Unfolding the Map
William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) drops off Stacie McDougald, his teen hitchhiker, at her grandmother's house and realizes that he got some kind of Wisconsin experience, though not exactly what he expected. Preconceptions will be the topic of this post, along with a little bit about the team that put Green Bay on the map - the Packers. Just where is Green Bay cartographically? Do an end run to the map!
"'If you took me on to Green Bay you could get the ferry across Lake Michigan. You wouldn't have to drive through Chicago. Please?'
"I agreed to it although now I would be across Wisconsin without really seeing Wisconsin. Later, as we drove along state 29 through the moraine country of dairy farms and fine old barns, across the Embarrass River, it occurred to me that I had seen something of Wisconsin. What I hadn't seen was the Wisconsin of my blue highway preconceptions. Little is so satisfying to the traveler as realizing he missed seeing what he assumed to be in a place before he went.
"At Green Bay the smell of Lake Michigan blew in strong. The girl directed me to her grandmother's house. When we arrived, she became excited and jumped down and ran to the bungalow. Then she ran back to the truck.
"'Hey! What's your name?' I told her. 'Okay. Keep on truckin.'"
Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 12
Green Bay, Wisconsin
"Little is so satisfying to the traveler as realizing he missed seeing what he assumed to be in a place before he went."
I really enjoy this bit of a mind twister that LHM has thrown on us. It's all about preconceived notions, and we all have them and we all get caught up in them, so much so that we often talk ourselves out of going places or being places that might actually be interesting because we already know what they are like. Or, we get to some place and it doesn't fit our mental image of what that place should be like.
This morning, while I was at the dentist, I was talking with the hygienist who was scraping away on six months worth of plaque and tartar buildup on my teeth. She asked me if I had any plans for the summer so I told her, in a sort of, "I ah going oo Ooo Ork i ah ate ing or a edding" (translation: I am going to New York in the late spring for a wedding). She asked if I was going to New York State or City. "Itty," I said. She then told me her mom had grown up in Long Island. So I said "Oo ust ave een oo Oo Ork a ew imes" (translation: You must have been to New York a few times). "My mom lives here now," she said, "and I've never been there." "Illy?" was my astonished reply. "I?" "Oh, I've never liked crowds," she said.
So, there's a preconceived notion that has kept this woman, who likes museums and other things cities have to offer, from going to New York. I've been to New York many times, and yes, I have had to deal with crowds on the subway and in certain places. But the city is a big place, and you can find areas of the city that at times are just as quiet as any smaller place. If the reason that she hasn't gone to New York is that she doesn't like crowds, she's missing out on a fantastic experience.
I try to fight against others' preconceived notions as much as I can. As some of you know, I visit Mardi Gras in New Orleans every year. I have to defend Mardi Gras from those who have only seen Girls Gone Wild or pictures of Bourbon Street and have preconceived notions that Mardi Gras is a drunken sex-fest, rather than the culturally complex and significant, family-friendly event that I know. I have a friend who insists on painting the South with his preconceived notions of illiteracy, inbreeding, radical conservatism whereas the South I have experienced is much more nuanced, extremely cultural, complex and filled with some wonderful people.
So, I love how LHM realizes that even if he hasn't seen the Wisconsin of his imagination, he has seen it. He has seen it in the amusing and often tragic stories that Stacie McDougald, his teenaged hitchhiker, has told him. He has seen it in the supper clubs and the gift shoppes, in the diary farms and the barns. He sees it in the industrial city of Green Bay.
One place that does live up to preconceived notions is Green Bay. Green Bay's biggest export, the symbol of the city that turns it from a forgotten northern outpost to a world-class sports city, is the Green Bay Packers. It's too bad that LHM does not make a trip to the ultimate destination in Green Bay, Lambeau Field. Green Bay has Christian churches, but the real shrine of the city is where the Packers play. Nowadays, you can see the remodeled, refurbished stadium and the Packer Hall of Fame (both places that, sadly, I have never been). The team is so identified with the city and its people that there is is anywhere from 86,000 to 96,000 people on the season tickets waiting list, and a possible wait of up to 956 years. People designate recipients of such tickets in their wills. When the stadium was recently remodeled and the sod replaced, people paid money to buy a bit of the old sod, called "the tundra," and I'm sure that some still have pieces of it in their freezers.
The Packers are also unique in the modern era of sports in that they are not owned privately, but are owned by the community in the form of shares, and have a governing board that makes team decisions. It's the only reason that Green Bay, the smallest market among professional American football teams, has been able to maintain one of the longest-lived franchises in the National Football League.
I have not spent much time in Green Bay proper, but I have friends in De Pere, the town next door, that I have visited. One cute fact about the Green Bay Packers is that unlike other professional football teams, they do not have a cheerleading squad. Instead, the local liberal arts school St. Norbert College loans the Packers their cheerleaders. It's wonderful bit of wholesomeness in the often unwholesome world of sports.
Preconceived notions, whether they live up to our expectations or not, can be a limiting factor in our lives. If there's anything that I hope that Littourati will do, I hope that it will help banish preconceived notions and get you thinking about things you haven't considered, read books you've never read, and perhaps even visit a place or two that you never thought you'd visit. Keeping open to new experiences is life giving and acting on that openness can be life changing.
Go explore, Littourati!
Since Green Bay isn't known for much outside Wisconsin besides the Packers, I'm going to give you a triple shot of musicians and/or celebrities who are natives of or who lived in Green Bay.
In 1986, Timbuk3 shot to the top of the charts with The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades. Here is Pat MacDonald, Green Bay native and one-half of Timbuk3, with his new project Purgatory Hill (his bandmate is Milwaukee singer-songwriter melaniejane). The song was originally performed by Timbuk3 and is called Count to Ten.
I was introduced to Mystery Science Theater 3000 while living in Wisconsin, and it turns out that Joel Hodgson, one of the creator's and the main character in the show, is a native of Green Bay. If you haven't seen MST3K, it is a great way to watch a lousy movie. Unfortunately, the end of the theme song gets cut off, but you get the idea.
Leo Ornstein, a resident of Green Bay in his later years, was a composer and pianist known for his modern and experimental piano pieces. For many years Ornstein was the oldest published composer after he published a piano sonata at the age of 97.
If you want to know more about Green Bay
City of Green Bay
EdGeinsFurnitureSeconds (badly named food blog)
Fox Valley Foodie (blog)
Green Bay Botanical Garden
Green Bay Chamber of Commerce
Green Bay Nightlife.com
Green Bay Press Gazette (newspaper)
Heritage Hill State Historical Park
National Railroad Museum
University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
Wikipedia: Green Bay
Next up: Kewaunee, Wisconsin