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The Gen Con Keeper

I Miss Wisconsin Pt 1

I Miss Wisconsin

The Journey Begins


             At Gen Con ’03, I rolled out of bed and drove 10 minutes to the Circle Center Parking lot and walked via the hamster tubes to the Indiana Convention Center.  Now, I’ve been going to the ICC since it opened in I972.  But something was definitely amiss.  I mean I saw all my friends and I hung out with my Gen Con LLC buds.  I even partied, as usual, like a maniac, but something was missing; something I could not place at first.  When I thought about it, I realized it was the trip itself that I missed!  That pilgrimage from Indianapolis to Milwaukee that I had planned for myself and companions since 1984 had become an integral part of the Gen Con experience for me.  The sites, the smells, yes, even the toll stops. I’ve missed these things enough that I sometimes go up to Milwaukee just to hang out.  


For me and my traveling companions, I always had the trip planned out to the minute.  No detail was too small, including the cost of fuel, housing, and tolls.  Not to mention which route, stops, food, and other diversions would we have along the way!


            First, we would gather and leave at 0 dark thirty on the Wednesday of the show.  Most times our party would include Space Dog Zot, Jeff the Enchanter, Rob, Jeff’s evil twin, and sometimes Neil (Jeff’s Son), the cabin boy.  We would drive up I-65 from Indianapolis to the Merrillville exit at highway 51, and stop for gas.  Why there?  Well, that Amoco was the last regular gas station before we hit the Tri-State and Oasis gas prices.  It was also a good time to hit the men’s room; I told you I planned every last detail!


            After that it was on the road to the Tri-State.  We would always take the Tri-state because it always seems less congested than driving thru Chicago.  We would tune in to WBBM “Traffic and Weather on the 8”s” to hear the latest traffic. We then would merge on to 80/94 and enjoy the little death ride of the Frank Borman freeway.  After passing the Lincoln Oasis, we would come to what we called the Charlton Heston Memorial Hole.  Now, we called this huge quarry, near Harvey, Illinois, the Charlton Heston Memorial hole because it reminded us of all the movies in which Charlton Heston was in a quarry, like Ben Hur, and in The Agony and the Ecstasy.  I mean it’s a huge hole; maybe some of you have seen it?


            We would drive past thousands of little homes and toll stops on the way, but one of my favorite places to stop was at one of those rest stops called “The Oasis”.  Now, I’ve only seen them around Chicagoland, but what they are is a building that stretches over the highway, with entrances on each side of the road.  Each side has a gas station, with shops and fast food in the building over the highway.  Very cool to be sitting eating your lunch as cars whiz beneath you!  Unfortunately, since you are on a restricted highway, the fuel prices are pretty steep, but where else are you going to buy gas?  But, they always have a good assortment of fast food places, and for us, it was a chance to pick up some warm cookies with barely any slowdown.


            Just before the turn to go around O’Hare, there are a couple of interesting things.  Of course you pass over Chicago’s shipping canals, and sometimes get to see some lake traffic, but my landmark is the Tower that Time Forgot.  You see, there is this 15-20 story office building in middle of a run down office park on the east side of the Tri-state.  I was told by a traveling companion that it had been at first a hotel, and that he had in fact and one time gone to a gaming convention in it.  Over the years it went from that, to condos, to a retirement community.  Just another landmark letting me know I was one step closer to Gen Con!


            Next before the turn was the HUGE revolving Mars Bar.  Sadly, it had suffered the torments of time and had stopped turning.  I always loved driving around O’Hare.  I love airplanes, airports, and flying, so seeing all those planes coming in was a treat for me.  Once we got past the Edens, the traffic thinned out, and we passed a dozen or so Corporation headquarters and aging office parks.


            Until we got close to the border, we mostly saw Chicago northern suburbs with huge concrete sound barriers and huge water tanks.  Just before Six Flags and Gurnee Mills, we would pass Lamb’s Farms, which has the feel of an old fashion petting zoo and amusement park.  Nothing hair raising, but just good old fun (and not a bad place to LARP either!).


            From a distance, we could see the towering steel structures of Six Flags of Chicago.  As was our tradition, we would make roller coaster noises as we passed, and someone would always make barfing noises as we finished passing the park.  It was interesting to see what they had added since the last time we passed by, but some big old truck would usually get in the way and block our view.


            As we passed Gurnee Mills and made that long sweeping S turn, I could feel the temperature turn.  It was sort of like walking into a dairy case.  You could literally smell cheese and beer as we crossed the border.  As we would pass one of the many, er, “adult” outlets, we would recite the words on the Wisconsin welcome sign:


            Wisconsin Welcomes You, Business, Industry, and Recreation”. 


And of course, we would shout the word “CHEESE”!  Thus, the hicks from Indiana would enter the Dairy State.  As we passed the “Fuel Tanker Inspection” area hoping to see the Exxon Valdez , we knew there would be Beer, Cheese, and games in store for us in the near future


Next Time: Southeastern Wisconsin Thrills, and the Miller Brewery Tour. Yes our journey concludes.




NascragMan said:

Very nice article, Randy.  Reminds me of my trips from Chicago to Milwaukee.
Now, of course, I'm heading into Indy, but it doesn't feel right yet.  I'll give it 5 years or so and I'm sure it will develop it's own charm.
April 7, 2006 9:15 AM

Matrix Gamer said:

Randy, you old softie! Don't like driving the Dan Ryan. And you didn't mention me or Steve Lortz...

Milwaukee had it's charms but I love being able to pop in my truck and drive an hour to the show. It certainly is different but I'm different to. There are people there who never came before, and you can still buy Wisconsin Cheese to bring with you. Of couse you can't find that Beer you liked but you'll live.

Chris Engle
April 7, 2006 10:33 AM

Jenn the Wench said:

Randy- you let me know the name of the beer and I'll bring it down to you.  For me the change has been in the opposite direction.  In the past I worked across the street from the Midwest Express Center and so 'going' to GenCon wasn't a big thing for me.  Now I look forward to that trip every year.  The newest of the area, the places to explore, even getting lost in the hamster tubes at 2 am.  GenCon has become more of a get awy and less of a diversion for me with the move.
April 9, 2006 3:03 PM

Keeper said:

Chris there are just to many sniper opportunities on the skyway.
And Jenn thanks for the offer, its Leinenkugel's® Berry Weiss which I will share with all....some of my Gen Con homies. Yea its not like its across the street from me but about 1/2 from my office. Thanks
April 10, 2006 5:28 AM

Kaertos said:

I'll agree with you in part Keeper, the trip to Milwaukee was one of the best things about GenCon.  We always left late on Tuesday and drove through the night from Dayton, but it wasn't what was on the trip it was the trip itself.  You and four or five of your best buddies heading to GenCon for a long, much-needed getaway?  Nothing better.

I soured a bit on the trip when I made my triumphant (to me) return to the con in '99 or '00 only becuase it always seemed like real life made it more difficult.  But once I was on the road, it was awesome.

Now it is only a two hour trip and it is still fun, but not epic like the eight hour (or so) drive to the Land of Cheese.  I do miss it, but I love Indy and, I have to admit, the nostalgia of the trip drops away as I drive across the Indiana Ohio border and realize I'm already half way there.
April 10, 2006 10:13 AM

skippy said:

Well, Here's the flipside.  I'm from Milwaukee.  Most of the years GenCon was here, I played host to friends who'd come up from other parts of South east Wisconsin and we'd trek over to the Convention Center... first Mecca and later the Midwest Express center (or whatever that place is called now...)  In fact, for the last two years it was here, I lived like a 10 minute walk away, so it was nice for my guests.  Still, arranging food, sleeping area and whatnot for a number of people could get a bit rough...  

When GenCon moved to Indy, I gotta say, I started enjoying it much more.  I'll definitely agree that the trip is half the fun.  I got to see all your sites, but in reverse.  Plus, I get to stay in a hotel and be catered to.  Nice!  The convention center is nicer in Indy, and well, Milwaukee just didn't seem to like GenCon Goers very much.  Indy does.  One only has to step over to a restaurant like the RAM to see it.  At the risk of being called a traitor by fellow Wisconsinites.... I'm very happy with the move to Indy.
April 10, 2006 12:14 PM

Parody said:

I miss the much shorter drive to Milwaukee.  Our group used to gather together on Wednesday morning, arrange schedules, and head out as a group.  We didn't convoy, but we'd usually run into one car or another stopping for lunch.  On the way back we always gathered at this one Italian place for dinner and sharing our funny stories of that year's GenCon.

Now it's down to the three of us who do the 12-hour long haul while our other friends either fly, do it in two days, or don't go anymore. :(
April 10, 2006 2:04 PM

Kaertos said:

You know Skippy, that's a good point.  In Milwaukee there were only a few places that acted like they wanted Conners.  Mostly, it was practiced indifference or outright hostility.  In Indy, it feels like they want to make us feel like we are the most important thing going right now, and it feels good after having third-class citizen status in Milwaukee for all those years.

Besides, the last couple of years we were in Milwaukee, the city seemed, I don't know, less safe than before, like the downtown area was starting to go downhill.
April 11, 2006 5:21 AM

Balthor said:

I never got to go to Milwaukee. But I live in Northwest Indiana (You missed a few gas stations btw). and I must say the trip down to Indy, while not long. And I try not to make any stops, is great. I love it down there. Yes the Ram makes you welcoms. The whole town goes all out for us. and as far as other things being in town. The convention center isattached to the RCA dome. Home of the Colts. and the NFL preseason is starting up. They played a game there last year on Saturday I think. It was against DA Bears!
April 11, 2006 6:35 AM

Keeper said:

What is funny is that the 1st couple of years in Milwaukee downtown gave GC attendees a very cool response. Then they did a impact study and WOW GC pumped a lot of money into the economy. TTTTHHHEEENNNNN the city seemed to like us with street banners, and signs in the windows and the Hotel folk wearing GC T-Shirts. And some were actually happy to see us, like the Hotel Wisconsin and the Federal Book Store. You know the show making an impact when the Pil-n-Puff and Walgreens have the Pepsi and Coke trucks making 2-liter deliverlies every day. When they announced Gen Con was moving it was back to the screw you attitude. Sigh.
April 11, 2006 6:47 AM

NascragMan said:

I warmed up to Indy once I found Claddagh.
What a great joint.
April 11, 2006 9:24 AM

HolyOutlaw said:

I do not miss Milwuakee at all. The lack of hotel rooms and decent food establishments top my list. How many remember sleeping in the "Crack Rock Hotel" near Marquette because they over sold all the hotels. The last 2 years in Milwuakee were the worst of all. Indy is a huge step up and will only improve and progress the growth of Gen Con.
April 12, 2006 6:57 AM

Legio-IX said:

Our 18 hour trip is now down to 15 since the move and I would not follow the con back if it moved. The only things in milwuakee to miss are safe house and maders and the safe house was usually to full to get in.
April 12, 2006 7:03 PM

jmsetzer said:

"Lack of decent food establishments?" Come on, HolyOutlaw. King & I, Caldarone Club, Mader's, County Clare, Milwaukee Chophouse, Aladdin, Africa Hut, Major Goolsby's, Benihanna, Polaris... these are just the non-chain ones within a couple of blocks. Then you have the Safe House, Rock Bottom, Subway, Dunkin Donuts, George Webb's, Quizno's, etc. A few more block away and you get Lake Park Bistro, Sanford, Bacchus, Coquette Cafe, Eagan's, Bucca di Beppo, and dozens more...

There are plenty of great restaurants of all types within a four-block radius, and a dozen within a 2-block radius of the convention center itself.

Now, for hotels, yes, not enough rooms to be had. No question about that. But don't say there weren't great places to eat; we know how to eat here in Milwaukee :-)
April 14, 2006 9:05 AM

Keeper said:

I have to agree with John on there were plenty of good places to eat. One of the problems was for most of them they were abit of a distance away. As time went on the number of restaurtants near the MEC went down. And don't get me started about the Mall closing at 6pm on Saturday's when the dealers room got out. I talked to a number of managers at stands on the 3rd floor just steamed that the Mall could not stay open a few hours more so they could feed acouple thousand gamers.
April 17, 2006 5:27 AM

skippy said:

Yes!  Milwaukee's downtown did start to slide in the last couple years.  Ask anyone from Milwaukee and chances are they'd agree.  The city pumped money into the area around the Grand Avenue mall for a few years in the early to mid 90s, and then stopped.  They've started up again, but the reality is that the Grand Avenue mall is just plain sad these days.  Certainly nothing like the Circle Center Mall.  

And even during the 90s, the Grand Avenue Mall still rolled up the carpets and closed the gates at like, 6pm.  The fact that I can stroll into the Circle center Mall at like, 9pm and still have time to grab a bite is a definite plus.  

As for *good* eating establishments, yeah, Milwaukee had and has a decent number of them.  Milwaukee's restaurants are probably one of my favorite parts of living here.   Also, places like County Claire and the Safehouse certainly appreciated the GenCon Folk - and sorely missed them the year after the move.  

But living here and hearing the remarks people made about gencon (especially when they don't know you're a gamer) and seeing the attitude that people could give the convention goers...  Milwaukee just didn't appreciate what it had until it went away.  If even then.

I very much like the flavor that Indy has added to GenCon.  I've had more fun in the three years I've gone to Indy than I did in the 13 years I attended Milwaukee.  Well... mostly.  Maybe the last 10 years in Milwaukee.  Eh, it's all fun.  I really think Indy has a better "Vibe" though... for lack of a better term.  Certainly better hotels.  The complaints I used to hear...
April 17, 2006 8:48 AM

Keeper said:

I did some delving into the Keeper's Stash and found that the Mall always closed at 6pm on Saturdays, since Gen Con move to Milwaukee in 1985. To make up for that some of the food stall would open at 8am and started their regular menu. Yummmm gyros for breakfast. Their was one little coffee shop just out side the Mall that stayed in business just for Gen Con and then close the Monday after. I tell you I miss the Bear that tightroped across the lobby of the Mall.
Randu the good lookin
April 17, 2006 10:12 AM

NascragMan said:

Anybody remember the Olympic Cafe?  Little diner around the back of the old Mecca.  I used to always eat breakfast there.  Greasy greasy greasy.  Back then I could eat anything.
April 17, 2006 10:46 AM

jerrytel said:

I definitely do not miss the drive through Chicago - however, I do miss the city of Milwaukee which seemed "cooler" to me.  

The one thing I definitely preferred about Milwaukee is the convention center itself - Is Indy better because everything is closer and in one building for the most part - you bet.  However, walking around the Indy Convention Center is like a cattle drive at times - I do not recall Milwaukee having such narrow corridors.

April 17, 2006 12:20 PM

NascragMan said:

Milwaukee seemed like a real city.  Indy seems like an artificial conventioning envioronment.  A nice one, but it doesn't seem like there's and "there" there.
April 18, 2006 5:32 AM

Balthor said:

Narrow Corridors? Have you gone into the convention centre before everyting gets started on Wednesday morning? The halls are huge, just packed. They seem full just cause of the shere amount of people there.
April 19, 2006 10:29 AM

Keeper said:

I remember when the Dealers Room would get out at MEC. All those people trying to get from the 3rd floor down on two sets of escalators. I was always afraid someone was going to fall down and get hurt. Back in the MECCA days it was two hallways, one of the 1st floor and another on the 2nd but alot less people attend back then.
April 19, 2006 11:31 AM

Kaertos said:

Yes Keeper, but back in MECCA right after M:tG hit, I was worried we were going to see some poor soul trampled along the side of the hallway while playing a game.  Those were small, dim corridors, especially after dark.
April 20, 2006 5:18 AM

Keeper said:

Very True the 2nd floor of Mecca was very very dark. I would just kick the M:tG players out of my way and stomp on their cards.....wait that was wrong and hurtful.
April 20, 2006 5:54 AM

LarpPrincess said:

I only went to Milwaukee once. It was a fun trip. I enjoyed it, it was a vacation. It's a vacation now, but only an hour from home instead of the 6 hour trip.
April 24, 2006 10:37 AM

Ulm Grimhand said:

Indy is a much better venue for the con - more centrally located geographically, away from the major traffic snarls of the North East. However if GenCon was in NYC - i probably wouldn't go at all because I like the travel aspect - besides i would get tired of seeing the homeless playing "Are you a Werewolf" on the subway.
May 8, 2006 9:36 AM

laudareniger said:

just waiting for the day when Lake Geneva is big enough. how about outside in tents. some freash air and sunshine wouldn't kill us once in a while. i think.
May 21, 2006 1:55 PM

About Keeper

The man known as the Keeper of Ancient Gen Con Lore background and origins have been shrouded in lies and mystery. But in 2003 the senate sub committee on Weird Happenings and Intercostals Fishing were able to find out the truth. Born to a Manhattan Project Scientist and an Argentine Tap Dance instructor the man who would be known the World as “The Keeper” was born in at the Oakridge Baby and Foot clinic in Oakridge Tennessee. His Father moved the family to Indianapolis to be closer to native source of potash where he got a job in goverment. Now we still don’t know which goverment but it was a government. His mother went back to teaching tap, jazz and liturgical dance Mr. Percy’s House of Movement. They moved into a three bedroom house on the east side of town. Young Keeper had a wonderful childhood. Watching the neighbors from the back ally, having local charities tow their cars away, and subscribing to out of town news papers. Surviving 13 years in the Indianapolis Public Schools he then enrolled at Indiana University. During college he served as a White House Intern during the Reagan Administration. After several successfull trips to Iran the Keeper settled into goverment service. It was while he was being interviewed by the FBI where met the woman who would be supporting him the rest of his life. The future Mrs. Keeper after 72 hours of interrogation with him fell head over heels in love with him. The Marriage of the Keeper to Mrs. Keeper lasted two years with a tearful and profitable divorce settlement. The former Mrs. Keeper was trained International Banker and since she made much more than the humble Keeper he receives a monthly check that provides all of his needs. He can be found daily at the coffee shop near his Irvington home trying to instilling Gen Con wisdom on an unsuspecting world.
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