Traditions in Madison

We’ve enjoyed the pleasures of friends here in Madison in so many ways over the last three years. But, I almost boiled this post down by calling it, “Like Kramer Sliding through Jerry’s Door.” That iconic TV scene keeps popping up for me.

Hospitality Both Ways

Tracy shared an office in grad school with Guy; it’s now a tradition for us to see him and Patti each time we roll through. They treated us to the second-annual gourmet feast at their house, where they serve us all the foods we miss most from living on the road. A couple of days later we had them at our “house” where we all four squeezed into the trailer for a meal at our table, in our very own kitchen. It was glorious to share our home. 

These two meals were all about a generosity of spirit. Guy and Patti told us stories about a recent family wedding that made me cry as if I’d been right there watching the couple say their vows. In the trailer, they didn’t even bat an eye when I told Tracy to grab the brownies from the shower. At their gorgeous house, they had a toy for Banjo and watched without comment as she flopbotted her butt across their pristine living room carpet.     

Compared to them, Tracy and I are a couple of weirdo Kramers, dropping in on this traditional family of five in their welcoming, suburban home.  We slid on in with some wacky stories, and we felt right at home.  Thank you!

Lessons in Wisconsining

Bratwursts and beer, an absurdist polka band, a guy in lederhosen driving a golf cart with one hand on the wheel and the other on a Badgers beer cup.  This was the scene last Saturday at the VFW in Wisconsin for Oktoberfest.

Another fine set of Madisoners, Doug and Laura, met us at the trailer, and as we walked together to the VFW they rolled their eyes at how little I knew about Wisconsin.  Turns out it’s all about beer! 

We sat on a blanket in the sun, watching kids fall out of a bouncy house and laughing at the band as they cracked musical jokes.  Did you know that it’s possible to break into “Yakety Sax” (the Benny Hill version) in the middle of “Folsom Prison Blues”? Is that all that unusual for Wisconsin? How about beer drinkers wearing necklaces strung with pretzels? We marveled at my ignorance, sang along to the accordion version of “I Saw Her Standing There,” and later played our ramen card game, keeping Banjo from eating the necklaces when we bent over to pet her. A perfect Wisconsin day. 

Doug, though. What a good friend.  Doug dropped by the trailer for lunch every day for the week we were in Madison. We’d eat whatever odd meal Tracy pulled together, making small talk about sleep the night before and the play Doug’s running rehearsals for each evening.  Whatever we felt like, no pressure, because Doug would be back the next day.

And here’s another Madison tradition: Doug and me with ukuleles in our laps, laughing.  (Here we are three years ago.)

This time we were both sorely out of practice, but we weren’t gonna let lack of skill stop us!  We decided to learn pretty much the first song we came to online, “Running on Empty,” and took turns singing backup on the chorus.

Running on (running on empty) 
Running on (running blind)  
Running on (running into the sun) 
But I'm running behind.  

Both of us could hit those high notes, or we pretended we could. But as soon as Tracy joined us, we couldn’t sing one danged note right. 

I could say that Doug was like Kramer sliding into our campsite each day right at lunchtime, but that’s not fair. He is always welcome, wacky shirts and unpracticed ukulele and sleepy brain (for both of us).  

Maybe Guy and Patti feel that way about us, too.  I’ve begun to think of Madison as the Land of the Happy Heart.  

A Third Connection

I want to be sure to mention yet another Madison social activity we’ve done year after year, meeting Tracy’s cousin Darren and his wife Beth at a brewery partway to Milwaukee. This year we had a sad but interesting conversation about what the music of Jimmy Buffet means to them, and how our experiences of finding ways to listen to the Dead after Jerry Garcia died might shed light on their future without Jimmy.

On our travel day today we have the letter B, so of course it’s Jimmy Buffet all day. Thanks, guys! Also, sorry for your loss, seriously.

It does strike me as a coincidence that we talked a good deal about seeing the Dead after Jerry’s death, which was exactly what I was doing the weekend I had a legendarily good time with Doug in Chicago, when I was there to see (what we all thought would be) the final shows of Dead & Co.

You know what? Guy and Patti were at those shows, too. We hadn’t become friends yet, but they were in the tunnel with me the night after the final show when all the fans sang, “Not Fade Away” with tears in every single person’s eyes.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised about connections like this. I’m lucky to be old enough to have had a lot of interesting experiences, and I’m even luckier to have lots of friends to share them with. I guess we’re all Kramer and Jerry (different one) and Elaine and even George, and I love it when we stand around Jerry’s apartment laughing.

10 thoughts to “Traditions in Madison”

  1. I guess I didn’t realize you had so many local friends in the area. Makes me feel a little better about not being able to meet up with you. It’s not like you were desperate for interaction or anything!

    If I didn’t already live here, reading about Wisconsin on your blog would make me want to.

    1. It would have been fun to meet up this time, for sure, but feel no guilt … we come to Madison to see friends and friends we see, the whole danged time.

      I think I have about 20 blog posts about Wisconsin, I love the place so much! If your winter weren’t so cold, it would be top of our list of places to think about settling in. But, brrr.

  2. What a great week you all have had! Made me listen to ‘Not Fade Away/Going Down The Road’ and longing for cheese curds, the real ones. And you two, of course. Cheers!

    1. It was a great time! I googled “Kramer sliding into Jerry’s” to make sure I was remembering something, and there are a million video mashups of that exact thing, so it’s not just you and me. 🙂