Why the Hell Would I Drive to Chippewa?

maybe it’s time you explored the rest of the Valley

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Ian Kloster

The other day I was trying to figure out what you call someone from Chippewa Falls. I settled on “Chippewa Fallsian.” Sure, it sounds like a rebel assassin from Star Wars, but I think it works. We’ve been referring to people as “Eau Clairians” and “Chippewa Vallians” for over a decade now, so why not branch out?

So from now on, you’re either an Eau Clairian, a Chippewa Fallsian, a Menomer, an Altoonite, or a Lake Hallian. If none of these labels fit, you can be an Elk-dur-fall-crackett. Or a Colfaxian.

As I ponder fantastic local naming schemes that are sure to see widespread use, I realize how long it’s been since I’ve visited any of these places. And I started to feel pretty guilty.

A lot of people – especially people named “Mike Paulus” – waste precious breath complaining about the average UW-Eau Claire student’s crippling inability to notice that a whole damn town actually surrounds campus, Water Street, and whatever coffee shop at which they work. I mean, they had to haul their stuff through the rest of Eau Claire to get it to their dorm room, right? That Imagine Dragons poster didn’t ride in on a Greyhound and hang itself up. 

The chances of the average Eau Claire resident hanging out in Chippewa Falls or Menomonie aren’t much better than the chances of the average UWEC business major hanging out at Egg Roll Plus. We can get as huffy-n-puffy as we like over the sheltered student body, but most of us aren’t much better. In fact, many of us are far, far worse. 

“Why is it,” I ask myself, “when kids are finally out on their own, do they pretty much stay put?” 

And then I add (dramatically), “How disappointing.”

However. The UWEC Student vs. the Greater Eau Claire Area paradigm is just a microcosm1 for the situation many Eau Clairians currently find themselves in.2 

It’s a situation I like to call “Why the hell would I drive to Chippewa?”

The chances of the average Eau Claire resident hanging out in Chippewa Falls or Menomonie aren’t much better than the chances of the average UWEC business major hanging out at Egg Roll Plus. We can get as huffy-n-puffy as we like over the sheltered student body, but most of us aren’t much better. In fact, many of us are far, far worse. 

I grew up in Eau Claire and, as a kid, I visited Chippewa Falls ... twice? I’m sure it was more than that, but I certainly don’t remember it. I don’t remember going there at all in high school or college. And nowadays, excluding the occasional Leinenkugel’s Brewery tour3, I only get over there a few times a year. 

Menomonie? Less so. Altoona? Occasionally. 

Many people I know end up in Chippewa Falls or Menomonie seemingly by accident, and they return talking abut how cool it is over there. Sure, like Eau Claire, you’re not guaranteed a thrilling roller coaster ride of amazing fun, fantastic restaurants, awesome shops, and copious local color. But they’re both great towns with plenty of stuff you can’t find in good ol’ EC.

I can only speak from an Eau Clairian’s perspective, and while I hear a lot of talk about Chippewa Falls and Menomonie, I rarely hear about people actually going there on a regular basis. Maybe for a quick jaunt for a movie at Micon Cinemas or a special meal. Maybe for a show at the Mabel Tainter or a graphic design degree from UW-Stout. But those scenarios are few and far between.

Now, I’m not saying shame on you for never leaving Eau Claire. I think you already know how important it is to keep your horizons wide. And even if widening your regular radius of travel from 3 miles to 25 miles isn’t as eye-opening as, say, traveling all the way to exotic Wausau, well ... it’s a start.


1A big thanks, by the way, to UWEC for teaching me to use totally unpretentious words like “microcosm.”  

2Also, thanks to UWEC for teaching me that, yes, in certain instances, it’s perfectly grammatical (and preferable) to end a sentence with a preposition. Although, I’m pretty sure the sentence that led you to this footnote is not one of them.

3Where I rule at beer-related trivia and have the keychain to prove it.

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