Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hello, Wisconsin!

It had been a long Wednesday and Thursday of hurriedly crossing the northern US, and at some point around the Minnesota border sign I believe I took an Instagram picture with a caption of “NOW BACK TO THE GOOD PART!”, showing my excitement to be getting back to more civilization in Minnesota and Wisconsin and Illinois by that weekend.

I slept well that Friday morning till 9 or so, and the Duckies did too, here’s that giant aero-bed we were floating on top of that night:

Jeff was long gone to work by the time I got up, but Leah came out and made me a big tasty breakfast. This was especially nice of her because she was pregnant at the time, and was talking about how things were going with growing a new child and whatnot. We had a good long chat, around 2 hours I think, which was good after not talking to anybody much over the past 2 days.

I left the apartment later that morning after saying goodbye to Leah. She and Jeff had told me a couple of places I needed to visit in my remaining time in Minnesota: a park southeast of downtown Saint Paul for some great skyline photo ops, and a small town on the Wisconsin called Stillwater that had lots of little shops and places to eat on its traditional Main Street. Both turned out to be excellent suggestions.

I drove south on I-35E from White Bear Lake for a few minutes to reach downtown St. Paul:


I had to wind my way along some side streets near the riverbank to get to Mounds Park, a perfect spot to take pictures of downtown and the Mississippi River:


That was a good experience! Great, mild weather too. From Mounds, I drove east in the St. Paul area to get gas at a Superamerica. Minnesota is a pretty place, it was all very green and lots of trees, but without being wet and humid. Drier and green is a good combination. It took a little while to get to Stillwater on Highways 5 and 36 but I knew I’d made a good decision as soon as I found Main Street, which had materialized out of a two lane road that ran along the St. Croix River. It was already sprinkling when I got to town:

Here’s the sign to Wisconsin a few hundred yards to the east:

I parked the car by the river, and got out on the walkway to take some pictures of the water and Wisconsin across the bridge:

After that, I walked over to a candy shop called Candy Land. I bought a few bags of orange chocolates, chocolate gummy bears and other deliciousness, some for me and the rest for RD and Emily, all for only $8!! I got back in the car with my candy, and looked up the route to Madison, and ate candy for lunch. That’s what I call “all right”. Not a very filling lunch, but it was soooooo tasty!

Most of the driving this Friday took place in Wisconsin, and Madison is closer to the southeast corner of the state, more than 200 miles from St. Paul. Compared to the distances driven the previous two days, that was nothing, but I was clearly starting to wear down, because I struggled to stay focused and engaged this day. It was nothing against the scenery at all; Wisconsin looks like what you would think Germany would look like:

Green, forested, rural. That’s the vast majority of Wisconsin, as there are no large cities between St. Paul and Madison on I-94, they’re all smaller, like the one where I got a Black Eye at Starbucks. I needed the boost from the extra shots of espresso, I was dragging. Somewhere along the way the car hit 50,000 miles on its lifetime:

The road setup in Wisconsin started to get more…northern. What I mean is, the entry and exit ramps for the interstate were loops in that area, rather than entering or exiting the highway in a straight line. This was a good way to test the Infiniti’s balance of cornering ability followed by power. The car needed to hold grip around the tight curves to maintain speed to set up a powerful blast onto the highway to be up to speed with the rest of traffic. I say “needed” because I just love driving fast, not because it was essential to be going faster than the cars on the road. Once I rounded each curved onramp, I’d just say “do what you do best” and planted the right pedal down.

As I got closer to Madison, RD informed me that they weren’t actually home, and that they were in Fort Atkinson, 30 minutes further east of Madison. No problem, I thought. I was fortunate to be treated to another quality sunset with clouds that looked like they were flowing like water across the sky:


The Duckies had a good view of the scene as usual: 

I passed Madison, got off the interstate, and took some country roads in the dark for a few more turns and minutes until I got to Fort Atkinson and found the high school football stadium. Yes, it was sort of like being back in Texas, but with a less intense crowd. It was about 40 degrees that night, and I was in short sleeves and jeans for some reason. I got into the game for a small number of dollars, and bought 4 hot dogs for $4 total (I was starving and felt weak). When I saw RD in the stands, he was happy to see me, but he did say I looked a little rough. That wasn’t just because of my full beard either, I probably looked pale as a ghost. The recent slew of driving had worn me down some, and I was cold and underfed, given that I’d had delicious candy for an entire meal.

It was really great to get to see RD and Emily after they’d been gone from Texas for about 4 months. They were starting a new life in Wisconsin, and were at the game to hang out with some of their high school students from the church and their parents. I don’t remember who won the game, but I remember wolfing down the 4 hot dogs quickly and catching up with my friends while shivering a little in the cool weather.

Once the game was over, we walked quite a ways back to my car, parked near the entrance of the high school. Emily wasn’t thrilled about walking that far in the cold, but it paid off big in the end, we squirted right out onto the main road, and beat a ton of traffic along the way. I took off pretty fast in the parking lot, and had told RD and Emily a few details of the trip so far, so Emily immediately said “watch it, this ain’t Nevada!” Point well taken, I calmed it down after that.

It was a fun drive in the dark back to their apartment in Madison; we listened to 80’s music along those back roads, including “Take Me Home Tonight” by Eddie Money, which is one RD used to sing a lot. We dropped off Emily at a friend’s house where she’d parked her car, and we got back to the apartment maybe around 10. It was a nice, well kept place, with a lot of books on some of the shelves. One of those books was Planet of Slums, which I picked up and started reading (really, I couldn’t put it down) after we watched an episode or two of The Office. The episodes were from one of the later seasons, which I think included some office party in the basement with a lot of ad lib dancing from Kelly and Andy.

I stayed up pretty late reading Planet of Slums, which had all kinds of fascinating stats about slums and general poverty in the third world. The McClenagans went to bed around 12, but not before a fun discussion where Emily was trying really hard to get me to sleep on an aerobed, but since I’d noticed that the couch looked comfortable, and RD was saying how well he slept on it the previous weekend, I ended up sleeping on the couch. That decision worked out well.

Speaking of the previous weekend, our mutual friends Jessica Hall and Erin Callahan had visited Wisconsin on Labor Day weekend, and had taken the opportunity to catch up with RD and Emily (more Emily than RD, duh) while going sailing on one of the lakes and in general having lots of fun being friends in the same spot again. Props to them for making the most of a Chicago-Madison trip, even without the Duckies.

I talked to RD about something a lot in that overnight stay, about how there needs to be a remix of the Lob City remix of the song Rack City called “Mad City”, in honor of Madison. More on that later. As a homage to RD’s time in Texas, here’s Eddie Money’s “Take Me Home Tonight”:

Check out that flowing hair, indoor sunglasses and saxophone raised high in the air. What a masterpiece haha! By the way, the song is infinitely better than the movie starring Topher Grace, don’t rent it.

And, my homage to That 70’s Show via the blog post title, the show’s theme song:

Goodnight from Mad City!