Recap of Terminal Milwaukee – All in a Day’s Work

by Ex Fabula blogger Steph Kilen
photo by Kat Berger

Ex Fabula Terminal Milwaukee project’s first full-length event, “All in a Day’s Work” was not work, but pure joy. Held at Club Garibaldi in Bay View on Saturday July 23, the stories of the evening celebrated the neighborhood and detailed the odd, humorous and difficult experiences that can go along with occupation.

The evening began with a pre-event cookout at Groppi’s, during which John Gurda, John and Anne Nehring, and others shared the story of G. Groppi’s market, a Bay View institution.

Milwaukee historian John Gurda kicked off the evening at Club Garibaldi with the story of the founding of Bay View. Built around a growing iron industry in 1868, Bay View was Milwaukee’s first suburb, incorporating as a village in 1879 and joining the city of Milwaukee in 1887. John provided historical interludes throughout the evening telling of Bay View’s important role in the labor movement of the late 19th century, a once inhabited Jones Island and his own connections to Bay View – from childhood to the beginnings of his career as the man to put Milwaukee’s history on paper.

Bay View and Club Garibaldi were chosen as the setting for this event because Tom Crawford, the central storyteller in this series that follows his life in Milwaukee, frequented the club after working as a longshoreman, loading salt on the docks of Jones Island when he was young. Several other longshoremen shared their stories as well. “Poet, musician, longshoremen and free spirit,” Harvey Taylor admitted despite his years working on Jones Island, he is “more interested in the commerce of story than the moving of cargo.” Tom Tolan’s experience as a longshoreman was more that of “young working class heroes who grew up in the suburbs,” having started as a longshoreman in 1969 then leaving to go to Woodstock. He shared some of the “salty” language he heard during his stint and what passes for a koan in the world of longshoremen. Tom Schwark, the third former longshoreman to take the stage, told of a neighbor with a similar name and several more uncanny similarities.

The “All in a Day’s Work” theme inspired a wide range of stories. Ex Fabula co-founder Leah Delaney told of her “near death” experience as a duck boat tour guide in the South Shore Marina. Ex Fabula regular Conn Hagen shared yet another of his drinking mishaps as a bakery delivery guy with a severe hangover. Michael Heider lamented the time as a photojournalist he obeyed the police and didn’t take a photo of the man they were bringing out of a building after an arrest: Jeffrey Dahlmer.

First-time storyteller Beth Bojarski told a tale of artists in the corporate world and how a kitchy mascot they had adopted turned out to be a very expensive (and somewhat smuggled) piece of “art” owned by upper management, delivered to the wrong department. Steph Kilen shared adventures and disappointments of a cub reporter and why she now always wears sensible shoes to work. Patty Prichard Thompson delighted the audience with memories of her mother and the tools of her trade doing upholstery for Milwaukee airlines. Patty’s mom was “an industrial strength lady” who carried everything she could ever need in her huge purse, but everything important in her five-hook bra.

Folks gave Bay View its due at the event as well. Lisa Goldman explained how she sees the narrative of her life through the neighborhoods of Milwaukee. Dale Nook told of how having lived in Bay View for 30 years, he just recently is getting to know his neighbors through his involvement in the Bay View Neighborhood Association and other grassroots organizations on the south shore; an involvement possible now that he is retired. Meghan Koven said, “When you’re in Bay View, your neighbors always have your back, ” and then illustrated it with the tale of how she and some out of town friends were rescued on a cold winter night.

The terminal Milwaukeean himself, Tom Crawford, took the stage for the last story of the night. Tom’s varied vocational career started in December 1976 when he realized at 17-years old that he would need to go to school, go into the military or end up in the factory. His first choice was the military. He told the recruiters “I really wanna blow shit up,” took the test to be a combat engineer and got the highest score. On the day he was set to leave for basic training, he found out an old hip injury made him ineligible for service. His father having made the demand of a pay stub to be able to continue living at the house, Tom began his life as a workingman. After a couple false starts at Pizza Man and a factory, Tom ended up at a foundry. Just three hours on the job, he found himself holding up a man whose arm had gotten stuck in a machine. While desperate to quit after a tragic first day, he reluctantly stayed on at the foundry for two years, after which he discovered “the most romantic and amazing manly experience anyone could ever have” working the docks on Jones Island where he spent the next ten years. Tom’s story, like all Tom’s stories, like all good stories, was punctuated with laughs and gasps from the audience – the best of an Ex Fabula experience.

The ride through Tom’s life and the amazing diversity of experience and character in Milwaukee continues at Terminal Milwaukee’s next event: Friday, September 9th, 8 pm at Satin Wave Barbershop.

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Our New Series, “Terminal Milwaukee”

We at Ex Fabula are so proud to announce the details of our new project, “Terminal Milwaukee”. The project is a seven event series that will lead audiences through five distinctive neighborhoods of Milwaukee following the dynamic life story of Tom Crawford, a standout storyteller from Ex Fabula All Stars 2010 and self-described “terminal” Milwaukeean.

Through the “Terminal Milwaukee” series, we will see Milwaukee through the eyes of a lifelong resident, Tom Crawford, and visit the neighborhoods he grew up in and worked in over the years. He has worked as a longshoreman on Jones Island, a baker’s apprentice and a hide washer in a tannery. He began in radio in 1983 and eventually became Station Manager of WMSE, where he currently works as a community linchpin. Tom Crawford’s visceral personal stories are gripping, vivid and filled with detail and affection for the neighborhoods they are set in. Accordingly, each event will also feature storytellers preselected from residents of those neighborhoods. Milwaukee historian John Gurda will contribute historical vignettes to each event to fill out the evening. Throughout the course of the series, audience members will have the opportunity to share their memories and experiences in the neighborhood. The series will be documented in audio and video form and these will be shared throughout the year long project.

The series kicks off at Ex Fabula ALL STARS 2011 season finale on June 2nd at Turner Hall. In addition to Tom’s story on the evening’s theme of “Secrets and Lies”, this kick off will include the unveiling of the project’s video trailer. The first neighborhood event will take place at Club Garibaldi at 8 pm on Saturday July 23rd, and the theme will be “All in a Day’s Work”.  On Friday September 9 at 8 pm, Satin Wave will host an event with a theme of “Barber Shop”. Sherman Perk will host “Intersections” on Saturday November 5 at 8 pm. In 2012, the series travels to Kochanski’s Concertina Beer Hall for an event on the theme of “Generation Gap” on Saturday January 28 at 8 pm. Then on Thursday March 29, 2012 at 6 pm 91.7 WMSE will host an event in studio which will be broadcasted live; the theme will be “Frontier Radio”. The series will resolve in a final live storytelling and musical event, presented in cooperation with Alverno Presents; the theme of “Terminal Milwaukee” will come to life on Saturday April 28, 2012, at Alverno’s Pitman Theatre.

Admission to most events will be free with donations accepted to support this project as well as Ex Fabula’s mission of building community by connecting storytellers with audiences.

“Terminal Milwaukee” is funded in part by a major grant award from the Wisconsin Humanities Council. The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin. The WHC receives funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin.

For more information about the “Terminal Milwaukee” series, email Amy Schleicher, Project Director, at (amy at exfabula dot com).