Skating Away From Everybody Else

Two bikes, skates, a scarf and a sock monkey hat.

My daughter Frankie and I biked the mile or so over to the lagoons at Washington Park on Sunday.  The rain and warm weather last week may have washed away our local opportunities for skiing and sledding, but the following cold snap it created awesome skating. When I was a kid, all Milwaukee County Parks with lagoons rented skates and sold hot chocolate. I remember the lagoons being filled with people skating. I can skate for 20 minutes over my lunch hour at Red Arrow Park, but there is just something special about the natural ice of a lagoon or pond.

We ran into a neighbor skating with one of his kids at the park, but otherwise we had the lagoons all to ourselves. With temperatures in the mid-twenties, it was perfect skating weather.

Why don't more people skate?

Frankie is organizing a skating party with friends for Monday because they have off school.

I seem to be continually asking myself quesitons like that.  Why don’t more people bike short distances?  Why don’t more people take advantage of the Hank Aaron State Trail?  Why do I have to go to a different city to buy the bike I want? Even the neighbor we met skating with his son, who lives much closer and is a bike guy, commented “Wow, you guys biked over here?” He drove the 5 blocks, we pedaled 13 blocks. Why am I so different  from everybody else? At least we had skating in common.

I’m not a stickler for rules, so maybe I can still come up with a New Years resolution that has something to do with the answer to these questions.  Any readers have any suggestions that offer more insight other than accepting that “I’m not like everybody else?”

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About daveschlabowske

Cyclechic advocate from Milwaukee
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22 Responses to Skating Away From Everybody Else

  1. Lance says:

    Dave is going out of his way to do something he enjoys. It takes an effort.

    It’s easy to sit around, or to drive, especially when that is the overwhelming message from society – whether it be media, government, or popular culture. How much media coverage does outdoor ice skating get compared to the Milwaukee Auto Show? Compare the nickels and dimes federal, state, and local governments put into walking and biking to the billions (even trillions) they pour into driving. As shown in the blog here, people do not even have the sense to be embarrassed by driving five blocks. From every angle, we are bombarded by damaging messages.

    Anyway, here’s to doing what is good for you, what makes you happy, and what provides memories, even if it amounts to an act of rebellion.

  2. Travis says:

    Are there really that few places to skate in Milwaukee? Here in Madison there are quite a few places, whether they are natural lagoons (Tenney Park, Winnequah Park) or purposely flooded (Vilas, Westmorland, Olbrich, etc), and just about all of them have warming huts. Some even have skate rentals and hot chocolate.

    On a particularly busy day last year I counted almost 200 people at Tenney Park out enjoying the gorgeous weather.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Hmm, maybe I live in the wrong city. I have certainly thought that in the past. I think that question is worthy of it’s own post, or even an entire series!

  3. Kim says:

    Boy, good question. I’ve skated down at Red Arrow and have had fun, but I guess skating around in a small circle doesn’t really appeal to me that much and I don’t know of other places available. Maybe you should include a list. :)

    Also, regarding biking small distances… I only have a road bike with clipless pedals and I; 1. don’t want to walk around in my bike shoes and 2. I’m afraid of it getting stolen (my last bike was stolen out of my locked garage… and it had a lock on it). I’m planning on getting a super cool beach cruiser when I have extra money so that I can cruise the streets of Milwaukee in style…. with basket.

  4. Dave Steele says:

    This is yet another example why Milwaukee needs a serious revamping of how it funds its parks. In many large cities, including Chicago and Minneapolis, parks are funded through an independent parks district, resulting in a funding stream dedicated solely for parks. Property tax payers at the end of the year see “parks funding” as a separate line item on their tax bills.

    It really makes no sense for the County to run the parks system. The County, by law, must provide social services, run the courts and the sheriff’s department. These activities in recent years have taken up larger and larger shares of the County’s budget resulting in less money for parks. So bit by bit, things like skate rental and warming huts went away in our parks system.

    Our former County executive, now Governor Scott Walker was actually open to an independent parks funding source. Since any major change would require State action, maybe we will see a radical shift in parks funding in the coming years.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Excellent point, the lack of rental skates and a place to warm up certainly has a lot to do with the demise of ice skating. As for very-soon-to-be Governor Walker, he can take some credit for doing a lot with a little when it comes to our Milwaukee County Parks. I give most of the credit to Sue Black, Guy Smith and the other parks employees who managed an amazingly high esprit de corps despite limited funding. I personally saw the parks improve quite a bit under their recent management. Even in their presently underfunded state, our local parks remain a treasure. I have great hopes for a separate parks district (along with a regional transit authority), but since it is the one of the few gems in the county’s basket of rotten eggs, I doubt the board or next executive will want to give it up.

  5. Bad Santa says:

    Since I am new to bike commuting and using my bike for small errands maybe I can shed a little light on why it is so unusual. Unfortunately the comment I get most often is “you must be crazy to bike in this weather”. The second most popular comment I hear is something like “aren’t you worried about falling or getting t-boned by a car?”

    The general perception for some strange reason is that biking is somewhat dangerous and a little crazy. (At least thats what the comments imply). Since I have ridden almost exactly 3000 miles in 6 months I can counter these comments with real hard facts, but still and all no one at work or at home has followed my lead, despite seeing me lose 35lbs in 6 months. Despite seeing me cured of type 2 diabetes in 3 months. Despite my obvious new physical appearance and energy level. So I actually feel the same sense of “differentness” now.

    I can’t put my finger on why people are so psychologically attached to driving even the shortest distances, but I was myself up until a few months ago. It just seems like it is a lifetime of conditioning. However our system is driven by growth and trends, not the status quo. It would only take maybe an additional 400-500 winter commuters to show a growth of say 100% year over year. In private industry this would be noticed by all the marketing and trend algorithms and become the “hot” new trend. Exponential growth rates could be achieved with just the slightest leadership by private companies such as Trek and the bike shops. My winter commuter has driven several purchasing decisions that include clothing, boots, lights, undergarments, gloves and so on. I also find myself at the Dry Cleaners weekly. I have traded up 3 times just on fenders. I have traded up three times on lights for my bike. I have 3 sets of tires (slick, knobby and studded).

    In short I think we have seen the limits of “leadership” from government and public policy. Now its up to those with the most to gain to really get behind PR and advertising that shapes these perceptions. Just a single picture of Lance Armstrong cycling in the snow would do more world wide for winter biking than just about anything else.

    I saw one other bike during a 35 mile ride on the Oak Leaf on Friday. The temperature was around 50f and conditions were almost ideal.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Very interesting story Mike, thanks for sharing it. As to the leadership of bicycle companies, I think they have really begun to step up on this front. For example, the recent meeting between Gov. Walker, John Burke (president of Trek), Chris Kegel and Kevin Hardman. Also, take a look at Bikes Belong

      Perhaps it will just take a lot more time considering the culture of driving is so pervasive.

  6. Dar says:

    Is there a problem with not being like everyone else? Why would you WANT to be like everyone else? Seems what you’re really asking is…why isn’t everyone else like me?

    But if they were…would you still want to be that way?

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Well, I don’t know, I do think it would be nice to have more people agree on some basic ideals. There has to be something in between what we have in Milwaukee and a I don’t want a homogeneous world of Daves.

  7. Emily says:

    You ask a very good question that I’ve been asking myself a lot recently. My husband and I have recently moved to a small city where we can take public transportation for free. This inspired us to sell one of our two vehicles. We’ve been avid recreational bike riders for years, and now that we live so close to many of our destinations, it just seemed like a logical thing to ride to the markets and other places we need or want to go. We have racks on our bikes and can add panniers (purchased for a bike tour in 2004) as needed to haul home loads of things from the market. When the weather isn’t conducive for cycling, we either walk, take the bus, or more often, a combination of the two. As a result, we are able to drive significantly less than when we lived in a rural area farther from everything. On our bike rides, bus rides, and walks, we see very few others taking any form of transportation other than cars. I think most people just never consider taking alternative transportation; it simply doesn’t enter their minds since the car is right there and so convenient to use. If they do ride bikes, it’s just something fun to do during weekend leisure time or involves riding organized events or club rides; so once again, they don’t think of utility cycling/cycling as lifestyle. We used to be these people in our 20s and 30s, doing many bike club rides and organized events, but jumping in our car for every trip to the store. It has taken years of increasing our awareness of the global climate crisis and our own carbon footprints to get us to the point where we always think of driving the car as our last choice alternative. We definitely feel out of touch with US societal norms, and we wish that weren’t the case; not because we wish to fit in with others so much as we wish more people would think like us! All joking aside, the future of our planet just may depend on it.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Ah, location, location, location. If people don’t live close enough to anything, they have to drive. I’m glad to hear your move made biking possible. Perhaps by example others will follow. Since you live in a small town, it might not take to long for word to get around.

  8. Dave Steele says:

    I’ve come to realize that driving is not just a big part of American culture. It IS American culture. Being an American and choosing to not drive is like being Russian and not drinking vodka. Everyone knows they should do it less, and might even admire on some level those who kick the habit entirely, but for most people life would be unimaginable without it.

  9. Claus says:

    You’re normal. Head a bit further east of the lagoon to open water on Saturday: http://nosaltsurf.com/Home_Page.php

  10. Will says:

    hmmm…as always very interesting post with awesome pics!! Two things to ask/add, what time of camera(s) are you using for your pics, and do you think the heavy use of cars is just because it is too easy to drive? By this I mean that MKE has a very short commute time and there is parking everywhere. When I am in NYC with friends we walk everywhere because driving is not an option for several reasons.
    Personally I like to bike, walk, skateboard whenever I can…you are more in tune with the neighborhood and have time to think about everything and nothing at the sametime.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      I shoot with a Nikon d90 and a Panasonic Lumix Lx3.

      It is WAY too easy to drive and park in Milwaukee. I think that really hurts cycling here compared to other cities where they have actual rush hour traffic and you can forget about parking anywhere on the street.

  11. kate says:

    I just skimmed the comments, so I’m not sure if this was already mentioned, but you can borrow skates from the Urban Ecology Center in Washington Park (or if you can’t yet, you will be able to soon), and I’m sure they’d let you warm up there if you wanted!

  12. Tory says:

    You CAN borrow skates from the Urban Ecology Center in Washington Park! We also have hot chocolate, tea & coffee (from Omanhene, Rishi & Alterra) when you’re ready to warm up. Visit us during open hours: Tuesday through Friday, 4-7; Saturday 9-5.

    Also check out our Winterfest on Saturday, January 29. There will definitely be skating, plus skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, dog sledding, snow globe and other craft making, and a whole bunch else. http://www.urbanecologycenter.org/events.html

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Thanks Tory, I sent some visiting friends over there last week and they took advantage of your offer. They said it was awesome and had a great time. It was the first time their kids had ever been Nordic skiing. His other comments to me though were “Why were we the only ones there? It was so great, there should have been a ton of people skating and skiing.” I told them you had only recently begun the program and we all certainly expect its popularity to grow and attract more people to Washington Park.

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