Tour a New Wisconsin Weekend Getaway Every Month with John McGivern

A TV host takes you inside the van as he travels our state.

Hello, Milwaukee Magazine readers!

I’m thrilled to be given the chance to say, “Hello, readers.” It’s like saying, “Hello, viewers” to the loyal Around the Corner with John McGivern watchers and, “Hello, listeners” to all those who have their morning radio dials set to 96.5 WKLH and, “Hello, audience” to everyone who buys a theater ticket and sits in the dark at one of my live performances. I take all of these “Hello” opportunities very seriously and want to thank Milwaukee Magazine for the chance to show up at your home and end up on your coffee table on a monthly basis.

My mom and my siblings, who are Milwaukee Magazine subscribers, are going to be surprised and excited when they open this issue and find my words included in their monthly reading enjoyment. I was raised by a woman who worked in the book business and instilled in her six kids a real respect for the written word. The memories of our 1960s Saturday morning trips to the East Side storefront branch of the Milwaukee Public Library are still vivid. I was a competitive “gold” reader at Ss. Peter and Paul grade school, sailing my way through the SRA Reading Lab, racing to get to the aqua color.

With John Gurda in East Troy. Photo courtesy of Milwaukee PBS

Reading became the window to a world outside our first-floor flat in a duplex on Bartlett Avenue that we called home. I loved the fact that I could be transported to exotic locations and meet people I felt lucky to know, all from the comfort of the overstuffed chair in our family living room. I remember the excitement when the first issue of Highlights for Children arrived in our mailbox. I also subscribed to Boys’ Life, and later, would walk to the corner drugstore to buy MAD with my Milwaukee Journal paperboy earnings. I loved everything about magazines, including the smell. No, really. There was a very specific, never-to-be-forgotten smell of a new Boys’ Life, which was different from that of an issue of Highlights for Children. Loved them all. But I digress, a tendency I have that you’ll come to expect. And enjoy, I hope.

Here is what I want to bring you on a monthly basis. I want to be your guide; your Rick Steves, your Anthony Bourdain, your Michael Palin, your Samantha Brown, your Andrew Zimmern, your Art Wolfe, or your Karl Pilkington of “An Idiot Abroad.” (But I’ll be your Idiot in Wisconsin.) I want you to sit in the overstuffed chair in your family living room and be transported to places that might not be “exotic,” but so worth the trip. I want you to meet people that you feel as if you knew and want to know the rest of your life. I want you to save these articles because you’ve decided to visit the places I’ve introduced.

I’ve been the host of the Milwaukee PBS’ Emmy Award-winning show Around the Corner with John McGivern for six seasons. We play on every PBS station in Wisconsin as well as select stations in Minnesota, Illinois, Upper Michigan, Iowa and North Dakota. We’ve done 78 episodes, which means we’ve highlighted 78 Wisconsin cities, communities or neighborhoods. Our 26-minute weekly show airs at 7 p.m. on Thursdays. Our crew – a photographer, an audio engineer, the producer/director and I – piles into our van at 8:30 on Monday mornings and arrives back at our Milwaukee PBS studios on Friday night. People are always surprised to hear that it takes us five days to shoot each 26-minute episode. We talk to about 15 people who work, live and play in that Wisconsin community.

The production crew. Photo courtesy of Milwaukee PBS

What you see on screen Thursday night is a small fraction of what we experience. What I want to do here is share more of what didn’t make the show – the cutting-room-floor version of an episode. I can hear my co-workers gasping. They are afraid I might share everything. Truth is, I couldn’t. Many of those happenings couldn’t make print anyway and Milwaukee PBS would make us face the consequences. So the things that are said in the sanctity of the van will NOT be shared, and those people I talked to that turned out to be difficult or not generous or downright boring will remain nameless. I swear, John Gurda, I am not talking about you!

I will share things like what happened in the Wisconsin Dells when we were filming at Noah’s Ark, the world’s largest waterpark. I went down the world’s fastest (death defying, I swear) slide and my swim trunks ended up somewhere north of my waist. That scene didn’t make the episode. The FCC would have fined us. In Whitefish Bay, we had the chance to talk with Fox6 anchor Ted Perry in his backyard, and as we were shooting his large dog, Piper, walked right in the middle of the scene, faced the camera and squatted with what looked like a smile on her face as she did her business. We found it hilarious!

If you’ve seen the show you know that what I really do is eat my way through these episodes. After we are done shooting, the crew and I usually eat remarkable meals. I will never forget the feast we shared at the Five O’Clock Steakhouse on State Street during the Avenues West episode or the delicious ice cream at Kelley’s Country Creamery, the family-farm ice cream shop outside Fond du Lac. I’ve had the joy of watching our less adventurous crew members (yes I’m talking about you, Chris and Lois) muscle their way through Ma Baensch’s marinated herring and Glorious Malone’s head cheese without any outward appearances of fear and disgust. I’m sorry that Chris will not eat anything unless it’s a burger cooked medium well and if something has any more spice than table salt and pepper Lois is not having it. Just so you know, Ma Baensch’s herring marinated in vinegar or in a mild cream sauce and Malone’s mild or hot head cheese are the best and made and distributed to the world from their right-around-the-corner Milwaukee operations.

A Conversation Piece, West Bend. Photo courtesy of Milwaukee PBS

What I hear most from people who stop me at the downtown Metro Market or on the grounds at Irish Fest or anywhere on the streets all over this state is how much they’ve learned about their own communities from our show. I want to be a resource for Milwaukee Magazine readers. I want you to plan a daycation, a staycation or a short vacation to these places that we have in our world, the world inside the borders of this incredible state, this place we call home. ◆

‘All Aboard!’ appears in the February 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine. Buy a copy online.

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John McGivern is best known for his Emmy-award winning work on PBS, Around the Corner with John McGivern. His one-man-shows, THE EARLY STORIES OF JOHN MCGIVERN, MIDSUMMER NIGHT MCGIVERN AND JOHN MCGIVERN’S HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS tell the stories of being the third born of six kids in a working-class Irish Catholic Family in Milwaukee. John has been the keynote speaker for The Alliance for Children and Families, The State Department on Aging, The Children and Family Service Agency of Wisconsin, The Wisconsin Defense League, Christ Child Association, Foundation for Children with Cancer, Employee Assistant Professional Association and has been fortunate to entertain companies such as Time Warner, Northwestern Mutual, Kohl’s Department Stores, Baird, Acuity, and M&I Financial.