California native moving to Wisconsin in a few months; what should I know?
January 27, 2009 12:43 PM   Subscribe

California native moving to Wisconsin in a few months; what should I know?

I just graduated from college last month and (thankfully) managed to land a job. I've spent my entire life in California and now in April I'll be moving out across the country and calling Wisconsin home for a while.

The main workplace is in Sussex, though from what I understand, most of the employees my age live in Milwaukee proper and commute in (which appeals strongly to me). Is there any area of the city in particular I should consider moving to? Are there any easy ways to meet people out there? I know a couple I met when I went Couchsurfing around those parts, but that's about it.

What should I know about living in the area? I've spent a total of three days in the city before, so it's still rather foreign. Also, when I was flown out for the final interview, it marked the first time I had ever been in weather colder than 30 degrees, so despite the April move, any winter survival tips would be greatly appreciated.
posted by HonorShadow to Travel & Transportation around Wisconsin (34 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
the only thing i can contribute to this is: custard ice cream.

it seems one can only get it in the mid-west. i dream about it.
posted by violetk at 12:47 PM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Invest in a solid parka (I like Columbia), gloves, hat, and boots (Doc Martens) as soon as you can.
posted by Oktober at 12:52 PM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Winter Survival Tip #1: Avoid long commutes.

If you like country lifestyle then Sussex isn't too bad. It's near plenty of excellent state and county parks. But any time winter weather hits, your drive is going to suck and it will be white knuckled.
posted by JJ86 at 12:55 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I live in Milwaukee. I have been in Wisconsin for almost 10 years now and it still seems cold to me and I grew up in St. Louis. The best advice for the cold is to embrace it. Get into some sort of winter sport and you'll be fine.

As for places to live in MKE, the east side (which is along the lake just north of downtown) and Bay View are two likely spots. Both have plenty of local shops/ bars/ restaurants to walk to. Craigslist and driving the neighborhoods looking for signs is the best bet for finding a rental.
posted by sulaine at 1:04 PM on January 27, 2009

Well, I live (and grew up) in Indiana, not Wisconsin, and I am frequently in California, so I can try to point out a few things I've noticed that are different:

I'll second the notion of buying a warm parka, gloves, hat and boots. don't buy them in California--order them from someplace that deals with cold weather.

People in the midwest treat eating out as entertainment. When I get together with friends or family, we go out to eat. We are serious about food, and woe be to the place that concentrates on making it pretty and doesn't worry about if its a good value for the money. Be careful about portion sizes--we like to eat and you don't want to overdo it.

Your commutes will be much different from what you expect. When my Cali born wife is here, she is amazed at the lack of traffic, but frustrated by how far it is to get to some places. Realistically, the time elapsed is about the same in both places. Here we drive miles, there we drive in traffic.

It might just be my perception, but I think people here are more open to talking to strangers. Don't be surprised if people chit chat with you in the grocery line, or while you are pumping gas.

The cost of living here is substantially better than California. You will be amazed at house prices, cost of food, etc.

The amount of entertainment available is less. Try to make friends and do things with them, as the variety of things to do is plenty, but it takes some looking to find them all.
posted by midwestguy at 1:10 PM on January 27, 2009

Do you know what cold is? You will soon. You'll understand how the walk from your car to your office can leave your hands numb and burning if you decide to carry your files. How you'll have to add another 10 minutes to your morning to scrap the ice from your car as the frigid wind cuts through your pants and leaves you shivering for the ten minutes it takes for your car to warm-up enough to produce heat. How the inside of a house can be cold even when the thermostat says it's 72 F and how valuable a sunny day is to you.

Don't let it get you down though, soon 20 F with little wind will be a balmy day. And that nice slim fashionable jacket will really just be your Fall coat. Some people claim to love the cold, I'm pretty sure they are in denial.

Advice for surviving the winter:
-Drive slow when the roads are at all questionable.
-Get a garage. A heated garage is even better.
-Wear hats, ugly hats are warmer.
-Gloves, usually the leather ones aren't really warm enough.
-Get a long handled ice scraper with a brush.
-Have crap shoes or boots for the slush.
-Is your car more than a few years old? Buy some lock de-icer and don't leave it in the car.
(Coffee slowly poured over the area around the lock works in a pinch.)
-Move away before you hate the cold as much as I do.
posted by 517 at 1:18 PM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Brandy! Wisconsin consumes, what, half of all the brandy in the country? Something like that. Order it in any mixed drink.

Beer! Wisconsin has some of the best micro and macro breweries in the country. Enjoy your Capital brewery, your City brewery, your New Glarus, even your Huber (cheap and delicious, it's nationally distributed as Simple Times at Trader Joe's). Most of the breweries are down Madison way, but you should be able to get sixes throughout the state.

Cheese! Wisconsin chedder is fantastic. You may want to try cheese curds, though I find them vile.

Cold! Buy your winter gear there. You can get great deals at the Farm and Fleet, though I don't know how many of those are in the Milwaukee area. Look for coats with removable linings, as you can use them in the spring (wet, but not as cold). Waterproof gloves are also handy, as are remote car starters for cold days. Make sure that you understand when and how to switch to snow tires. Make sure when you're scouting out a place to check the window edging and how the door closes, since that's where you'll lose most of your heat.
posted by klangklangston at 1:22 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

it marked the first time I had ever been in weather colder than 30 degrees, so despite the April move, any winter survival tips would be greatly appreciated

I think absolutely your biggest adaptation will be to the weather.

Order really good boots (function not fashion) from someplace like Lands End or L.L.Bean. Also, a good parka, hat, scarf, gloves.

Simply dealing with snow and ice: driving in it, shoveling it, walking around in it will be (I can tell you from the experience of a new co-worker who just moved here (Portland ME) from DC) a steep learning curve. If you're renting a place (as I assume you will be at first) be sure to ask what their policy is on snow removal. Nothing in the world sucks quite so much as starting your day by digging out your car at 530 am (because its going to take an hour and a half to shovel and you need to leave for work by 7) when its below zero out.

Someone upthread recommended Doc Martens as boots. So far as I know, Doc's doesn't sell an insulated boot. You want a boot that's rated to at least zero, or colder. That means a boot with Thinsulate or Primaloft insulation that is also waterproof. (Something like these boots from L.L.Bean - please note I do work for Bean but would recommend them regardless). That means a well-insulated waterproof parka with a hood. (Sample coat, also from Bean). In snow country its very common to bring "dressy work" shoes to work with you, or just leave a pair at work.

Honestly, if you've never driven in snow I'd recommend finding a place to live within walking distance of your job, if possible, at least for the first winter. Learning to drive in ice and snow is an art. Looks like Milwaukee to Sussex is about a half-hour drive in good weather: in snow that could be as much as an hour or more, depending on conditions.

If you must drive, be sure to make a survival kit for your car: some food; blanket or sleeping bag, flares, etc.

Also, you may not be used to needing a "winter wardrobe" and a "summer wardrobe". Right now is the time to be buying winter stuff - turtlenecks, sweaters, flannel-lined jeans or khakis, wool socks, your parka, boots, gloves - sure you're not moving until April but right now is "end of season" on a lot of winter stuff for catalog companies and you'll get it cheaper now than in the fall.

Oh, and get used to people making a lot of assumptions about who you are and what your tastes are just because you're "from California". It may not be right, but human nature is such that you'll be seen as a sort of exotic creature from a distant planet for a while. That will change, slowly, but at first you'll run into a lot of people who think that all of California is like the movies ... endless beaches and Hollywood stars. Let them ask you stupid questions ("did you live near the beach?") and try to stay good natured about it.
posted by anastasiav at 1:35 PM on January 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

-All Wheel Drive is a godsend in Wisconsin, because of all the snow.
-As said above, a good coat and boots are key.
- Cheese Curds: there are two types - deep fried, and squeaky, cold unfried curds. They are both delicious.
-Bratwurst and Polish sauage: they're delicious
-Beer: Wisconsin brews and drinks a lot of it
-Old Fashioned's - Wisconsin's state drink, made w/ brandy
-Hockey: Wisconsin plays it.
-The Packers: sort of the state religion
-Snow tires: put them on your car

All I can think of for now.
posted by creeront at 1:38 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I moved to Minnesota I bought a Land's End parka and only replaced it 7 years later (with an identical coat) because it didn't fit me anymore. So yea, I nth the recommendation for Land's End coats and parkas.

Related to the restaurant tips from midwestguy, my experience is that people eat dinner earlier than I was used to (I'm from the east coast originally). Forget getting a table at the popular places at 6PM. 8PM, on the other hand, is easy. This might work in your favor if you're used to eating later.

This won't be an issue until next winter, but you may start suffering from a touch of SAD during that stretch when the sun doesn't come up until almost 8AM. I have a really hard time getting up in the morning at this time of year. I tell myself it's counterbalanced by the 10PM sunsets in summertime.
posted by cabingirl at 2:15 PM on January 27, 2009

A bubbler is a drinking fountain.
posted by hydrophonic at 2:31 PM on January 27, 2009

On where to live in Milwaukee: seconding the East Side, which is the northeast tip of Milwaukee proper. It's where all the young people are. As an alternative, the Historic Third Ward is pretty up and coming too, but it seems more entreprenurial / condo-y.

For the rest of Wisconsin: make sure you find time to visit Madison. Especially on Halloween.

Also: Don't bring up Brett Favre, at least not now.
posted by trotter at 2:38 PM on January 27, 2009

Driving in snow is likely to be among the more difficult adjustments to make. Remember:
Easy on the brake, easy on the gas. If you don't have ABS, you need to rapidly pump the brake with your foot if you start to slide. If you have ABS, don't pump the brake. If you're lucky enough to drive stick, don't start in 1st gear--use second and go easy on the gas while you feather the clutch. Try to downshift to decelerate before you resort to the brake. If you must brake, brake before attempting a turn--not during the turn. If you start to slide, turn into the skid.

Sounds like a lot, but you'll get the hang of it.
posted by TrialByMedia at 2:40 PM on January 27, 2009

I lived in Wisconsin for 24 years before moving to California, and like others have said, winter is going to be a shock. Even growing up there, I never fully got used to it. I'm even wussier now that I've been basking in California for awhile now.

Here's something that people don't often associate with cold: dry skin. Because you'll be spending significant amounts of time indoors in artificial heat, you might have to adjust to a lack of moisture in the air. I highly recommend good lotion and a humidifier to keep moisture in the house, or you may deal with very itchy skin and hair, and also a sore throat at night.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:04 PM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

I hear from Californians that midwesterners are more laid back and sociable. We like potlucks, going out to eat, and other loosely structured gatherings, and it's easy to call up a friend for a spur-of-the-moment movie.

There's an accent in Wisconsin. To an outsider, it sounds sort of Canadian/Michiganish. It's also contagious. I caught the accent within a year of moving there and still have it even though I moved away 10 years ago.
posted by PatoPata at 3:05 PM on January 27, 2009

When you're starting your car in the cold you might want to let it run for a bit to warm up. A good time to do this is while you're scraping the ice or snow off the car.

By April all of the winter coats and most clothes will probably be gone so you might want to buy something in advance if you need it. Also, learn to embrace layers.
posted by Bunglegirl at 3:24 PM on January 27, 2009

Gloves may not keep your hands warm enough. Consider mittens instead; Gore-Tex makes some excellent ones. Waterproof is a must.

A pitcher of warm water poured over your windshield removes ice in a flash, no matter how thick it is.

Find an REI and stock up on Smartwools socks in various thicknesses. They're amazing, and the only sock I wear from October through April.

If you'll be snowblowing a sidewalk or driveway, wearing a pair of ski goggles is helpful, as is Yax Trax for your boots. Shovel or snowblow as soon as possible after a snowfall; it can get packed down quickly and then becomes about ten times as difficult to remove.

Get an electric blanket for your bed and turn it on while you're brushing your teeth, etc., so it's toasty when you climb in.

Stock up on audiobooks or music or something for the days you get stuck on an excruciatingly long, snowy commute. If I have something good to listen to, I almost don't mind them at all.

Good luck!
posted by anderjen at 3:25 PM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

While the cold is brutal, etc., what I hated growing up there was the mosquito. Dear God, they get horrible. So, in the summer, invest in some mosquito repellent. They get especially bad around dusk and at night.
posted by spinifex23 at 3:25 PM on January 27, 2009

I grew up in Wisconsin, and lived there for 18 years. And then because I didn't hate it enough, i moved further north to Minneapolis. Because of this, I find previous posting to be more panic stricken than need be, but maybe that's because I am well adapted to the icicles that freeze around my heart.

However, don't get all decked out in gear from Fargo, don't go shopping at Farm and Fleet or it's sister store, Fleet Farm, Land's End etc (unless you do actually enjoy looking like William H. Macy), you do not need snow tires, and it will not take 2 hours to shovel your car out of the snow.

With this in mind, do keep jumper cables in your car; do invest in a warm wool coat (unless the parka thing at your place of work is suitable, but i don't often seen professionals sporting such gear), do invest in warm gloves and probably a hat. The key to staying warm is layers, many many layers. Layers of thin thermals etc. On especially cold days i wear long underwear under my tights.

Shoes: do as you wish, but I do not own a pair of boots aside from knee high boots that wear to work. My feet have not frozen off yet, but again, I'm well acclimated and just wear lots of socks.

Eat cheese curds, do the micro brewer thing, buy a lot of lotion, when you feel the onset of S.A.D. coming on, try a winter sport, or get one of those lamps. Also, do watch out for the carb happy potluck/hot dish meals otherwise you could spend the rest of winter hibernating.

You will be moving at a fine time though, and enjoy Lakeshore Drive, take a trip to Chicago, it's beautiful, if you have time, go to Door County, and take in a brewers game.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 3:30 PM on January 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

Most apartment complexes clear out the snow for you. To have minimal snow shoveling, get an apartment with a garage.

There are devices that will start your car by remote. On those cold winter mornings, you start your car by remote 15 minutes before you leave. You will want to open your garage door, if you have one. I think they are $100-$300, and they are advertised on the radio.

In the winter, people leave their car running in front of the grocery store. I haven't heard of people stealing one.

There will likely be less security cameras.

People tend to know their neighbors more than in California. Some families would celebrate May Day on May 1st by leaving treats on neighbors' doorsteps. If you have a distinctive car or look, people will notice you more.

I told everyone that I was from California when I moved to Minnesota for college, and I got some free winter gear that way. Ask the locals where to shop. I never bought proper winter clothes for the four winters I lived there, but I layered a lot. If you plan, you don't have to spend more than 20 minutes outside everyday, unless you want to.
posted by Monday at 3:32 PM on January 27, 2009

Car with snow tires > 4WD with regular tires

4WD with snow tires > mountain goat
posted by hwyengr at 3:58 PM on January 27, 2009

>Yax Trax for your boots

YES! I <3>
Another good brand of winter coats, boots, etc. is Columbia. And it's pretty popular among the young people, at least on my college campus in n. Michigan.
posted by at 4:12 PM on January 27, 2009

That should be: YES! I (heart) Yax Trax.
posted by at 4:14 PM on January 27, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, everyone! This is going to be quite a shock to my system, but I'm looking forward to it. It'll be a great experience living somewhere new. Luckily, I'll have a bit of time to prepare for winter.
posted by HonorShadow at 4:25 PM on January 27, 2009

In the winter, people leave their car running in front of the grocery store. I haven't heard of people stealing one.

yeah, don't do this. a few people get their cars stolen every year because of this sort of behavior. where i live (Duluth) they always have reminders on the news to remind people.

a good windshield scraper and/or starting your car a good fifteen minutes ahead of your need-to-leave time is a good practice. especially down there where it's balmy enough to be more about ice than snow.

only stupid people and fashion victims refuse to dress for the weather.
posted by RedEmma at 5:03 PM on January 27, 2009

By April, it's not really that cold (then again, I've lived in the Milwaukee area my entire life, and camped out in -30 weather when I was in middle school).

Here are some cold weather tips I didn't see mentioned elsewhere in the thread...
-If it's really cold, a pair of flannel-lined jeans are awesome. The only place I know of that carries them is Farm and Fleet (or its twin Fleet Farm)

-Layers. Personally, during the recent cold snap, I was fine for walking around with a pair of big socks, boots, flannel-lined jeans... A t-shirt, a sweatshirt, my jacket and a hat... (Haven't been able to find my gloves). I love a sweatshirt with a zipper and a hood for cold weather. It's easy to wear under a jacket plus it can be kept on once your inside if it's cold.

As far as living in Milwaukee... If you like diverse walkable neighborhoods with restaurants and nightlife, either the East Side or Bay View are good. Riverwest is pretty popular too.
posted by drezdn at 6:04 PM on January 27, 2009

As far as surviving winter mentally... Have a ready supply of books/movies/projects whatever suits your fancy to get through extremely cold days/snowy days. Then prepare to pack as much stuff to do into the spring/fall/summer as you can.

It always seems to me like we make up for the cold months by being especially active in the summer.
posted by drezdn at 6:13 PM on January 27, 2009

Oh goodness, don't be terribly afraid of Wisconsin winters, it will be ok. Its cold, yes, it snows, yes. But you don't need to drastically alter your life because of it. If you are of typical college graduate age, live in Milwaukee proper. I don't know anything about Sussex, but small midwestern towns are not typically filled with young people. Winter driving will be fine. If you have a rear wheel drive car, spend the time between april and november selling it and getting something different, otherwise everything will be ok.

Congrats on getting a job in such a tough economy.
posted by mjcon at 6:36 PM on January 27, 2009

Done a lot of business there and in Green Bay.

Only thing I can tell you is that no matter what the cost, if I were you, in addition to buying all the things mentioned above:

-Remote starter for your car
-Heated seats for your car
-A block heater for your car
posted by Thistledown at 9:52 PM on January 27, 2009

I think you should get snow tires. It doesn't have to be snowy for them to be better. When it's cold they grip better, the rubber in regular "all-season" tires get stiff. Seeing as you've never driven in winter, you need all the help you can get. Slow, gentle and cautious.

However, if your not going until April, winter is pretty much done. You will have lots of time to ask your new friends their advice for winter.
posted by Gor-ella at 7:04 AM on January 28, 2009

Snow, bah. You are moving to the Midwest just in time for tornado season! Sorry...

In other news, Milwaukee is great for music in the summertime.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:03 AM on January 28, 2009

Be prepared for shock and credulousness. "Why'd ya move here from California?" will be asked of you over and over. Have a good stock answer ready.

There is a highway over on the side of town you'd most likely frequent. Highway 100. Not "one hundred" it's "a hunnerd" or "a hunnert." The flaaaat vowels might startle you, but realize not everyone talks that way. There are also weird word order issues, too complex to explain here, but just keep an ear out for some oddly twisted syntax!

Be prepared to meet really amazing, funky, artsy, worldly people, but also their extreme opposite. People who "won't go to THAT side of town," or people who've never left the state (uh, not even crossing the border to Illinois, which is less than an hour south). Some folks can be irritatingly provincial.

However, don't despair! There are a multitude of former Californians here, you will find camaraderie with them.

And for heavens sake, don't mistake the idiots out in the cold with NO hats, NO gloves and wearing shorts and flip flops to be sound winter fashion suggestions!!! We all laugh behind their backs, too, from our comfy layers and layers of warm, warm clothing.

Summertime is the best. Every weekend, there literally is some festival going on somewhere in the Milwaukee metro area. Plan to hit a few of them.

and lastly, no one has addressed that while Milwaukee is making strides forward, it is still fairly segregated. neighborhoods such as Riverwest and Bay View are mixed more in a style you'd be used to coming from California, but often other areas of town are isolated groups of individuals by class, culture, or ethnic heritage (see the above "won't go to THAT side of town" attitude). sad state, but being honest and direct about it is the only way to make it disappear.
posted by kuppajava at 10:53 AM on January 28, 2009

You could try to have a Metafilter meet up to get to know some people.
posted by drezdn at 5:06 PM on January 28, 2009

Good general advice above.

The worst weather for me, as a Wisconsin almost-native (b. Chicago), is bitter cold with ice everywhere and no snow at all. I actually like snow, find shoveling it good exercise, and even like to chop ice on a sunny day (salt in the morning, chop at the warmest point between 2 and 3 pm). We're in a La Nina climate period the last couple of years which has apparently been responsible for some real record-setting blizzards. Fortunately, they generally happen overnight (although it's snowing right now at 11 am!).

Some notes on snow. When it's warm, snow is wet and heavy. When it's cold, snow is light and fluffy. Walking, driving, and shoveling characteristics as you imagine. Get two shovels -- one ergonomic, so you can lift and toss, the other a snowplow type, so you can quickly clear a light snowfall by just pushing a swath down the entire walk. Get a good, heavy, metal ice chopper, so all you have to do is lift and drop.

I don't enjoy chipping ice off the car, so if you're forced to park outside, one trick is to put an old bedsheet over the windshield before an icy, wet snowfall. Driving on packed snow is safer than driving on ice, so some communities save money by not striving for a fully clean street. Smaller, lighter cars, though, tend to get in trouble, spinning wheels at stop signs and such. A nice sedan or minivan, though, will manage OK. When driving through snowplow leavings, e.g. at the bottom of a driveway, watch out for frozen snow. You can (rare, but possible) crack something.

We had a police chief move here from California. Everyone joked about how he couldn't take the cold -- he only stayed 4.5 years instead of the 5 he promised. He insists he loves the place and was just ready to retire (it may have been his wife). He said he was taken ice fishing early on as a way to get "into" winter.

Wisconsin is known for its roadside attractions and some weirdness. Cheeseheads vacation in the state, usually, unless they fly someplace warm in winter. There are "snowbirds" in the 50+ bracket who just disappear once it gets cold. Places we go tend to be recreation oriented, such as fishing or hunting in the northern reaches, or hanging out on one of the lakes in the southeast (close to Milwaukee, there are hundreds of such lakes, not counting the, uh, big one). Door County is probably the nicest getaway; Wisconsin Dells the cheesiest. We tend to get annoyed with clueless tourists, mainly from Illinois, but gladly take their money. In the fall, people hunt. That means taking off from work, taking a kid out of school. If you know one of these people, you'll get a shot at some fresh venison eventually -- don't pass it up. We also have the occasional state-raised buffalo burger.

You'll be surprised at how much country music there is here, and how many people now consider themselves Jeff Foxworthy-style rednecks. Outside of the urban areas, there are lots and lots of pick-ups and almost anywhere you go that isn't an interstate or a city street you'll encounter farm equipment.

The state leans ever-so-slightly liberal politically, with two Dem Senators (Feingold and Kohl) and an all-Dem state government right now, and sent Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson to Washington, but was also responsible for Tommy Thompson and Tailgunner Joe McCarthy. There's a retrograde, even resentful streak at times. But personal interaction is generally as noted, "nice" even by laid-back California standards.
posted by dhartung at 9:13 AM on January 29, 2009

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