Wisconsin is where Chicagoans go to escape the city in the summer but it’s also where I spent my first 24 summers. The novelty that city slickers find in small town Wisconsin is just my normal. But after a few summers in Chicago, this feels normal too. So which is better? If you had to spend summer in just one place, which promises a better summer: Chicago or (my) small-town Wisconsin?
In my hometown, we have two summer festivals really – Walleye Weekend and the fair. The first is at the large park on Lake Winnebago and has formed around a three-day walleye fishing tournament. I know it better as the weekend we eat all kinds of fried food and watch the younger ones in the family play soccer. Just like any other summer festival – terribly unhealthy but delicious food, beer, bands, and the real purpose is something no one pays attention to. The fair is, of course – the fair. Come on. Carnival rides, animals in a large barn-type thing (um, I’ve been informed it’s just called “a barn”), and more fried food and beer.
In Chicago, summer festivals are much more compact – just a few blocks of space, at most. They’re typically not free; they’re suggested donation-admittance. Of course, here you’ll also find your fair share of fried foods, but many festivals are held in celebration of some heritage and so you’ll get a sampling of new foods too. Chicago’s festivals are so phenomenal though because there is literally something for everyone all summer. Lincoln Square’s Maifest (like Oktoberfest in spring!), Printer’s Row Lit Fest (used books for sales, author talks and readings!), and Wicker Park Fest (hipsters and music!) are a few of my favorites. And there are several fests every weekend, so it goes without saying if you have nothing to do – you’re wrong, there’s something to do.
This one is easy. You can’t camp in Chicago. Point Wisconsin.
Lazy Summer Porch Drinking
Yikes, this is harder. There are not many porches in Chicago. We have a back staircase that has a landing which we could theoretically put out one, maybe two, folding chairs and drink some beer. The view is lovely – the roof of the apartment building next door or into my neighbor’s kitchen. But Chicago has some pretty amazing local breweries that give perfect summer beer options – nice and light, crisp and a bit fruity.
Eh, you can buy Goose Island anywhere now. Wisconsin has New Glarus, big backyards, decks with grills and plastic kiddie pools. Point Wisconsin.
It feels unfair to even write out a comparison here. There is no comparison. Point Chicago.
Contenders: Lake Winnebago and Lake Michigan. I realize much of Wisconsin has access to Lake Michigan but we’re talking about my Wisconsin. My small-town Wisconsin has Lake Winnebago. A lake I’ve never swam in, maybe once canoed in, and often mocked. That said, I’ve only been to a Chicago beach once and certainly did not go in Lake Michigan. Tied.
Oh no, tied overall. Who guessed that would be the case? Truly, the winner is usually wherever I am not. When Chicago is too hot (and dirty), I crave a Wisconsin summer. And when Wisconsin gets boring, I itch to be back in Chicago. Luckily, it’s easy to go between the two.