Sunday, October 26, 2008

Road Trip to Madison

This weekend's been a real trip, so far! Friday afternoon we packed hastily and left Minneapolis under cover of darkness (only because it gets so dark so early) and flew down 94 West to Madison, WI. We pulled into town shortly before midnight and checked into our hotel.

Hotel shopping had been left to me, so I went into it with economy being foremost on my mind. I secured a double bed at the Budget Host Aloha Inn. A kindly Japanese woman greeted us and gave us our key after telling us about her son who's a lawyer but hates being a lawyer, and who has just published his second book and is working on his third. We told her how wonderful this is.

We checked into the first room, #44, and immediately detected a certain smell. I'm not even euphemizing this: it was just an earthy, unlikeable smell. I checked the toilets, they appeared clean; I looked under the bed--no dead hookers. My guess was that the carpet had mildew or something. However, I've never smelled the mold that grows in walls, so I couldn't identify that.

We requested a different room and got one down another arm of the hotel. It smelled better and our complaints were less mystical: the spring mattress was quite uncomfortable, there was a large spider in the bathtub (Rebecca didn't see the one descending the towel rack before I dispatched it), mold spots on the ceiling and a curious faded brown splatter over the bathroom door.

We were so tired we simply changed clothes and watched TV until we fell asleep. Or, more accurately, watched TV until our neighbors pounded on our mutual wall; I turned it off and eventually we went to sleep. The bed was so uncomfortable that small tasks throughout the day were made that much more difficult: bending, twisting, standing up fast, all impinged by our sore backs. And the heater didn't work and our blankets were thin: all night I dreamt of thick blankets. How sad is that?

But cheap! The Budget Host Aloha Inn is more than competitively affordable, aggressively affordable! It is the least expensive hotel I've used in this country. (In Germany, I slept in an off-season ski hostel that charged, like, five bucks per head. That was extremely nice, too.)

Regardless: this was the day we would explore Rebecca's alma mater, University of Wisconsin: Madison. Some kind of event was going on that forced everyone on campus to wear bright red sweatshirts. This was in support of their football team, the Badgers, but the Badgers were playing very poorly this season so their supporters had the good grace to be quiet about it.

First thing, Rebecca insisted on showing me the wonder that is Ellis' Deli: if that's a little play on "LSD," that would explain a lot. Inside is such a collection of puppets, marionettes, papier mache, vintage advertisements, and animated displays as you've never seen in your life (short of House on the Rock). I got some good photos but it won't do justice to the sheer density of the collection here. Our breakfast was very good--Rebecca needed to ask why I was wolfing mine down--and the waitstaff was very friendly and just the right amount of attentive.

Next, we headed to the farmers market around the capitol. It is a very nice looking farmers market. To look at the markets our farmers set up in Minneapolis, you would think they are all impoverished. The farmers market in front of the capitol is a lovely, charming affair. I sampled a variety of cheese and picked out two large bulbs of German garlic; Rebecca got a spicy deer jerky and wolfed it down.

But after we parked near the farmers market and before we actually went to it, we entered a coffee shop called Ancora Coffee. They call themselves "specialty coffee roasters," and from what I tasted, they were called this because an extremely qualified person holding a position of authority bestowed this title upon them. That was some significantly better coffee than I've had in a long damn time!

This is horrible. It is horrible to drive five hours to another city and find the best coffee you've ever tasted, and then return to your own city. All you will think about is the wonderful coffee you're not having. Doubleplus ungood.

We wandered around the farmers market in a blissed-out haze, then Rebecca led me through the state capitol, a gorgeous building indeed. A small girl, unattended by her indolent mother (I saw her later, she was plenty indolent), started to climb up on the thick marble balustrades surrounding the dead drop into the rotunda. I started to freak out, getting a vicarious vertigo, but it was Rebecca who actually walked over and suggested to the girl that she climb down and not do that anymore. The girl, freaked not that she nearly plummeted to a mangling death but that a stranger spoke to her, ran almost promptly to her mom and then changed the topic to running around in broad, shrieking circles.

Children do not make a good argument for themselves. "I'm several varieties of insane! I'm relying upon your good nature not to give me the throttle I so richly deserve."

Rebecca showed me several highlights on campus, and even just driving through was redolent with stories and sagas. I was glad to hear she had such an epic time during college: she was walking on a foot of air, showing me everything and reliving her adventures.

Eventually we met up with Angela and James, where Jennifer and Eric were already waiting, and when Jim and Melanie showed up we left for Flat Top, a buffet stir-fry place along the same idea as Khan's Mongolian BBQ. It was very delicious, with a variety of intriguing mixed drink recipes. Much picture-taking was had, much conversation was indulged in. Then we repaired back to James & Angela's and carved pumpkins for the rest of the night.

That was particularly sweet. Pumpkins were the great equalizer. Take a bunch of people whom you think are locked and defined by one clear underground social group, people you think could have no interests outside of obscure foreign CDs, stark clothing, and questionable personal distractions, and give them some large spoons, steak knives, and a couple pumpkins, and prepare to be stunned. We reminisced, we shared folklore and American history, I dare say we bonded. James had a supply of battery-powered LED "candles" so we lit up all the jack o'lanterns and took several pictures of the group. It was so awesome.

Adults can't trick or treat anymore. Under certain circumstances they can dress up in costumes, but they can't hang out with little kids and there is no candy involved. But they can carve the fuck out of a pumpkin like never before. It is a surprising amount of fun, being simple work and a dose of creativity. It's something I could get into several times a year, if crop cycles permitted.

I actually did find a UK message board, maybe it was in Wales, where citizens were writing to the editor to complain of the "decline of Western civilization" in the form of abandoning tradition. Kids barely bothered to dress up in costumes at all, had completely lost the "trick" concept in trick or treat, and, God save us, it seemed that no one carved jack o'lanterns out of turnips anymore. Nope, they'd all fallen into that decadent American practice of using pumpkins, and only a staunch, diminishing rear guard of traditionalists knew how to carve amusing or spooky faces into a turnip these days. Oh, dark days indeed.

We all preferred pumpkins. We had a good time, and then Rebecca and I packed our stuff up and left the Aloha Inn and checked into a Howard Johnson's, where they gave us a nice clean room with a large soft bed, and I've yet to see an arachnid or bug of any sort.

And tomorrow is Angela and James's wedding. Tonight I'm writing up notes for what I'm going to say during the ceremony. It's one of those moments where all you can think is, "Gee, I wish we would've hung out more," but I think I've got some good material and can contribute to the ceremony. I hope so.


Rebecca said...

You forgot to mention the solitary chair in room #36 at the Aloha Inn Budget Motel that had a burn hold and a large brown/red stain on it. Or the HBO guide from September that was waterlogged. Or, shall I say, I hope it was water since I actually touched the nasty thing.

Marina said...

May I suggest a "take back trick-or-treat" movement? The object is thoroughly explained by the title, but the methods would be excellent costumes and a repertoire of non-euphemistic "tricks." Perhaps a simple "take back trick-or-treat" button would be useful to explain that we are no simple hoodlums or rabblerousers, but Adults on a Mission.

And if they don't give us any candy, we should pelt them with turnips.