Posts Tagged 'Madison'

Farewell to a Two-Wheeled Companion

MY PLANNED MOVE ACROSS THE OCEAN has necessitated that I pare down my worldly possessions — including one of my bicycles. It makes sense that it should be the oldest one, so Junebug (above) is now up for sale. A beautiful 1980s vintage Bianchi Special, this bike has seen me through three Wisconsin winters, including the snowiest in Madison history. It seems like only yesterday that going to work meant pedaling through a foot of fresh powder; now I look out my open window to greenery and orange spring sunlight.

On another note: TDT has some new equipment. The recent purchase of a Nikon D40 (which was used to take the above photo) means you’ll be seeing a lot more original pictures on the site. As always, reader feedback is more than welcome.

The Other Side of Town

photo by joshua heineman.

A CHAIR’S WIRY SHADOW was cast on the brick wall like some translucent fishing net, fading in and out as clouds passed over the sun. I stared at this while sipping coffee in a minute of respite, my mind flitting between vague, yellowing memories and thoughts of how friends in other cities were getting on.

It was the first truly warm day of spring. The air had a calm about it that was only occasionally broken by cuts of brisk wind. I took it, shedding my stocking cap to allow the breeze to pass through my naked hair. A melting heap of snow sat stubbornly on the patio, like a nagging reminder of winter’s proximity — and ability to return with the drop of just a few degrees. My hands were still cracked from the cold, dry air.

I hadn’t been on the other side of town since fall, and gazing out at the traffic rushing down East Washington — an ugly, industrial artery — I felt transported; it was as though I was seeing the city from the window of a passing plane. The light seemed to play tricks on time.

I wanted to talk with someone, to share this unruffled moment. But as I felt for my phone I decided against it. The wind was picking up. I went inside, and began to bury myself in the usual roar of thoughts and worries.

Madison’s Tibetan Community Rallies

Tibetan monastery in Zhongdian, Yunnan. China, May 2006. Photo by Zara Jarvinen.

MADISON, Wis. – Roughly 100 people protesting the Chinese occupation of Tibet converged on the Capitol Square Monday morning, chanting angrily into megaphones and waving signs that read “Free Tibet” in English, Tibetan and Chinese.

The demonstration marked the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising, when tens of thousands of Tibetans revolted against annexation. Protests around the world commemorated the date, and had an added potency this year because of the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing.

Tsering Kunga, a Madison resident and Tibetan who held a banner towards the back of the procession at the capitol, said he doesn’t feel China deserved the Olympic nomination because of the country’s human rights record and lack of religious freedoms.

“We really don’t have any freedom,” Kunga, who has lived in Madison for two years, said of his home country. “Especially the freedom of religion is not at all in China, so this is the main thing that we are uprising against.”

A monk marched out in front of the protesters as they rounded the capitol. A man draped in a Tibetan flag shouted into a megaphone, leading the crowd in call-and-response. “China Lies,” he yelled. Protesters boomed back like an echo, “People die.”

Read more at The Capital Times.

A Bicycle, $1.50, and the Greatest Afternoon

IT WAS SHAPING UP to be a disappointing morning. I stumbled sleepily from bed and into the kitchen, knocking over the recycle bin along the way and littering a blizzard of hole punches onto the carpet. Sitting on the floor and trying to gather them into a pile, I grumbled to myself about how all I wanted was some juice…

Things got a little better when I noticed a note that my fiancee had left me, telling me I was her “hottie from hottingham.” I had the day off from work and so the hours were all mine – I just had no idea where to begin. For a checklist-making man like myself, this was a very bad thing.

In the back of my mind I knew there were things that needed done: research for articles I wanted to write, studying Korean, blogging, emails. I started by doing none of that and browsing pictures on flickr instead, sipping coffee and being jealous of a friend’s recent trip to Berlin. Then came the inevitable waves of restlessness. By the time I sat down to do a bit of study my work ethic had crumbled, and after scribbling a few sentences of Korean all I wanted to do was sit in bed and eat cookies. I took a shower.

I was a mess of procrastination. I did laundry. I washed dishes. I downloaded music. I checked my email at least ten times. It was coming up on 12:30 and I hadn’t done a damn thing worth doing, and I was suddenly reminded of what co-worker had said to me the previous night: “It’s ironic that we spend all our time at work wishing we were doing something else, and then when we have our own time we just end up taking a nap.” I was like a dog spinning circles trying to find the perfect spot to lay down – only I never found it. I got back in bed, and wished for a do-over.

After 15 minutes of breathing deeply and seeking my inner calm, I came to a realization. In doing each of my menial chores I had been seeking an escape from my restlessness. Before each activity I had convinced myself that it was utterly necessary to finish it before starting my day, and meanwhile the hours had slithered by. What I really needed was to do something simply for the sake of doing – something I could throw myself into for my own enjoyment. Taking the advice of a recent commenter, I did what few would think to do in the days following a torrential snowfall; I went for a spin on my bicycle.

In the middle of my third Wisconsin winter my enthusiasm for riding had been dwindling; slushy streets and below-zero windchills meant I only hopped on my bike when necessary, and it was rarely a joyful event. But with cycling being my only source of exercise this also meant I had become a bit sloth-like, with fitful cabin fever. And so determined to again feel the wind on my face and the the joy of gliding over the streets, I set out.

For the first mile or so I pedaled uneasily over the snow, nearly biffing it as I rounded a corner and hit a chunk of ice. Internally I fought with myself over whether this was really a good idea – my legs continued to spin through sheer unconscious will, like passing prayer beads between my fingers.

I was headed around the lake, a familiar 12-mile route through Madison’s suburbs – an easy cruise in the summertime, now made interesting by gaping potholes and unrideable stretches of heavy snow. Within the first mile my shoes were soaked through, but I welcomed the stimulation, the invigorating cold and racing pulse. It was my tiny adventure, my personal escape. I felt giddy as I careered down slippery hills, conquering the abandoned streets.

As I rode, threads of blue were woven into the sky’s patchwork grey – there was even a smattering of sunshine. Having almost completed my circumnavigation, I paused at an empty park that was covered in knee-high snow – it caked onto the cuffs of my pants as I trudged through, my feet now partially numb. I noticed sled tracks spilling down the nearby hill and suddenly wished for my old plastic toboggan.

Cruising back into downtown I realized I hadn’t eaten lunch. Stopping into a neighborhood market the first thing that caught my eye was the pastry case, and I began to salivate over the seductive glaze of the apple fritters. I bought one for myself, and a plain glazed to take home for my fiancee – the fact that any bakery purchase came with a free cup of coffee sealed the deal, and for $1.50 I was a happy man.

I stepped outside, inhaling my sweet lunch and warming up with slurps of coffee. Though I’d left my list of tasks untouched, the afternoon had been properly siezed – and I felt content with that. Sensation tingled back into my toes, and I hopped back up on the saddle to pedal the rest of the way home.

Photo: lake monona, by click-see. madison.

The Immeasurable Value of Simply Doing

MADISON – IT WAS EIGHT DEGREES OUTSIDE. Fahrenheit. The briskness of the wind was enough to cut me down. But I shuffled along the street, rice wine and Korean blood sausage tucked into my bag, en route to a friends’ apartment – where we would probably sit and commiserate over how goddamned cold it was.

Hanju greeted me at the door. Up in his overwarm apartment I shed a few layers: coat, undercoat, sweater, thermal. His brother JJ was at the computer in the midst of an Internet video chat with their father. “Hey,” he called out to me, “Want to say hi to my dad?”

A bit taken aback, I sat down, put on the headphones and faced a shifting image of an elder Korean man. I bowed gently in the direction of the camera. Ahnyonghaseyo! I greeted him. He cracked a smile, and we began to talk about, of all things, the weather. For someone like myself who grew up with the Internet, it felt surprisingly strange to be shooting the breeze, face-to-face with someone who was thousands of miles away.

***

The night rolled on and and the rice wine - makuhlli - flowed in our bowls (out of which the drink is traditionally taken). Hanju and I assessed the quality of the sausage (soondae), which was bought in Chicago; it was O.K., edible at least, but nothing compared with our memories of Seoul street vendors. JJ came out of his room and sat down looking haggard; he stole a swig from Hanju’s dish.

There had been a few words between him and his father. JJ, after a year of paying tuition and busting his ass trying to make grades at the university, had not made it into the business school. His plans were unraveling, and he was having doubts about what he was even doing in America.

As JJ stared into his bowl, his brother nodded in sympathy. Just a few weeks earlier Hanju had expressed similar sentiments – his English, he said, wasn’t getting much better. He wondered if at this point he ought to just go back, finish his degree in finances and start making money. But his thoughts had tumbled down a well; would doing so make him happy?

So there we all sat, mulling over pork and the directions of our lives. Despite all their doubts, I just couldn’t believe that my friends’ time spent here in Wisconsin had been a waste – any more than my time in Korea had been. It terms of credits and degrees, my experiences abroad had gotten me nowhere special, and had certainly set me back a bit financially. But in terms of developing my sense of self and determining the course of my life, the value of those times was immeasurable; traveling was a pressure cooker for my personal enrichment.

I turned to Hanju. “This is the time to question things,” I said.

He nodded, and we all shared another drink.

Transportation Resolution

IT IS THE RARE person who would hope to see gas prices skyrocket to $11 per gallon in the coming year, but such is the wish of Michael Barrett. The Madison-based urban geographer recently told ISTHMUS, a local weekly paper, that what would ensue would be a “cascade of Very Good Things”:

First, we might finally see the lazy asses get out of their cars and walk it off. (Their attitudes and asses, that is.) Second, those rivers of death — a.k.a. highways — would become streams of life, full of people biking, rollerblading, walking, skateboarding and cross-country skiing. Third, we could all finally breathe.”

While I may not be so extreme as to hope for a cripplingly high price of gas (the chain reaction would create a surge in energy costs and would mean prohibitive prices for air travel), I get what Barrett is saying; he’s certainly got recent evidence for the “rivers of death” claim, and I’ve often fantasized about how lovely it would be if highways were transformed into thriving bikeways.

Barrett works for Urban Thoreau, a firm that looks to shift urban infrastructure so that it fosters human interaction – that long forgotten art. One of the company’s biggest projects is pushing a “Parking Cashout” policy, which enables employees to receive a cash stipend for the cost of their company-subsidized parking space if they choose not to drive to work. Modeled after a 1992 California law that has been loosely enforced, Urban Thoreau is trying to implement the practice locally, with some success, in an effort to get people out of their cars and into fresh air.

My last trip home I realized how stifled I felt after a couple weeks of driving on a regular basis from my suburban hometown to downtown Seattle. My moments of stillness in the outdoors were the ones that made me appreciate where I was. In the same vein with Barrett’s wish, I hope that as a society we would take a collective pause and reevaluate where we’re going – and how we’re getting there.

There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work whether of the head or the hands. I love a broad margin in my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in the undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveler’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time.”

- Henry David Thoreau

Return of the Day Job

IT BREATHED AND HOWLED, letting out its whistle like some heaving iron monster. The train was almost invisible in the fog and floated eerily amid the sprinklings of urban light in the pre-dawn black.

It was a halting sound. I paused, straddling my bicycle, to wipe my dewy glasses before continuing my ride to work. The world was an opaque mess of white, and with such limited visibility I only hoped I wouldn’t slam into a parked car – let alone a moving one.

The diner’s familiar odor of grease and coffee brought no comfort; the decision to take off my coat and begin the routine of washing dishes and wiping tables was a capitulation, a subtle defeat. I made no small talk with customers, and responded to theirs with evasive laughter. I was glad to be back in Madison, but tired of doing this – unable to kick the day job, floating in a freelancer’s purgatory.

Several times throughout my shift I stepped outside with my mug of coffee to marvel at the fog, at the way it draped itself over the city’s features, leaving plenty of space for the imagination to breathe. And then came the tug, the inevitable wondering of what lay down the road and beyond sight.

I came home reeking of sweat, bleach and grease – my fiancee gave me a quick kiss before telling me I needed a shower. I set down my bag and took a moment to look at the map hanging on our wall, at the red thread strung roundabout over the Pacific connecting Madison and Seoul. My sore legs felt the tension of the ends trying to meet.


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