Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Weekend Report
And now it's time for the weekend report. Oooh, aaah. Right, so what did Dana do for her Labor Day holiday weekend?

She went to Madison! Yay, Madison! Madison is really a very nice city, which I actually visited way back last summer while I was at Beloit for Japanese classes, and the downtown area is starting to look familiar to me already. The excellent thing about Madison now is that I actually know people there. Many of my favorite Grinnellians have pooled in the northern midwest, here in Michigan (me, Mark, Heather, Matt, Sarah, Jennie, etc.), in Chicago, and in Madison (Ann, Mikey, Pam.) So, because Heather needed to pick up some things she had left in Madison last year, and we had this convenient three-day weekend, she got me and Matt, and not incidentally, Matt's family's very large car, to take the trip with her.

The one truly unfortunate thing about Madison is that it is on the other side of Chicago from here. Oh, sure, on a map, it looks like Michigan and Wisconsin are right next to each other, but in reality, that stupid lake makes it a total pain in the rear to drive from one state to the next. For those of you who have not experienced the joy of driving from Michigan to Wisconsin, allow me to enlighten you. The drive entails going through the corner of Indiana, past the cesspool that is Gary, then on into Illinois, where one hits every single tollbooth in the entire state, with the added joy of driving straight through the middle of Chicago on the so-called "expressway," which I assure you is anything but. It takes about 7-8 hours. There is always construction. Driving to Chicago for a purpose is good. Driving around it is bad. In the words of everyone's favorite Tolkein character, "We hates it." Poor Matt deserves much sympathy for driving the whole way.

When we finally arrived in Madison, though, all was good. We got to Mikey's apartment without incident, found him, conferred about dinner plans, and then he whisked me off to Ann's, which is where I would be staying. Ann, like me, has just embarked upon her graduate career, and now lives in the part of Madison known as the "isthmus," which is really just code for "the part of Madison where none of the streets are straight and all are one way." After some confusion over whether her building was 110 North or South Hancock, we found the right one, picked up Ann and Pam, and took them back to Mikey's, from whence we went to dinner. Mmmm, pseudo-Mexican food. You can't get food like that in Japan.

After dinner, there was chatting and so forth once again at Mikey's. As I recall, there was a lot of conversation about books, which is hardly surprising in the apartment of an English major, the main feature of whose living room is bookshelves. I wish mine looked like that. Of course, Ann is a library science and history grad student, Pam is a future teacher, Matt is aiming for philosophy school eventually, and we're all print-addicted, so books are not exactly an unusual topic of conversation no matter where we find ourselves. I, of course, thought it was quite fun. We didn't ever quite solve the problem of how to teach literature and literacy in the public schools, alas. Perhaps it was too late at night.

The party broke up, though, and I went to Ann's to sleep. Supposedly sleep, I should say. Ann was my roommate for 2 years at Grinnell, we haven't seen each other in a year, you see the way this is going. Plus, I had to admire Ann's quirky little apartment. I like it. Yes, it is small. Yes, the kitchen is bizarrely arranged in the tiny little corner under the stairs going up the second floor. But it's cute and cozy, and all of her furniture is neat wooden stuff gotten from thrift stores, and it all seems very Ann. I must say, the futon couch in the living room/dining room makes a very comfortable bed, as well. Eventually, we did go to sleep because...

... the next morning we had a brunch date with Pam, who conveniently lives but a 15 minute walk away. (Another issue with the isthmus is there is absolutely nowhere to park, so once parking is found, people are reluctant to move their cars unless absolutely necessary. But I like walking.) Pam had made us blueberry-stuffed French toast, culinary experimenter that she is, from blueberries she and Ann had picked up at the farmer's market around the capitol building the day before. With the accompaniment of tea and homemade syrup, it was a most excellent repast. I showed them my pictures of Japan, we talked, we had more tea, and then Heather came by to pick up Pam so they could go visit another Dance Troupe friend in Milwaulkee.

From Pam's, Ann and I walked to the Asian market. I had the intention of finding yakisoba to make for Ann, but they were out! The horror! This would so not have happened in Japan. Totally unheard of. I was appalled. However, I did find gyoza and mochi ice cream. The man in the store gave us somewhat flawed directions to another Japanese grocery store down the street, but when we finally found it, they didn't have any either. It was a nice walk around a bit of the lake, though, so I didn't mind. When we got back to Ann's, she started showing me all her pictures from her trip to Europe last summer, which she took while I was in Beloit, getting ready to go to Japan. There were a lot of pictures, so they sort of spanned the time both before and after dinner, but they were all amazing. I'm ready for my next vacation now, thank you. Scotland, and Chartres, and Munich, and London, and, and, and...

Dinner turned out pretty well, too. The gyoza were tasty as always, if imperfectly cooked, not that it mattered. The novelty of having a stove with heat-adjustable burners sort of threw off my technique. The mochi ice cream was an experience not to be missed. Mochi ice cream is basically a small ball of ice cream surrounded by a covering of mochi, or sticky pounded rice gluten, which then gets a dusting of some coating to make it non-sticky. Ann had never had mochi before, and seeing someone try it for the first time is always funny. Mochi ice cream is even funnier because the ice cream sort of melts inside the mochi ball and it's kind of fun to play with. I think that provided the entertainment for the whole meal.

I did actually manage to get some work done while I was there, too. Ann helped by grading all the grammar pre-tests I had given the students, and then she read their self-introduction papers, which are pretty amusing. After I did my reading, though, we went back to talking, unsurprisingly. It was very good to see Ann again. The next day, however, I had to leave and come back to Michigan. Heather and Matt arrived around 10am with all of Heather's plants and her chinchilla packed in the car, and we hit the road.

Unfortunately, we hit it at a crawl. The traffic all the way from Madison through all of Wisconsin, all the way to the other side of Chicago was terrible. Our 7-8 hour drive turned into 10. And it was raining. Stupid, piddly little spitting rain, later turning into harder gray rain, all very traffic-jam enhancing. However, you can find entertainment anywhere if you look hard enough. This weekend was also the weekend of Harley Fest, so there were all sorts of bikers riding along and bikes on trailers, everywhere. As it started to rain, the bikers became more colorful as well, because they all stopped to put on their rain gear. They did not look so happy to be riding in the rain. We did find out from one biker at the gas station who the mystery concert performer had been the last night. You would never guess. Elton John. I'm not kidding. At Harley Fest. The guy said a lot of people walked out. He, however, stayed, because he likes Elton John.

Anyway, eventually we made it home, and the very next day started back to the school and work grind. Hopefully, I will be able to get back to Madison at some point, but perhaps first I might convince some people over there to come here.

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