Archive for September, 2009

Mystically Unkitschy Madison Wisconsin (and a visit to Ella’s Deli)

September 10, 2009 1 comment

Ah, Madison. And by extension, Wisconsin.

How to describe it?

In a nutshell, it’s the home of the non-ironic mustache. Yes, they still exist. Along with lots of kitsch, only, in Madison, it’s not kitschy. It’s real.


Here’s a wall of tchotchkes in some bar we visited:

And I’m telling you, this kitsch and tchotchke stuff? it ain’t done tongue-in-cheek. Nope. It’s done Eunice-and-Stanley-Hoffenschtooper-GrandMaMa-“Isn’t-this-nice-deary”-style.

Now this is all a bit hard to follow, particularly for po-mo hipsters and anyone who’s a Gen Xer on, but, in Madison–and it took me a while to get this–people have really bad taste … and really good hearts.

Which makes them kind of lovable. Like a puppy. Or MR.

And, yes, 95% of them are *really* white. And, yes, most of them spend an unhealthy amount of time drinking beer and eating cheese curds. Which I can’t argue with at all.

But let me back up.

Madison is absolutely beautiful in the summer. It straddles four lakes and much of the time is spent on the water. Here’s the view of Lake Mendota from the famous University of Wisconsin Memorial Union, via the Rathskeller:

If you look closely in the picture, you’ll see a fellow in a light-blue polo shirt yakking at his friends:

This guy is remarkable for a couple of reasons:

  • He is one of the three people of color I saw over the span of five days.
  • He’s representative of the area. Looks completely normal, right? Sure. But he had the nuttiest accent I’ve ever heard. Think Middle-Eastern-cum-Minnesotan. I listened to him for almost an hour; it’s just indescribable. Kind of Yul-Brenner (The King and I) mixed with Marge Gunderson. Maybe a bit of Dr. Honeydew thrown in there too, because there was some lab talk.

And there you have Wisconsin. Looks simple enough on the surface, but there’s just something a little bit odd about it all.

For instance, public bathrooms. 60% of them had these kind of urinals:

These good people do know that it ain’t cool to flush five gallons of water into the sewer system for each potty break, right?

Not that it matters. The place seems to be stuck in a Honeymoonersesque time warp, Ralph Kramden should have worked for the Madison Metro Transit instead of the Gotham Bus Company. Note the classic barber shop pole:

And the menu board:

Okay, I cheated on the menu board shot. It’s actually at Mickie’s Dairy Bar and is displayed as part of its long history. You can see the “real” menu board in the background:

Did I mention the simply monstrous serving sizes in Madison? Now, I’m not a delicate flower by any stretch of the imagination, but even I had a hard time finishing a plate. Here’s a piece of freshly-baked apple crumb cake from Mickie’s that my buddy got for $1.50:

For perspective’s sake, that’s probably a 12 or 16 oz. coffee mug next to it. Got a coffee mug around? Okay. Now you know the size of the portions in WI. No wonder everyone seemed so large.

I heard Wisconsin was one of the fattest states in the nation, but, alas, apparently it doesn’t even crack the Top 10.

Here’s my idea about a typical Small Madisonian Business Owner’s (SMBO) conversation with his wife (Wife) would go:

SMBO: Gosh honey, people aren’t stopping at the filling station as much as they used to. Must be the economy.

WIFE: Well, that, or you just don’t have anything classy
down there to let ’em know you’re an honest businessman.

SMBO: Don’t start in on all that again. I told you …

WIFE: I know, I know. I’m just sayin’, it isn’t right, how can folks know they can trust you with their vehicles? How do they know you have sound judgment?

TIME LAPSE, cut to:

As we were on our way out-of-town, we made one more stop to Ella’s Deli. This is the top-rated kid’s place in Madison, and it just tells you so much about the culture there (view an HD version HERE):

Categories: Daily Mind Drippings