Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Day I Learned Who Johnny Football Is

I woke up on the 20th day of the road trip on the McClenagans’ very comfortable couch a little before 9, after staying up very late to sink my teeth (so to speak) into the Planet of Slums book that had caught my attention the previous evening. I don’t remember eating any breakfast there, but I do recall Emily hopping on RD’s bike to ride the trails to the State Capitol area to meet a friend there. RD and I got in his car later in the morning to head to the State Capitol area as well, with a plan to eat brunch at Graze. He had informed me that he’d be booting me out of the apartment at 5 that day so they could get to some hang outs they had planned with church friends that would basically take up the rest of their free time that weekend. No problem there, just contacted Esther in Chicago and let her know I needed some help with a place to stay that night.

Madison, with its narrower streets and non-chain store look, has a smaller town feel even with over 500,000 people in the metro area. Notice the gas prices in the first pic:

And here’s the area near the Capitol where we parked:

RD informed me that Madison is the only state capital in the country that lies on an isthmus, and you’ll see the fruits of that soon. From the ground, here’s the Capitol building:

There’s lots of restaurants, shops, etc. around the Capitol too, including Graze, which is where the reflection pictures were taken:

Graze was amazing by the way; I had iced coffee, chicken fried steak and massive amounts of scrambled eggs. RD and I were talking both about what he had going on in his new home, and I filled him in some on how Aeffect was going at church back in Dallas. I say I only filled him in some because he knew more about a few Dallas people than I did, and I’d been there as of two weeks earlier! More on that later.

After Graze, we started walking around the farmer’s market that takes place on Saturdays on the sidewalk surrounding the Capitol; RD apparently needed to get Emily some flowers, according to Emily haha. There were a lot of people walking amongst the stands, all in the same direction. RD mentioned that some people (him) get really upset if a person walks in the opposite direction of the others:

It’s free to go inside the Capitol, which featured beautiful architecture and abundant golden light:

On the second level, one of RD’s dreams came true: a photo op with the Duckies:

Then we climbed several flights of stairs to the roof. To prove it’s an isthmus, on one side is Lake Monona, and on the other is Lake Mendota. Which is which, I never can remember:

And here’s RD, setting up an Instagram that probably put all my pics to shame:

All of this Capitol stuff was free by the way. We meandered back down to the front of the building to take pics of the crowd and RD with the Duckies by a statue:

We saw a one man band:

He had his hands full. We walked for a good while down State Street, which is great because it’s limited to pedestrian traffic only, so it’s perfect for a midday stroll like ours:

Eventually State Street ends up at the University of Wisconsin, which we walked through briefly:

I saw a guy setting up to do a backflip off of a bench, which he pulled off, and stuck the landing!

Our final destination at the university was the Union, which has a café with colorful chairs that look out over Lake Mendota:

The sailboats on the water made for a nice background. It was here, sitting with the Duckies, that RD told me that Mike and Samantha had gone on a date, which was the main Dallas-related thing that he knew before I did! Mike and Samantha are now married as of yesterday, so that was a timely first date.

On the way back down State Street, RD and I stopped in a coffee shop called Michelangelo’s, where we enjoyed lattes and a break from walking on State. It might’ve been here that he offered to give the Planet of Slums book to me. Here’s some of the places along State:

I love the Art Gecko play on words, now every time I see what’s supposed to be called Art Deco style architecture, I think Art Gecko style. Also, State is straight west of the Capitol, hence the direct line of sight to it as we walked closer and closer. All of the other streets that cross State meet it at 45 degree angles because of the way the grid is laid out along the isthmus. RD can confirm this. As we neared the car, I got a last lap around the Capitol to take pictures:

One of the cool things about the Capitol building is that it has 4 wings that radiate out from the central dome, one pointing in each of the cardinal directions (North, South, East, West).

After we got back to the car, we drove to a grocery store to pick up some small items, and then we drove back to RD’s apartment. Emily was back by then, and we watched some of the A&M Florida game that was on that afternoon. I hadn’t heard of the A&M quarterback by then, so I was like “who is this Johnny Football guy?” That turned out to be one of the Aggies’ only two losses that season, 20-17. I remember Emily cheering, and RD was quietly supportive of the cheering haha.

It was around 5 when they informed me it was time for me to go, so they helped get my massive amount of luggage into the Infiniti, and we said our goodbyes. I was waiting on Esther to arrange a place for me to stay in Chicago, so I headed back to downtown Madison to walk back down State Street and kill some more time. I’d seen a coffee shop earlier that I’d secretly wanted to try, and this was my golden opportunity. Whereas before we’d had lattes at Michelangelo’s, this time I went to Espresso Royale (great name!), and did some Chicago research on the laptop with another large latte in front of me there. After the coffee shop, I walked back to the car, passing a restaurant with a funny name that RD had heard was good:

I got back to the car, paid the piper, and drove down to the south end of Madison and tried to get some gas, because I’d seen a Facebook pic that Brian Bain had taken a week earlier in Chicago, and it showed gas prices of $4.60/gallon for regular. Despite my determination to gas up before then, that Shell gas station didn’t agree with my car for more than a couple of gallons. Not helpful, especially for my mood, it was already starting to sprinkle outside.

Wisconsin has early sunsets too, I found out on this Saturday evening. Chicago is only about 150 miles from Madison, but it takes longer than you’d think, and it has tolls starting where I-90 splits off of I-39 in Rockford, Illinois, which is known as the Screw Capital of the World. It doesn’t mean anything bad, just refers to Rockford’s former manufacturing prowess. Paying those tolls began a long-running theme of paying to drive on the highways in the Midwest and Northeast.

I topped off the tank earlier in Edgerton, Wisconsin (thank God) and got some contact info for a friend of Esther’s named Duncan, who lives near her. I texted him, got the address, and probably wildly underestimated the amount of time it would take me to get to his house. The rain picked up as I entered the outer suburbs, and near O’Hare Airport the traffic ground to a halt. I sat in that for a while.

After I got to the exit for Lawrence Avenue, the pace didn’t pick up much. I was already in the “thick” of Chicago, meaning where it starts to get into dense blocks of older rowhouses and apartments and compressed versions of chain and grocery stores along narrower gridded streets. It was raining hard by then, and it took a while to get from I-90 to a Little Caesers. I was starving and needed a Hot-N-Ready for dinner.

Duncan’s house wasn’t hard to find, but getting inside without injury was trickier. When I first knocked on his door, I had the pizza in one hand, umbrella in the other, and a large bag slung over one shoulder, standing at the top of a couple of slippery steps. Here’s evidence of a design flaw: the screen door that he had to open, opened outward, into my chest, which caused me to nearly fall clean off the steps, arms windmilling while somehow not dropping the pizza. That scared the crap out of me for a second haha.

Once I got inside and got dry and starting eating the pizza and getting to know Duncan and his roommates, I felt a lot better. They didn’t have too much space in their place, with 4 guys living in a small 2 story house, so I climbed some wooden stairs after Duncan who was carrying my giant luggage bag and set up shop in a middle room that was crammed with stuff, including a fold out bed. The fourth roommate came in from a football game at Notre Dame a little after midnight, and I probably got to know him the best out of the guys living there. He sounded like he was falling in love with a girl he’d gone to the game with, which is always cool to hear right? I filled him in on the trip so far, which as usual got positive attention and feedback. Both being really tired from the day’s travels, we retired to our respective sleeping spots, with an open invitation to join them at church the following morning. Good night from Chicago!

Now, this isn’t how I felt about the city when I fell asleep that first night, but soon it was a good representation of my Chicago experiences:

And because this was my first day spent in Chicago on the trip, why not check out the first song on the Blues Brothers soundtrack: