Sunday, September 16th, 2012

image of trunk full of goodwill donationsWe paid a visit to the Monroe Cheese Fest yesterday, which, if they were honest, they would call the Monroe Standing In Lines Fest. Ten thousand people crowded the city square of Monroe, so there were lines for everything. There were even lines to get in lines. I’m not kidding. To buy cheese curds, or cheesecake on a stick, or a beer – anything – we had to stand in a line to buy tickets for it first. I didn’t find a vendor anywhere that would take my money in exchange for something deep-fried, or cool and refreshing. I should’ve pulled the race card on them. “Oh, I get it: No tickee, no beer, eh? What kind of racist organization is this, anyway?”

Of course, each vendor had their own tickets. We couldn’t buy a whole fistful of tickets, then redeem them anywhere we wanted. Beer tickets would not buy cheese curds, for instance. Luckily for our thirsty selves, the New Glarus beer tent had a crack staff that kept the lines moving pretty fast. I was okay with the tickets-for-beer crap so long as I had a cold cup of beer in my hand.

We were invited to the cheese fest by a couple we know, Bryan and Kris. Bryan grew up in Monroe, so he knew it like the back of his hand and could tell stories about every building in town. He knew, for instance, that we wouldn’t be able to park anywhere near the courthouse square. Taking his advice, we parked on the edge of town and rode in on one of the buses the festival organizers chartered to bring people into town. Bryan suggested we meet in front of Baumgartner’s, a tavern Bryan said anybody would be able to point us toward if we couldn’t find it. Good idea, but as it turned out, we didn’t have to ask. The bus dropped us off right behind Baumgartner’s, so we were right where we wanted to be almost as soon as we stepped off the bus.

Our timing was perfect. Bryan phoned My Darling B just minutes after we arrived and left a voice message for her, saying he was in front of Baumgartner’s waiting for us, but after scanning the twenty or so faces of the people standing outside Baumgartner’s, we were pretty sure he was pulling a Candid Camera stunt on us. “If you’re in front of Baumgartner’s, then you must be cloaked,” I texted to him. I tried calling, but the cumulative weight of ten thousand cell phone users must’ve been overwhelming the one tired cell phone tower near the center of this normally-sleepy berg, because I never connected with him no matter how many times I tried to dial his number, even while he was leaving me more voice messages.

We hooked up eventually. He and Kris were standing on the other side of the road, near the beer tent. How fortuitous. After grabbing a cold one, we set off to tour the vendors set up around the square. That’s when we found out there were an infinite number of lines waiting for tickets, food, tickets, and beer. When we were almost all the way around the square, Bryan volunteered to wait in line for tickets to buy some cheese curds if we would go on to the beer tent and have a freshly-pulled cold beer waiting for him when he caught up with us. We agreed, and on we went.

I caught only the outlines of this plan, however, because while we were working them out I overheard the familiar strains of La Vie En Rose, played by all-girl accordion band, The Squeezettes. I had never been prepared for a version of La Vie En Rose scored for four women on accordions. I’m more accustomed to versions like the one sung by Edith Piaf, although Louis Armstrong can turn out a pretty good rendition, too. Overcome by the, ah, unique rendition by the Squeezettes, I lost track of what was going on around me and almost didn’t notice when the rest of the group moved on to the beer tent.

We ended up at the corner where we started, just as my Auntie Sue and Uncle Jim arrived. There was much hugging and hellos, followed by a trip to the beer tent to make sure everyone had a cool, refreshing drink before we went on to the next thing. The Next Thing was supposed to be listening to a blues band at the stage behind the brewery, but unfortunately it turned out that they were scheduled to appear much later in the day than we thought they were, so we made our way back up to the square and, on the way, happened to meet some people we knew. There was much more hugging and hellos, more cool libations from the beer tent, and shortly afterward we found ourselves in the shade of the buildings along the side of the square, where we passed the rest of the afternoon, shooting the shit while polka bands played old pop tunes. And it was not at all bad way to pass the time, I might add.

We made one side trip to see what the tour of the distillery was like. I have to say that I was disappointed. It wasn’t much of a tour. They herded us into a room, showed us a brief Power Point slide show summarizing the history of the Minhaus Brewery, poured a few drinks, and that was it. There wasn’t even a distillery to look at. They had a mega-still installed in the room, but it looked like it wasn’t hooked up to anything and, if I heard them right, it hadn’t ever been fired up. It was a virgin still. Maybe the tour will be a bit more interesting after they’ve actually distilled something and have a few good stories to share. Couldn’t say.

We packed up and headed out of town kind of early because standing around all day in the sun sipping beer made me a little sleepy. I wanted to get back before it got dark.

Monroe Waiting In Line Festival | 8:55 pm CST
Category: beer, booze, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, music, My Darling B, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play | Tags: , , , ,
Comments Off on Monroe Waiting In Line Festival

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Our Saturday morning routine has altered slightly. For months it was: farmer’s market for breakfast & shopping, then co-op for groceries, then book store, then home. But for the past few weeks it’s been: farmer’s market for breakfast & shopping, then march to capitol square chanting “Recall Walker!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” with hoards of angry protesters, then stop at the co-op for groceries, then home. It’s a subtle change, but it seemed significant enough to mention.

I’m impressed that they’re still marching and rallying, to tell you the truth. The rally today wasn’t as big as last week’s, so the rally organizers, whoever they are, don’t seem to have been able to keep the amount of enthusiasm at the levels we’ve seen before. The crowd today filled up the corner of the square facing King Street, but when we walked around the square we didn’t see many people anywhere else on the sidewalk or along the terrace. There was a small knot of people at the top of State Street, but that was it.

My Darling B and I marched with the parade of veterans that gathered on Library Mall at the UW campus up State Street to the square, up Carroll Street and Main Street to the King Street intersection where the rally was held. We wore our old fatigue jackets because we got the impression there’d be a lot of veterans there, and there very well might have been, but only a handful of them wore anything that looked like uniform jackets or fatigue shirts. We sort of stuck out, so much that I was approached by a reporter from the Wisconsin State Journal who wanted to ask me about my impressions of the rally. I was going to tell her no comment, but then I reconsidered and answered her questions. Maybe she’ll quote me accurately and maybe she won’t, but if she doesn’t I’ve got her business card.

Saturday Morning Rally | 4:22 pm CST
Category: daily drivel | Tags: , , ,
Comments Off on Saturday Morning Rally

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

image of rally in Madison WI 3-12-11

My Darling B and I spent all day yesterday in downtown Madison and all we saw was a lousy two hundred thousand union supporters rallying around the capitol! Man, did we feel ripped off!

We started off the day normally enough, washing up and heading into town to stock up our pantry with various and sundry items from the Dane County Farmer’s Market and, while we were there, we filled our bellies with a delicious breakfast: burritos, hash browns and a few leafy greens. Leafy greens might sound a little unusual to those who have not eaten at a farmer’s market. I thought they were at first, too, but after you’ve eaten breakfast at a farmer’s market for a couple years you not only get used to it, you feel a little guilty if you don’t eat your leafy greens, like maybe you’re cheating. “Hiding your leafy greens under the table mat again?” “No, Mom, honest!”

While My Darling B was shopping I had to run down the street to get first aid for an eyeglass emergency. At first I was just going to duck into Dorn’s Hardware to see if they had any of those little screwdrivers you can attach to your keyring. That would’ve been the quickest and easiest way for me to fix my glasses, if Dorn’s had been open, but they were not, so I ran shuffled on down to State Street to an optometrist’s shop on the intersection with Gorham Street. I’m going to give C. G. Schanel & Associates a plug because not only was he the most pleasant optometrist I’ve even dealt with, he didn’t just hand me a screwdriver and leave me to fix it myself. Instead, he took my eyeglasses over to his little workbench, made sure everything was put together and lined up correctly, cleaned off the glasses and handed them back to me at no charge. “Just come back to me when you need glasses,” he said with a big smile. And I will.

State Street was a steady stream of people walking up to capitol hill and by the time got back to the neighborhood where the farmer’s market is held I was starting to worry that I would never find My Darling B in the crowd. I milled around for a bit in the parking lot, then went into the market itself and looked around, but eventually had to admit to myself that I was never going to spot her and, as it turned out, I was right. She was going to spot me. She came out of the ladies’ room just a fraction of a second after I came out of the men’s room and chased me down. So we didn’t have to wade into the mass of people congregating around the square.

The first time we showed up there it must’ve been about ten o’clock. There were already quite a lot of people crowding the sidewalks around the square, so many that they were already filling the street as they walked around in the customary counterclockwise direction. I wonder who started that, and why? Anyway, we milled around for a bit, collecting pro-union buttons and checking out the signs before we were swept up by the crowd and marched hand-in-hand up Carroll Street to the top of the hill where Hamilton intersects at an angle with the square in front of the Inn on the Square. That’s where we backed up to the curb to wait for the tractors.

This was what My Darling B was most interested to see this morning. Farmers brought about two-dozen tractors (and the inevitable manure spreader — that was sort of required, wasn’t it?) to parade around the square. Real farmers. We knew several of them from the farmer’s market. The parade was headed by an old green fire truck and I’m pretty sure I saw Dan Nichols in the bunch that stood on the back shouting, “This Is Grassroots!” The crowd quickly took up the chant and amped it up to a deafening roar.

As the tractors came up Hamilton Street one by one and turned to head down Main Street at a slow crawl the crowd raised a cheer to each one of them, and when a farmer raised a hand in salute or otherwise acknowledged the crowd they were rewarded with a round of “Thank! You! Thank! You! Thank! You!” from the crowd. It was quite a moment.

After the last tractor turned down Main Street the crowd closed in behind it and marched along in the road. I don’t think we got any farther than halfway down the Pinckney side of the square in a half-hour of marching before we decided to mill around some and see what was going on. What we found was mostly a hundred thousand or so people milling around to see what was going on. Various people were making speeches from the platform set up near the base of the stairs on the State Street corner of the square, but we were too cold by that time to stand still and listen to them, and when My Darling B suggested we pop into Merchant’s to warm up a bit I eagerly agreed.

Merchant’s is a relatively new restaurant on the high-visibility corner of Pinckney and Doty, right across the street from Johnny Delmonico’s. We snagged two stools at the bar and, a few moments later, the attention of the bartender to beg him to fortify us against the cold. B was somehow hungry already, and as soon as she said that I was, too, so we split an open-faced sandwich and chased it with our favorite libations, a Hopalicious from Ale Asylum for me and a glass of Malbec for B. With a fresh supply of antifreeze coursing through my veins I was able to take my coat off … thirty or forty minutes later. I was really cold.

While we enjoyed our brunch, demonstrators streamed past the windows, most notably a long line of bright yellow cabs from the Union Cab Company, honking their horns in syncopation with the chant, “This is what democracy looks like!” (an earworm that no one in Madison can get out of their heads these days) and waving hand-made signs from the windows. When the red light at the corner of King Street stopped traffic, cab drivers would pop out of almost ever cab to take photos of the line. You can google “union cab madison wisconsin” and come up with any number of photos of the cabs lined up in the street yourself right now.

As our brunch came to an end we had to decide: go home, or stay to witness The Return of the Wisconsin Fourteen? The wouldn’t make their appearance until three o’clock, so we would have to find something to do for a while. We debated for a little while longer over another round of bellywarmers, just to keep the juices flowing in the cold, don’t you know, then wrapped ourselves up and headed back up to the square. After a quick stop at a book shop where My Darling B searched but was sadly unable to find just the right kind of journal she was looking for, we plowed back into the crowd to see what we could see.

Not much, as it turned out. It was about two-thirty and by this time the square was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people. I’ve read estimates of the crowd at about one hundred thousand. Pssht. If it was anything less than a quarter million, I’m a greedy union thug. Oh, wait. I am. Well, I still say it was closer to a quarter million, but maybe that’s my uncontrollable need to collectively ask for too much.

And while My Darling B and I were standing on tippy-toe trying to see who was at the podium, the lady next to me nudged me with her elbow and said in a conspiratorial whisper, hooking her thumb at the gentleman standing in my way, “Do you know who that is?” He looked maybe a few years older than me and wore plain denim work clothes. Could’ve been anybody from anywhere in Wisconsin. I turned back to the lady and shook my head no. “That’s Tom Barrett,” she said. Barrett ran against Scott Walker in the gubernatorial election and lost by a narrow margin. I wouldn’t have recognized him if he’d turned around and introduced himself, but many people in the crowd reached out to shake his hand and give him their regards, and after that happened a couple dozen times the crowd itself turned their cameras from the podium to Barret, snapping away and shouting, “Hello, Mister Mayor!” If you can find any of those photos on someone’s Facebook page, you’ll probably see My Darling B and I standing right behind him.

When the Wisconsin Fourteen finally returned, they were literally welcomed by the crowd as returning heroes. The crowd was signing a hymn to their return. I swear I am not making that up. To the strains of God Bless America they marched up the stairs, took their place at the podium, and one by one thanked everyone for everything.

And of course there was Jesse Jackson. I think he stops by every Saturday now to say a prayer. This Saturday he asked us to pray for the people in Japan and even I ducked my head to thank goodness that the friends I had in Japan were okay.

Tony Shalhoub was the Hollywood star this week, a good pick, I thought. You can’t get any more native to Wisconsin than Green Bay, but I say that with a touch of bias, having grown up in Green Bay myself. He brought his sister Amy along because she’s one of those overpaid teachers you keep hearing about.

We began to make our way off the square at maybe four o’clock, cold and exhausted but happy we stayed. Being part of a crowd like that will be a memory that will stick with us for a while.

Oh, just one more thing: Cows.

Tractors. Cows. 14. A Monk. | 10:42 am CST
Category: current events | Tags: , , , ,
9 Comments | Add a comment

Sunday, September 26th, 2010


In wine there is wisdom; in beer there is freedom; in water there is bacteria

Here it is, my last day before I start my new day job and how do I spend it? I cut up a bunch of lumber, because that’s what guys do.

Not sure how much is enough to qualify as a bunch. I cut up a few odds and ends to make some doodads and gadgets I’ve had on to-do list for a while: A rotating caddy to hold my growing collection of little bottles of paint, and a two-pronged fork to hang My Darling B’s bicycle from the rafters of the garage.

I don’t collect little bottles of paint, not the way some people collect match books or crazy ladies collect cats. They’re paints made for plastic models and they come in one-ounce bottles. Once you’ve bought enough to paint a model, they kind of clutter up the top of your work bench, making it a lot harder to actually build a model, so sooner or later you have to work out some system of putting them away. I don’t have any drawers in my work bench, so I chopped up some boards and made a little stair-step thing that’ll hold the bottles so I can see them. It also spins on a lazy suzan base.

And that’s how I ended up building it today in the first place: I was cleaning off my work bench so I could start using it again now that the cold weather is setting in, and I found the lazy suzan thing I bought last winter. Hey, I thought, I bet I could knock that out today. So I did.

When we’re not riding our bikes, I hang them from the rafters in the garage. Years ago I worked out a quick and dirty way to do that, and always meant to get back to redesigning the thing that hooks on to the bicycle, but never got around to thinking it through until today. B’s bike now has the new, improved cross brace, with my patent-pending Big Wooden Fork design, that holds her bike up without damaging the seat, which the metal hooks were prone to do.

But it wasn’t all about chopping wood. I also rode into town with My Darling B, where we took a walk up Willy Street to see what was going on at the annual Willy Street Fair. I expected it to be a little rowdier than it was. Mostly it was a string of booths where people sold artsy-craftsy stuff liike tie-die shirts and hand-made jewelry. There were quite a few food carts, too, and I think there were three different music stages, almost all of it much quieter than what you’d hear at any festival on cap square, thank goodness. After walking up and back down the street we returned to Our Humble O’Bode to catch a quick nap before Tim showed up for our Sunday Night Cook-Out.

Lazy Sunday | 3:56 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, hobby | Tags: , ,
Comments Off on Lazy Sunday

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

image of people protesting a rally of the National Organization for Marriage on the steps of the capital building, Madison WI

It’ll be a long time before I forget these protesters chanting, “YOU NEED A HUG! A BIG, GAY HUG!” at the counter-rally on the steps of the capital building where twenty or thirty members of the National Organization for Marriage assembled to tell everyone how scared they were that the Defense of Marriage Act was in danger of repeal.

About twenty or perhaps as many as thirty people turned out to rally in support of the National Organization for Marriage, assembling on the western steps of the capital building this morning. The organization sponsored a whirlwind bus tour across the northeast and midwest U.S.

In response, several hundred people, organized by Fair Wisconsin using Facebook and other social media, marched up State Street to meet them, wave colorful signs and flags, chant “YOU NEED A HUG!” and otherwise give them a big dose of good old Madison hospitality.

I caught up with them as they were marching up State Street. Actually, I found them gathering on Library Mall on the UW campus, but there weren’t very many of them and I figured they weren’t going to amount to much, so I went up the street to one of my favorite book stores. I’d been there about twenty minutes when I heard them chanting as they marched up the street and, sticking my head out the door, I saw that their numbers had swelled to several hundred. I chased them up the street to see what would happen when they got to the capital.

For a little while they hung back, congregating at the foot of the steps and chanting occasionally at the NOM folks from a distance, but they gradually worked their way up the stairs until they were right at the very top, chanting and cheering and making it generally impossible for the speakers to be heard at all. The rally and the counter-rally lasted almost an hour and was quite a lot of fun. There were even kids running around, stopping to led their voices to the chant. If it hadn’t been ninety degrees under a blazing sun I would have enjoyed it even more.

[Link to photo album with more pictures.]

March Against N.O.M. | 12:17 pm CST
Category: current events | Tags: ,
Comments Off on March Against N.O.M.