Many people say their hometown is a good place to be “from.” Not me—if you’ve read my Incomplete Passes, you know I’m an unabashed homer. I come from Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Green Bay is Titletown USA. It even says so right on City Hall.
The Packers make Green Bay different from a hundred other medium-sized Midwestern cities. But the team is not the only thing there. Every summer for the past 31 years, the city has put on a festival called Artstreet. For one weekend in August, they block off several downtown streets where local artists can display and sell their wares. They’re up to about 200 artists and 80,000 attendees each year. Not bad for a city of 106,000. The festival also includes live bands, cultural exhibits and edible arts.
“It’s always really hot on Artstreet weekend,” people cautioned. “Otherwise it rains.” That didn’t deter me from participating in a group book signing last weekend during Artstreet 2012. About a dozen authors each day, Saturday and Sunday, sat in a tent outside Bosse’s News & Tobacco on Cherry Street and signed their books. The first day it was hot. The second day it rained early, but cleared up as the afternoon wore on. We sold some books, not a lot. I didn’t care. Artstreet gave me an excuse to come home.
You’re probably thinking, “Lots of cities have arts festivals. Can’t she do that in Cincinnati?” Sure I can, but usually I don’t. When I lived in Green Bay as a child, my family went to every event that came to town … traveling theatre companies, circus, rodeo, Holiday on Ice, Roller Derby. But in Cincinnati, and before that when I lived in Washington, DC, I’ve passed up events because I figured it would take too long to get there and the crowds would be too big. Even with most of the town turned out, this festival was accessible. I got there from my suburban motel in less than fifteen minutes and parked in a big ramp that fills the block where my parents’ clothing store once stood. It’s free to park in that ramp on Saturday and Sunday. Not just during Artstreet—every Saturday and Sunday. Green Bay makes it easy for people to come downtown. I like that.
Green Bay-ites of my generation bemoan the destruction of the old downtown. But the city seems to be recognizing its mistakes and coming up with new ideas. I woke early Sunday, grabbed an umbrella, and hiked part of the Packers Heritage Trail. This recently-opened attraction is a self-guided walking tour. Participants can view 22 plaques posted throughout the city, mostly downtown, commemorating the shared history of the football team and its fans. I identified with the Packers, but I also reveled in the combined smells of river, woods, and industry that reminded me I was in Green Bay.
At the old Milwaukee Road depot, I glanced toward the Fox River and discovered something else new to me—a neat brick walkway. I took it north. Riverwalk morphed into CityDeck, another walkway lined with colorful statues, which took me back to the Ray Nitschke Bridge and my car. I was amazed at how free from litter that property was. I was proud of my hometown.
In a weird, 21st-century way, I maintain a friendship with a man who moved away as a child but has the same fondness for all things Green Bay as I do. We found each other on Facebook and connect occasionally on Twitter. We may never meet in person. But we’ll always have Green Bay.