Matt Forney
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Notes from the Road: Madison, Wisconsin is the Greatest City on Earth

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I came into Madison the day after Pitchfork planning to stay for three days. I’ve ended up staying for more than two weeks, and the silver lining in my financial woes is that I get to stick around. Here are just a handful of the reasons why this place rocks:

  • State Street, a pedestrian mall where no cars are allowed, save for buses, trucks and cop cars. Pretty much all the best bars, restaurants and shopping outlets are here. Even better, the city provides WiFi (not free, unfortunately) as well as electrical outlets on the streetlamps, so you can flop down on a bench and use your laptop if you desire.
  • The best police force in America, because they leave you alone. Whereas cops in other cities are hellbent on harassing people for no reason, Madison’s finest will ignore you so long as you aren’t blatantly breaking the law.
  • The Memorial Union, UW-Madison’s student union, has a fucking bar. The union’s open to the public and has a whole bunch of great restaurants (in particular the Rathskeller, a German beer garden-type joint), plus a terrace on Lake Mendota that has free live music acts four nights a week. And the bands they get are actually good, because they have their own Wikipedia pages. And did I mention the union has a fucking bar?
  • The friendliest people you’ll ever meet. Madisonians take “Midwestern hospitality” to another level. Even the bums here are docile and polite.
  • No crime to speak of. Madison is easily one of the safest cities in America. I never once felt threatened, even when I was sleeping outside on a bench.
  • It’s cheap. Super cheap. Not only is everything less expensive, Dane County sales tax is only .5%, which when combined with Wisconsin’s 5% tax equals super savings! In contrast, Onondaga County (Syracuse) levies 8% sales tax (half state, half local), while it’s 11.5% in Cook County.
  • Hoplophilia. Concealed carry is legal in the Badger State, and you can bet your ass the people here take advantage. There are some businesses in Madison that explicitly ban firearms, but most don’t.

If it weren’t for winter coming around, I could conceivably eke out a comfortable living here even if I didn’t have a place to stay. “Blogging While Homeless: Living Cheap in America’s Coolest College Town”? Here are some pictures from the past two weeks.

Tenney Park, Madison, Wisconsin

Sunset on Lake Mendota. Madison is centered on an isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona, making for some spectacular views. The city is also very walkable; you’re never too far from a good time when you’re downtown.

Capitol Square, Madison, Wisconsin

The Wisconsin State Capitol at night. The Square is half-deserted on nights and weekends, as all the state flunkies bolt for the suburbs. It’s so deserted that bums actually sleep on the nearby benches, and the cops are cool with this (so long as the bums split before the sun comes up).

Brittingham Park, Madison, Wisconsin

Sunrise on Lake Monona.

Madison, Wisconsin

The University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your tax dollars at work!

State Street, Madison, Wisconsin

Early morning on State Street, the only time you’ll find it this empty. State Street runs from Capitol Square to the UW-Madison campus and has tons of cafes, bars and shops.

State Street, Madison, Wisconsin

State Street during the day.

Capitol Square, Madison, Wisconsin

The Wisconsin State Capitol during the day. It’s as easy to enter as it looks; just open the door during visiting hours, jog down to the rotunda at the center, and wait for a tour. Contrast this with the onerous, TSA-esque hoops you have to jump through to visit the New York State Capitol.

Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison, Wisconsin

The rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol. Wisconsin’s capitol is apparently ranked as one of the most beautiful in the country, behind only Pennsylvania’s and Texas’.

Capitol Square, Madison, Wisconsin

Downtown Madison as viewed from the top of the capitol.

Picnic Point, Madison, Wisconsin

Madison from Picnic Point, an isthmus jutting into Lake Mendota about two miles to the west of downtown. If it looks like a storm was about to go down, that’s exactly what happened: I got caught in it walking back and nearly got blown into the lake a couple times by wind.

Memorial Union, Madison, Wisconsin

Sunset on Lake Mendota at the Memorial Union terrace. There’s always a party going on here; if you don’t leave the terrace having had a great time, you’ve got a medical problem.

Memorial Union, Madison, Wisconsin

These United States performing at the terrace. The Memorial Union gets a hell of a lot of good bands. Grab your best buds, order yourself a pitcher of Miller Lite, and kick back.

Wisconsin Historical Museum, Capitol Square, Madison, Wisconsin

The first-floor exhibit at the Wisconsin Historical Museum, on Madison’s alternative music scene in the 90’s. The exhibit focused on Smart Sounds, a local studio famous for being where part of Nirvana’s Nevermind was recorded.

Wisconsin Historical Museum, Capitol Square, Madison, Wisconsin

OOOOH, WISCONSIN HISTORY???!!! I’M SO EXCITED!!!!!!11 But in all seriousness, there is some interesting stuff at the museum, mainly about Robert La Follette and the early 1900’s progressive movement, as well as about Les Paul (inventor of the electric guitar and multitrack recording).

Wisconsin Historical Museum, Capitol Square, Madison, Wisconsin

lol wut

Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, Madison, Wisconsin

View of Lake Monona from the Monona Terrace just south of the capitol.

The Majestic, Madison, Wisconsin

Those Darlins, the warm-up act for Best Coast, who played Madison last Wednesday. Never heard of these gals before, but man they were good. I only wish I could have actually heard the vocals, but then again, I was literally right by the stage and its ginormous amps.

The Majestic, Madison, Wisconsin

More of Those Darlins. Their sound and aesthetic is best described as Siouxsie Sioux crossed with the feminist punk bands of the early 90’s (Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland etc.), with a little country tossed in for flavor.

The Majestic, Madison, Wisconsin

Even more of Those Darlins. Fun fact: the Pat Benatar lookalike on the right doesn’t shave her armpits. I was standing next to a photographer, and she would regularly lean out in front of us to strike poses mid-song.

The Majestic, Madison, Wisconsin

Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast. Seeing them perform live for the first time gave me a newfound respect for them. Their songs can get repetitive and kinda dumb, but seeing them on stage makes them sound so much better.

The Majestic, Madison, Wisconsin

Bobb Bruno of Best Coast, aka The Coolest Asian in Indie Rock. I was standing next to a gaggle of fangirls who would chant “Bobb! Bobb!” between songs. He even high-fived one of them near the end.

The Majestic, Madison, Wisconsin

Another shot of Bethany. I snuck a peek at the band’s setlist before they went on, seeing that they had planned a five-song encore near the end of the show.

How much do I enjoy Madison? Let me put it this way: if Portland doesn’t work out, I’ll move here before I go back to Syracuse. I’d rather be poor in Paradise than rich in Hell.

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