Sunday, March 27, 2011

Madison Day Trip - - Going Home Again

A visit to Madison - - like yesterday's trip to see a fascinating dance interpretation of old pal David Maraniss' Vietnam war book They Marched Into Sunlight - - is a journey down Memory Lane for this former, long-time Madisonian, so I pass on a few observations:

* There are orange barrels, lane closures and congestion for most of the trip on I-94 between Milwaukee and Madison. In this stressed financial climate, it's nice to see that some government spending has no limits. And you sure wouldn't want to run a train between those two cities.

* The chicken soup is as good as ever at Ella's Deli, which is on E. Washington Ave. just after you turn towards the State Capitol from the Highway 30 off-ramp. If you haven't taken the kids or grand kids there to learn the mysteries of the #1, a hot-fudge pound-cake sundae, and to see the overhead motorized toys or ride the outdoor carousel, you're guilty of child abuse.

*  The wind off Lake Mendota is still a nasty winter phenomenon. We ran for the car after leaving the Memorial Union Theater the way we used to run to class between University buildings. When we got back to Milwaukee late last night, it was ten degrees warmer than it was when we left Madison.

* Despite the music and the din, kids still study in the Union Rathskeller. 

* The weekly paper Isthmus is still a solid read. The paper is set fearlessly in rather small type to handle all the content.

* I always run into people I haven't seen in decades. I realize I need to do a better job marketing this blog, because someone always asks me what I'm doing these days.

* So to acknowledge how indeed I spend some of my time these days, I should offer some political commentary:

The scene there is white hot.

And not just because of Walker's union-busting treachery and Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald's tin-horned dictator impersonation.

There is an intense City Hall contest on the April 5th ballot between incumbent Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and former Mayor Paul Soglin. Both are progressives, both have been Mayors, so no pundit is confidently picking a winner. Paul won the primary in something of an upset.

[Disclaimers: I had worked for Paul, supported Dave in his 2003 win - -  (long explanation: As founder of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, Dave was a New Urbanist and environmental ally of Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist's, my boss at the time) - - and I like and respect them both. I've stayed out of this one and, mercifully, both wised up and neither asked me for an endorsement. Which is appropriate, since I moved to away for a job with the old Milwaukee Journal in 1983.] 

There is agreement that the turnout will be huge because there is also an open Dane County Executive seat in play, but mainly because the Walker backlash centered in Madison will produce a giant vote for liberal State Supreme Court challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg against incumbent conservative David Prosser.

The Kloppenburg vote statewide, but especially in Madison, will produce a marker for the depth and breadth of the Walker backlash - - a matter of no small interest to the eight State Senate Republican Walker allies facing recall drives, and certainly to Walker and organizers already planning his recall, too.

* Final observations: The sprawling fast-food-and-chain-store development that has overrun Western Waukesha County near Highway 83 is really a blot on a once-pretty landscape. And you can see the preliminary road work for a $23.1 million, full diamond Interchange to Nowhere to serve the Pabst Farms' Upscale Mall that was never built.

As I said, it's comforting know that government spending is still going on somewhere like it was in the good old days.


enoughalready said...

I believe you mean JoAnne Kloppenburg. Official website here:

PS- I mentioned your blog to people waiting in line for an event at the Barrymore Theatre, and they recognized your name from your Madison days.

James Rowen said...

Argh. Sorry about that typo and thanks for the note.

Anonymous said...

Yay, Ella's. But you forgot to mention the killer lasagna at Porta Bella's (and old Paisan's in the cellar) or maybe that's changed. But this is interesting, while you see continuity, I see serious levels of change. And not just re: lasagna.
I grew up there, stayed a few years after college, then returned for several stretches after that. Ah the good old days...the riots, young Soglin on TV, the sit-ins, I think there was some cop-escaping track they called Ho Chi Min trail behind the Union to the Armory? not sure...but I think so

IMO by the early 90s it all seemed too changed, Reaganism, influxes of new groups of people. Students just looking to party vacuously. People wanting to cash in on the "progressive city" image without really being very progressive other than in a crappy poser-ish way. Maybe I'm wrong
But I say "change", and not the kind I can believe in. There may still be a thready pulse in Madison, but really - things aren't going so well?

Here's just a small example that shows enormous societal contrast (then from now)
I had a professor who actually openly taught from a Socialist perspective, was not a pariah but was seen as brilliant and even "cool". A situation that was not at all weird or terribly unique. That would never happen today. Independent Thought and academic curiousity just means a life lived on the defensive, and gets your emails subpoenaed and your name drug thru the mud.

I think it's important to establish a bench mark of how much things have changed, it's the old "Frog In Boiling Water" situation, we don't notice how MUCH change has occurred in our lifetimes because it has been so persistent, so well-planned, and too damn incremental.

George Carns said...

James, my wife and I lived in Madison all those years ago too and we supported your campaign for Mayor. We first met you when you worked for Paul. I recall the nameplate on his office door, something like Hizzoner da Mare.

I was an organizer for a neighborhood organization at the time and attended a huge meeting of the Dane County Citizens Organization, the Industrial Areas Foundation/Alinsky-style organization at the time. You and your Mayoral opponent were the "guests of honor" and were intensely quizzed with prepared question on the issues.

I was especially impressed with your thoughtful comments and stage presence that day. You will recall that you were a bit late for the event; you told the crowd you had been involved in a traffic accident on the way. No one was hurt, but I'm sure you were shook up a bit. It took some courage to answer such pointed questions in front of a few thousand people.

And yes, we love Ella's, too (and our 5 year old grandson loves the toys). But Ella's makes me nostalgic. You and I are are old enough to miss the first Ella's downtown on State Street, with those wonderful mirrors on the opposite walls that made your reflections go on forever. Somehow the cherry cokes with cherry syrup tasted better there. And how about those awful restrooms down in Ella's basement?

James Rowen said...

George: I do remember that event. I think...I hope. I believe it was at West High. It had been a bizarre day, indeed. The car I was in had been rear-ended on Aberg Ave, with such impact that the front seat I was in was torn off its moorings and my head rest bent from the whiplash. The other car's front-end was crushed, as was the rear of our car. I woke-up on the shoulder, unaware of how I got there, but told the ambulance crew that showed up that I was fine.

Brenda Pfahler picked me up, I went through the discussion, then went home and slept for hours. Concussion? Who know? At that stage of the campaign - - a few days before election day - - who could tell?

I loved the old Ella's, too. Harvey Goldberg used to hold court there.

Thanks for the nice note.

Anonymous said...

Reading your blog is like visiting with an old friend. I read you in both the Daily Cardinal and Milwaukee Journal. Your wisdom was and is appreciated.