As Jolie wrote, in an earlier post, we have both had many places – from Thunder Bay to Jersey City to London to Boston to Beacon – that we have called home, and for me, Madison, Wisconsin, was one of these places. After moving there in the Fall of 1987

in order to attend graduate school, in sociology, at the University of Wisconsin (from which I received an M.S. degree), I have only been back once, to visit friends, shortly after finishing there in 1990. While grad school at Wisconsin was often challenging, my three years in Madison were largely very positive. In a nutshell, Frank Sinatra can have Chicago (where I also nearly went, instead); Madison is my kind of town!  When I was there, and after I left, I realized that the quality of life there is very high, indeed. I long thought, afterward, that my perfect place would combine  the cutting edge cultural innovations and resources, as well as the hustle and bustle, of New York City with the progressive community spirit, youthful energies, and blend of nature and culture of this magnificent jewel of a city in southern Wisconsin.

So, when the opportunity this summer for a road trip with Jolie back to Madison presented itself, I was oh so enthusiastic to return. And while our trip took us through several states and a variety of attractions, I want to focus here, for now, just on the Wisconsin and particularly Madison part of the trip. We plan to offer a number of posts on different aspects of our trip, so you can look for those. One thing that this trip proved was that you can go home again. You can go back to a place that was once an important part of your life and you can truly reconnect with this place, which is what I did in America’s Dairyland. (Also, please forgive me if this post is perhaps a bit longer than what we usually write, but this was a day that was loaded with deep emotion and deep meaning and I really want to share as much of it as I can.)

Arriving at our hotel in Madison late Sunday night, after several days of travel across six states, I was full of excitement for the days ahead, as well the exhaustion of long  days of travel.

So, after a good night of sleeping and breakfast at the hotel, we were on our way. As we drove in, along East Washington Street toward downtown Madison, and as the landmark image of the state Capitol building came into view, the reality that I was back, after over a twenty year absence, hit me. It was kind of a thrilling moment, as we saw this.

We then drove up and parked near the UW campus and, basically, got our bearings, as well as grabbed some info from the UW visitor’s center.

We then made our way toward the UW campus, as I wanted to start the visit to Madison there.

We then made our way to the William Sewell Social Science Building, which is where the Sociology Dept. is located.

As we walked through the some of the various floors, my time as a grad student came rushing back to me, and I had a flood of memories of some very specific times and experiences. Much of the layout of the floors and the locations of offices were as I remembered them from 20+ years ago.

I even ran into a former professor who were there, in her office and preparing to go teach a summer course and introduced her to Jolie. Anyway, the only thing that I noticed was not there was the vending machine, down on the 2nd floor, where I used to share an office with other grad students. The vending machine sold really horrible coffee, and yet it was convenient as it was only a few feet away from the place where you might be sitting, doing research or studying for an exam.  There is a part of me that is even nostalgic for the cheap bad coffee from a campus vending machine. Go figure!

Anyway, once we were done walking around the social science building, we exited out a side doorway, through the Muir Woods and then back up into the main campus.

and while standing on the hilly campus, in front of Bascom Hall and the landmark Abraham Lincoln statue, I pointed toward the bottom of the hill, that is, toward State Street, our eventual destination for later that day.

First things first, though – a few more campus sights to say, as we made our way down the hill and over the Park Street bridge

Of course, as it was now well into the afternoon, hunger was starting to set in; fortunately for us, we were now just about at the next destination, namely, the Memorial Union students center. We went around the side so that we could see the outdoor Terrace area, a very popular gathering spot on Lake Mendota.

Lunch was just a few slices of pizza from the food court inside.

But, ahh, to be back, sitting at one of those iconic round metal tables, looking at the lake!

Back inside the Union, we grabbed some cones of delicious, creamy, made-on-campus ice cream

as well as looked around a bit – it was a moment to get reacquainted with the main floor, including the Rathskeller, where I once would join fellow students for drinks or a quick meal.

This being brainy Madison, there was almost always at least one chess game in progress here, and sure enough, there was on this day; most people were outside, though.

The next stop was a few blocks away, on Langdon Street, where I had a small student apartment. This was the building

looking pretty much as I remembered it. The best thing I can say about it is that it was conveniently located and fairly cheap (at least at the time). The worst thing was that it sat between a noisy frat house to the right and an equally noisy sorority house on the left. To this day, whenever I hear the song “Mony, Mony” my mind flashes back to Langdon Street and to all the frat party noise.

Moving on, we made our way toward State Street, the main commercial drag that connects the campus to the Wisconsin State Capitol building.

As we walked down State, I was noticing that the basic layout was very much as I remembered it, though some of the specific content was changed. There were new businesses that I did not recall, and there were old establishments that were no longer there. One place that was still there that I recalled from my Madison days was B-Side Records, a place to buy LPs, cassettes and (eventually) CDs.

Note the anti-Governor Walker sign in the window (these were ubiquitous throughout Madison; a bit more on this later). Later that afternoon, I’d enter the hallowed halls of B-Side and experience a moment of deep nostalgia for the indie rock 1980s, helped in part by my spotting of this lovely old XTC poster still up on the wall.

The record store clerk behind the counter was about my age, and like me, seemed to have a depth of musical memories, including memories associated with Madison, a city that provided me with the opportunity to see such varied acts as Soundgarden, the Meat Puppets, Pop Will Eat Itself, the Membranes, Roscoe Mitchell, the Kronos Quartet, a Balinese Gamelan orchestra, the Indigo Girls, Old Skull (a group of preteen punk rockers) and a wide variety of street musicians perform; I should add that right before I took off, Nirvana had rolled into town to record their classic Nevermind LP with a then relatively unknown Madison producer, Butch Vig. The store seemed a bit quiet and the store clerk seemed to indicate that the store’s heyday was perhaps in the past. As far as XTC’s magnificent Oranges and Lemons LP, this was very much a soundtrack to my student days in Madison. The store also had an old show flyer up for a performance at OKay’s Corral, once described as the CBGBs of the Midwest (which, very sadly, burned down to the ground after I left town). Ahh, musical nostalgia!

Okay, so after this, we made our way down to the Capitol, where we met this guy.

He was there along with a handful of other protestors who are there, every day, sometimes in large numbers, protesting against the sudden rightward turn of Wisconsin state politics, including the efforts by the governor, Scott Walker, to end collective bargaining for state workers. The world’s attention has been on Wisconsin since January, when Walker was sworn in, and the state faces several recalls. I can’t pretend to be unbiased here; I’m with the protestors.

Following this, we made our way back toward the campus, stopping briefly in the campus bookstore, where, again, I felt nostalgia by being surrounded by piles of excellent literature.

Jolie had a bit of fun playing the role of “Bucky Badger.”

And from there, back to the Student Union. It was a very hot day, and the thought of sipping an ice cold beer on the Terrace – again, as in the old grad student days – sounded very appealing. So, that is where we wound up.

And as we sat there, we talked a bit more about my student days in Madison. And we also caught glimpses of a number of sailboats on the shiny, blue lake.

We then, walked down to the water, where I can recall old days of swimming in Lake Mendota. There was a fair amount of algae in the water, so it was not necessarily the best possible conditions for swimming.  We couldn’t resist, though, cooling off our hot, tired feet in the cold lake water.

A real nice place to sit. Once we coaxed ourselves back up, I wanted to show Jolie a bit more of the lovely trail along the lake, which was always one of my favorite places for walking.

The walk was a great pleasure for us both.

We then made a left turn at Babcock Drive and wound up at Allen Centennial Gardens, a beautiful public garden on the campus, which is run by the University’s Horticulture Department. Here are some of was on display there.

As we were taking in all of this stunning, colorful beauty, Jolie asked me if this garden was a place I often came to when I lived in Madison. Truth be told, such places were barely on my radar in my mid-twenties. Now, though? Well, we both love gardens and gardening (and farming). We love to be close to nature as often as possible.

I am probably going to eventually turn into one of those old men who are always out digging in the garden; hopefully, I’ll be good at it.

So, this activity, that is, of taking in the nature side of the UW campus wound up taking up a few hours. Finally, it was getting to be dinner time. We considered various State Street options before settling on Mexican at a place called Frida’s Mexican Grill.It appeared to be named in honor of the famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, whose portrait adorned a wall.

We were really happy with our meal – cheese enchiladas and a chicken mole enchilada

and we really loved the dessert,  a tres leches cake, which we split.

It was rich, refreshing and truly delicious and a perfect end to a pretty perfect day, all things considered. It was so great being back in Madison!

As we made our way back to our car to go to end our day at the hotel, the sun was setting. It was a pink/blue Madison evening summer sky, exactly as I remembered them.