Milwaukee is the damn foggiest place. I tell folks from here that, and they look at me weird. It occurs to me that perhaps these are inland people I’m talking to, or people who are just so used to it they don’t even notice it anymore. Living here as long as I have, I’m still fascinated by it. I’ve seen more fog in Milwaukee the past fifteen years than I have my entire life.

With the exception of college, I have only ever lived in two places: Cleveland and Milwaukee. Both of course are on Great Lakes. I have spent my whole life living on a Great Lake, and if that were ever to change, it would be a big blow. I can’t imagine living anywhere without some big body of water that appears to go on forever.

Most of the fog here emanates from Lake Michigan, which we can see from our home. I have watched it tumble across the water and up the bluff, wind around the buildings below, and then surround ours, at times in mere minutes. I need a weather person to explain why and how this is. Clearly, the fact that Lake Michigan is east of Milwaukee has something to do with it. Cleveland, which lies on the south coast of Lake Erie, gets premium-grade lake-effect snow, the likes of which I haven’t yet seen here. Milwaukee weather people toss around the term “lake-effect snow.” But Milwaukee has nothing on Cleveland. Want to see some good down-from-Canada six-feet-deep-in-two-hours lake-effect snow? Go to Cleveland.

Earlier this week we had two solid days of fog so thick you had to leave lights on all day. The lights we leave on are two sconces in the living room and a small Christmas tree we keep up year-round in the kitchen. Day Two I couldn’t see the building across the street. The foghorn oozed in off the lake day and night.

Day One I wanted to walk out in it. It was like a snowstorm where everyone stays in but you. The usual sounds of the city are tamped way down, allowing the thoughts in your head to come alive like bright paint on a white canvas.

Some of these thoughts:

  • The sidewalks are filled with fall leaves.
  • The moisture from the fog makes them look even prettier than they already are.
  • Two weeks ago Jan sent me a card in which she wrote something really beautiful.
  • I haven’t thanked her for it yet.
  • I think about Jan every day.
  • The times in my life in which my soul has been the happiest have been the times when I am the poorest.
  • My soul is wildly happy right now.
  • I am looking forward to getting back to teaching next semester.
  • I hope I still feel this way Week 8.
  • I have to write to my dad and tell him I can’t come to Cleveland for the one-year anniversary of my mom’s death.
  • There will be a short ceremony and a dinner.
  • I can’t go because I have a music gig.
  • This week is my dad’s first wedding anniversary without my mom.
  • Next week is my mom’s birthday.
  • The first birthday we will say, “If she were still alive, she’d be [insert age here].”
  • Next month will be my dad’s second birthday without her.
  • Then Thanksgiving.
  • Then Christmas.
  • The past two years, Jan experienced all these firsts and seconds.
  • When my mother went into hospice I remember counting six months on my fingers.
  • She’ll make it through Christmas, I thought.
  • She’ll make it to February.
  • She didn’t.
  • I would like to lose those last eight pounds.
  • For the first time in my middle-aged life, I accept that I’m getting older.
  • I am not afraid.
  • I would still like to lose those last eight pounds though.
  • More pretty leaves.
  • There is someone in my life who doesn’t yet know that I can smell bullshit from a mile away, who will find out soon.
  • This “Bargrooves” music playing on my iPod makes me deliriously happy.
  • It is Greg’s music, which Jan gave me two years ago when we went through all his CDs.
  • She told me that he used to listen to it in the basement when he ran on the treadmill.
  • Wearing sunglasses.
  • I miss him so much.
  • The fog makes the lake look like you could drop off the edge of Earth if you got too close.
  • This has been one of the best years of my life.
  • Maybe the best.
  • I am back to living and working the way God/the universe intended me to.
  • The soul that lives inside me now is the same soul I had when I was ten.
  • It’s taken me several long-ass years to get back here.
  • Some were utter misery.
  • If I could give any advice to a young person, it would be: “Don’t ever let this happen to you.”



  1. I also noticed the persistent Milwaukee fog when I moved here. The same way it rolled up the lake bluff. I could watch its ever changing shape for hours and listen to the fog horn, day in…day out.

    Shortly after we moved here we were given tickets to see “Long Day’s Journey into Night”. The ominous, mournful, never ceasing fog horn was part of the production and fog has evoked an “O’Neill” effect since.

    Beautiful, evocative post, Robin!

    • Hi Denise, thanks for your comment. I absolutely love the idea of that foghorn sounding throughout the play. I could listen to our Lake Michigan foghorn every single day. I wonder where it’s positioned? It sounds too far away to be McKinley Marina, but the Hoan Bridge seems too far away too. I’ll have to look into that. I appreciate your kind remarks, dear friend.

  2. Unusually interesting story and thoughts on something I always disliked. I have a vision thing about seeing out to the horizon. The claustrophobic feeling of fog I find quite disconcerting. I remember growing up driving along Portwashington road in Mequon. I always found whether passenger or driver the situation reasonably frightening because your vision was limited to about 5 feet in front of your car. Do you keep driving and plow grill first into God knows what? Or go so slow that you can feel creeping up on you the truck that will potentially turn your VW beetle from a half round into a cube? Ahh yes ..Milwaukee fog….Once again making me so glad I live in the high desert. Another great Story/Photos Robin.

    • Hi John, nice to hear from you; I hope you’ve been well. If I had to drive out in the fog, I’d be freaked out too. Living in the city, I don’t drive much anymore, I mostly walk. When I lived in Ozaukee County (Town of Cedarburg) the fog was as devastating as you describe. I mean, there are no street lights out in the country, where I lived, and now you’re going to throw fog into the mix? I crept along at 10 mph, if that, scared to death of driving off the road or hitting something or someone. Now that you mention the desert, I think I could definitely live there. Are there any lakes by you? Do you ever miss living in this part of the country? I appreciate your kind remarks, especially regarding the photos, since I know you’re a very good cameraman yourself.

      • Well Robin, tho I loved growing up where I did I never miss it. I think I was born to live out here and never cease to marvel at my surroundings. There are quite a few lakes in close proximity. The 2 largest being Tahoe and Pyramid. Thanks for your kind word about my shots. I get lucky once and a while but I do understand composition and apparently so do you. Haha! The park benches on the bluff is really sweet.

        • Thanks, John. You are lucky to be living somewhere where your soul is happy. I’ve been to southern Nevada but never northern. It’s on my list. Take care.

  3. I think I can smell bullshit but I usually don’t realize it’s bullshit until I have already stepped in it. About the fog, some years ago a went to a funeral at Villa Terrace, it was a lovely late Spring morning, the sky was blue and the air was crisp. I did not know the deceased, was at the funeral because I was the taxi for a group of friends who were very close the the man whose ashes were waiting in a lovely brass urn that was sitting on a pedestal in front of some doors that led out onto a terrace that overlooks Lake Michigan. As we waited the villa filled up with mourners and after a while I went out into the open atrium and sat down. I could look up and see the cloudless blue sky framed by the red tile roof of the villa. It was a very relaxing moment. The services inside had started. The windows onto the atrium were open, and I’ve run out of characters! 🙁

    • (This is a continuation of James’s story) Suddenly I heard loud gasps and muted cries from inside the villa and just as I looked up, the fog reversed itself and rolled ever so slowly back over the edge of the red tile roof leaving only the clear blue sky. Later I was talking to my friends who were inside at the service and they told me that during the eulogy the french syle doors that lead out to the terrace had slowly swung open al by themselves and the fog had rolled in until it reached the base of the pedestal where the crematory urn sat then it swirled around briefly and retreaded back outside, closing the doors as it left, leaving the mourners gasping. My friends told me that Bob, whose funeral it was, had told his friends that if he could he would send a sign for them that he was a OK in the hereafter.

      • (The end of James’s story) His name was Robert Uvari. He was was well known in the Gay community as an artist and designer. Robert was a very talented and attractive Gay artist during the Gay heydays of the 70s and 80s until he died in the 90s. He left Milwaukee and traveled to all-points Gay until he fell ill and returned home to a community that did not have much experience with AIDS. I don’t think he told many of his friends and family at first but gradually everyone knew about it and everyone tried to be there for him. He was in the first wave of men who came home from their adventures and got everything started up. When the 2nd and 3rd waves cames there was a functioning network of doctors and hospitals all over Milwaukee that took care of thousands of hometown boys who came home to die. Most of them weren’t even 30 years old. Many were older and had wives, ex-wives and children. I am proud to say that this town opened its arms to those boys and men. No one stood back, everyone knew someone, a brother a friend. It was a common burden that became almost unbearable and then it lessened and then it was gone. That was 25 years ago. All of those happy Gay men have been gone so long that almost everyone has forgotten them. So many talented guys lost. I always will remember them, and hope to see them all again one day.

  4. This is really beautiful, Jim. You and I had further discussion about this on Facebook, which I greatly appreciate. My heart goes out to you, and to all others who’ve lost loved ones to AIDS. And those who are struggling with the disease today. Much love to Ed Mahaney and Gordon Burkhardt, two men I knew who both died of AIDS in the 90s.

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