinvent itself.

I'm not an expert, but I always felt that Grand Avenue should be a place that had something that none of the other malls had. If you want to go to TJ Maxx or Borders or the old Linens 'n Things, there are plenty of places to go that are probably closer to where you live and have much easier parking.

I, along with lots of other people, mourned the death of the mall.

I was there the other day and I was stunned. The mall is not dead. It was amazing the amount of foot traffic I saw. Not senior citizen mall walkers but workers and shoppers. It wasn't jammed, but it was far from a graveyard.

I hope that the new plan to put those pop-up stores in the mall really works. Nothing would be better than to have a Downtown that offered boutique clothing, arts and crafts – local businesses that really have something unique to offer.

So I can be counted on as one of the hopeful, but also one of the converted who isn't going to go around bemoaning the death of the once-great mall. It just ain't dead.

Sam Llanas has talent.
Sam Llanas has talent.

Milwaukee Mafia still has it

What a night for music it was Saturday night at Shank Hall.

Back in the day they were called the Milwaukee Mafia. Victor DeLorenzo, Sam Llanas and John Sieger.

Today they are all older, smarter, better than they ever were and able to bring a crowd to its collective feet in admiration.

And what a thrill it was to see Llanas back onstage and, I think, better than he ever was.

The evening started with 1913, the two percussionists one cello group that can raise goosebumps. Their final song, a mysterious version of Ravel's "Bolero" was one of the best versions of the song I have ever heard. Unusual and excellent.

Then John Sieger and Semi-Twang took over, playing stuff from their current album, "Wages of Sin," and other Sieger songs that grab you by the neck, shake you from head to toe and leave you with a smile on your face and trouble breathing.

Finally it was Llanas' turn, with his sparse new band. I was never a huge BoDeans fan, mainly because I wasn't a huge fan of the songs. I thought they were immature and sometimes reached too hard for popular hooks.

But this new Llanas is wonderful. His hair is grey and even disappearing a little on top. But he can command a stage like few singers I've ever seen in Milwaukee. His voice has lost none of his trademark rasp. If anything he's even more in control of the stuff he sings.

He's out on the road promoting his solo album, 4 a.m. (The Way Home). The record features Llanas songs plus an incredible cover of the Cyndi Lauper hit, "Nobody Loves Me."

If anybody ever asks you if there is great music in Milwaukee, send them to see the Milwaukee Mafia in action.

Sure there's a black market, but many of us have no clue where it's located.
Sure there's a black market, but many of us have no clue where it's located.

I'm no pusher man

I was talking to a couple of people this week about the epidemic of drug use by people who use painkillers as their stimulant of choice.

We talked about young people stealing the drugs from their parents and about the high price of painkillers. I told the group I was with that I have some painkillers that I use, surprisingly enough, to relieve pain.

And I said that even if I wanted to, I'd have absolutely no idea how to go about selling these things on the street.

I don't consider myself particularly naive, nor am I afraid to go into any neighborhood in the city. But if I wanted to unload these things at an immense profit, I would be at a total loss.

I mean, what do you do? Drive around looking for people who look like drug dealers? Do you go to some tavern where you've never been before and check with a bartender for someone who's "buying?" Or do you go hang out on a street corner near a local high school winking at kids as they walk by.

Surely there are drug sales taking place all over this city almost every minute of every day. But there must be some special code or information that fuels this underground activity.

Because to me, it is so far underground I can't even see it.