Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Madison, Wisconsin

I didn’t expect to like Madison, Wisconsin, and if it hadn’t been for Derby in Dairyland, the WFTDA Eastern Regional Tournament, I likely would have never gone there on my own.

I’ll admit, I was a bit worried about my stay last weekend when I found out I’d be biking to the coliseum each day with the person I was staying with, Elle Machete. Biking? The only biking I do now is on my 1100cc Yamaha V-Star Classic. My mind instantly went back 8 years to the last time I rode a bike. I was on my way to work downtown, about 3 miles downhill, when the passenger side door of a cop car swung open and damn near clothes-lined my ass as I was biking alongside rush-hour traffic.

I’m a city girl. Although some people do ride bikes in Baltimore city, they are called bike messengers, and they are some of the toughest people I know – many of whom have been hit by cars multiple times.

Although it was something I never expected to do, I decided that the Madison trip was going to be an experience that I would fully embrace, forcing myself out of my comfort zone, so I packed biking clothes and my derby helmet, and I was on my way.

I don’t know what I expected Madison to be like – Milwaukee, perhaps? I was in Milwaukee last year, and it wasn’t much to write home about (sorry, Brew City). Don’t get me wrong, it was nice, but I was surprised at how similar it was to any city on the east coast. Madison wasn’t far, so I wondered how different it could be – aside from the ability to bike (aka, sweat right after doing my hair).

I was shocked to find Madison full of independently owned businesses, a grocery co-op (I never did see a regular grocery store there), and yes, many, many bike paths. It became apparent quite quickly to me that although the economy of Madison is largely dependent on car manufacturing, the citizens of Madison don’t tolerate sprawl and they cherish their co-op, independently-owned restaurants, and many, many coffeehouses, none of which I saw rhyming with “Starfucks”.

Madison is cozy – it’s like your mom’s house after Thanksgiving dinner; the scents from earlier in the day fill the rooms with warmth just like the charm of the old buildings that have been allowed to stay fill the streets.

Toward the end of my stay, after having visited several different coffee shops, the co-op, and a tiny, independent diner, I wondered why Madison had all these great things and Baltimore did not. Why in Baltimore is nearly every new business a chain? Why is it so hard for Baltimore citizens to open their own small businesses and stay in business? Why do we allow it to be that way?

It’s funny. Sometimes when people see a city they love, they decide to move there, but instead, why not bring the elements you love into your own community? How do we do that?

This is a question I cannot answer but that I’m interested in continuing to pursue.

Although I wound up never riding a bike in Madison, I’m glad I was prepared to try. And after spending the weekend with one of the most amazing groups of women, rollergirls from all over the country, I thought about how far we had come in reviving derby all across America and how we came together to put on something as spectacular as Derby in Dairyland (on our own), and I became optimistic that maybe I could evoke positive change in my home town. Perhaps I already have (through derby).

It’s been a long time since I’ve participated actively in my community outside of derby, but you know what they say: it’s like riding a bike. I’m up for it.

2 comments:

SKabs said...

I love MILWAUKEE! Lived there for a year back in 1999-2000 and the lakeshore there is FAR prettier than Chicago, the art museum throws cool events and there are a plethora of indepenpendently-owned coffee houses not to mention 2 indie movie theaters. Madison was cool, but Milwaukee rules!

Ruby Khan said...

Mmm, fried cheese curds. I wish I'd had a bike out there last weekend. I could have cycled off at least one or two of the 16 dozen fried cheese curds I inhaled.

BDD was behind you and Bane Ana cheering for CCRG against Cincinnati and Detroit. Problem is that we also like Cincinnati and Detroit, so it was more like cheering for awesome roller derby in general.

PS Tell Rosie I've never seen her jam so well!