Monday, August 15, 2011

Table for One

Bus or no bus, I was determined to get into Madison, and on Wednesday night, all the stars were aligned.  It would be a 50 minute bus ride and I resigned myself to taking a cab back.  The rest of our hotel--almost all the guests had business at Epic--were taking "dinner shuttles" to local restaurants, something I wanted no part of.  The hotel manager, arranging the shuttles, showed consternation when I told him my plan was to take a bus, alone, downtown. I could tell that this made him take a more reserved view of my character.  Clearly, someone who preferred to ride on a  public bus rather than be shuttled in a van to a suburban restaurant, was slightly unsavory.

Nevertheless, I waited at the stop at 7:00pm and the bus arrived, full of Epic employees and their bicycles.  In about five minutes I had absolutely no idea where I was.  It was a tiny bit terrifying, but mainly I was very, very happy.  The end of the line was the "Western Transfer Point."  It was a bit seedy, as bus stops usually are.  Even in Charlottesville, I can't find a seat at the transfer station in the morning that doesn't have beer spilled on it.  Some of the people waiting were a little sketchy, and I accidentally caught the eye of a man, which is, of course, the last thing you want to do if you are a woman alone in a strange city at a seedy bus stop. My bus came before anyone had a chance to start bothering me.  We drove a long, long way, turning down different streets until I became utterly disoriented,  and eventually stopped at State St.  It was now nearly 8:00pm and most of the shops were closing, but there was lots to see:  plenty of people walking about, many restaurants, and the Wisconsin Capitol building at the top of the street. 

Everywhere were phalanxes of cyclists.  In Charlottesville, when you see someone riding a bicycle, there's a certain tense aggressiveness about him.  He is riding for is life, the main goal being to get to his destination without getting "doored" or hit by a car. You must be constantly on the defensive to cycle in C'ville, and if the people who write the mean comments on the Hook's website, or call the Cville rant line are an accurate representation, there are a lot of motorists in Charlottesville who hate and resent bicycles.  In Madison, the cyclists looked relaxed, and there were so many of them, no car would dare mess with them.  Not only were there lots of people riding bicycles, all the bike racks were stuffed with the bikes.  I felt like I was in Holland.  I wish Charlottesville was like this.   Our city council means well by posting signs and painting bike lanes but this doesn't solve the problem of a hostile local population.

Anyhoo, I walked to the Capitol building, which is kind of famous and sits on a hill, dominating the city, did a lap of the building, and discreetly displayed the middle finger to the office windows I thought most likely to be Governor Scott Walker's--partly on behalf of union workers, and partly on behalf of the gay couples Walker thinks should be prevented from visiting each other in the hospital.  A woman, dragging a small boy came hurrying up to me.  "Is it open?" she gasped, out of breath.  "I want him to see the  beagles."  Beagles? She said, "Not beagles, you know they're like eagles."  Eagles?  "Badgers, " she said finally.  "I want him to see the badgers."  It had never occurred to me to try to enter the building, and I didn't know anything about any badgers.  Apparently, the building is usually open to the public until late, but this time the doors were locked--it was the day after the recall election--and the woman went away disappointed.

Despite having an intolerant twat as a governor, Wisconsin is pretty awesome.  The weather was beautiful--almost autumnal by Virginia standards--the streets were alive with interesting people, and the place had a happy, friendly vibe and beer is clearly a very important part of the local culture.  I walked into a restaurant at random, an elegant tapas place, and I expected to be sneered at for being alone and  casually dressed, but the hostess was friendly and let me sit at the bar, where I enjoyed an excellent glass of wine, some marinated salmon on a skewer and an interesting composed salad.  I strolled some more, window shopping, and making note of the shops I want to visit when I return.  It was now getting late, there were fewer people around and I was cold.  I called a cab and waited at "Madison's Happiest Corner" for it to pick me up.

Wine, Beer, Spirits:  Madison's Happiest Corner. (Click on pic to enlarge.)


  1. Cycling is much more popular across all age/social strata in the Midwest because the terrain is much friendlier to the non-athletic.

    I miss that about the Midwest. It was nothing for me to ride my bike several miles as a teen to visit friends or go fishing.

    I'm glad you made it into the city proper!

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