Borderlands: A Madison, Wisconsin Story
I’ve seen quite a few fellow Michigan alums praising Madison, WI as a soft-landing home away from home experience for those appreciative of Ann Arbor’s best qualities. What I didn’t see was any disclaimers that these witnesses were taking the position of the unreliable narrator.
Madison and the vaudeville troupe of tin-can kicking Badgers comprise the cultural and metaphysical shit-pile that is Wisconsin football.
Despite the dreadful cash-only toll stops en route to Madison, that were largely reminiscent of abandoned lot parking fee collectors in Detroit, I was still enthusiastic and hopeful for our Wolverines to pull an upset. This wishful thinking slowly creeped into the scope of possibility even without the redacted DPJ touchdown that would’ve furthered Wisconsin’s inability to gain any momentum to swing the game their way.
I should’ve known better…
Wisconsin’s mediocrity somehow leads to successfully making Michigan men feel like shit no matter the circumstances. Like, when I was walking up the ramp to my seat in the lower corner of the stadium and the squawking of Badgers lassoed the words “red rum” into my game-focused mind. I heard the enemy group say “red rum” and mentally self-corrected upon reading “red ramp” spray-paint stenciled words hovering over my head. I forced a laugh, because what Stanley Kubrick fan wouldn’t appreciate such a self-induced confabulation?
I was immediately chastised by the boisterous fans, who’d presumed me to be clueless, in saying “Oh, I’m a Michigan guy, I’m just gonna laugh even though I don’t get the joke”.
In retrospect, perhaps he was just demonstrating his newly acquired ability to read—something Hornibrook has yet to accomplish from the pocket.
My two friends and I agreed that no matter what, win or lose, being tied 7-7 early in the game with both offenses struggling was satisfactory evidence to substantiate the claims that Wisconsin is overrated. The Big 10 West is a great season-long tune-up game for the undefeated Badgers. Little did I know that a very disappointing development would soon arise… the unnecessary murder of Brandon Peters—the last chance to keep Ohio State from entering the Big 10 championship game with only two losses and curb-stomping the Badgers.
Had BP stayed in, Wisconsin’s chances at losing would’ve remained all but imminent, and Wisconsin could’ve proved they didn’t need to transform Michigan into another tin-can opponent in order to keep their only recent lossless season intact.
The Badgers proved the opposite, celebrating an accomplishment they didn’t earn, much like their red-bundled fans droning “FIRST AND TEN, WISCONSIN”, as if they didn’t know a possession gives you a first down for free. That level of false confidence is dangerous, and can lead to things like needing at least two people to verbally spell “OHIO”.
Speaking of Ohio, I never thought I would say that Columbus is a cooler city than Madison, despite being the “city that tries”. Ann Arbor doesn’t need a billboard to advertise its greatness, and Madison doesn’t need a block-long 9am breakfast line to know that good breakfast spots are in short supply. I was hungry the following morning, and I had to reduce myself to eating in a Packers bar. I won’t get into why the Packers are trash and I’m not upset that Aaron Rodgers is out.
Back to the reason I was hungry… I had to eat shitty pizza in my AirBNB the night before. My pals and I picked up the pizza at “Toppers”—a local conglomeration of terrible slogans, surprisingly not-stoner pie-makers, and a woman who invaded my personal space to point to “something on my shirt”, nearly knocking my hat off before I realized I’d been the victim of a prank I hadn’t seen attempted since before I knew what boobs looked like in person. Maybe she was just being flirty, but her approach was quite outdated. It was like Wisconsin running on third and eight—nobody does that anymore, for any reason, even if you’re desperate. Oh and by the way, Toppers Pizza's slogan is "we come fast, no apologies"... maybe that's a ubiquitous phrase in Madison that she was getting tired of hearing.
Fast forward to a last-minute stop in a depressing Wal-Mart to pick up ear plugs in an effort to avoid the late-night endless word-vomit coming from our AirBNB host, and I was growing eager to leave. Perhaps a quick bar visit might improve our mood.
We stopped at our host’s recommended cocktail bar, only to find middle-aged vaguery and obnoxious Badgers. One,in particular, who I’ll simply refer to as the Badgering Badger, decided that a pit stop at our table on his way to refill his 50-year old alcohol-soaked gut might be a fun soiree. After name-dropping that he knew Paul Chryst personally and pointing out that we were Michigan fans, he referred to me as “buddy” and backhanded my shoulder as if I’d respond with anything other than contempt. We quickly declined his offer for free drinks and before getting up to leave, got to hear him wax-retarded about how many famous people he knows and that he has three kids sleeping at home... dynamite triage of priorities there, dude.
We walked home, passing shitty po-mo style apartment buildings, near-dead frozen field mice tricked into attempting to eat a hat, and low-traffic credit unions in locations that don't make sense.
Ahhh, finally, we reached the front door of the AirBNB. I could hit the mattress hard and soon wake up to a quick break-fast followed by a fast break for the Michigan border. While unlacing my climate-mismatched Chuck Taylors, I heard a voice from behind me in a near whisper, “so… (long pause, hair standing on end) what brings you to Madison?” My friend quickly replied “the football game”, followed quickly by “good night”. This may not seem like an out of the ordinary exchange between two AirBNB guests, but what I didn’t tell you is that he looked and sounded like the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Luckily, our creepy Wisconsin-based housemate didn’t turn out to be The Butcher of Plainfield, and we made a morning escape to our car without being turned into armchairs and nipple belts.
Eventually, Michigan (and a mix of non-all-white non-obese non-ugly people) came back into our view and the horribleness of it all could be put behind us.
Oh, and the cheese-curds sucked.