Friday night after the show, Sam asked me where I live. “I’m always curious where new people end up,” he explained, “it says a lot.” I told him that I live a few blocks east of the capital.
“East?” he asked with obvious surprise.
“Well, it’s not that far east,” I protested, “I mean, it’s only a few blocks.”
“East,” he said again, trying out the word on his tongue. “That’s interesting.”
There is a decisive split in Madison between the east and the west. It’s like Berlin. The west side of town tends to be more modern; it’s cleaner and newer and the mall on the west side of town has a Pottery Barn. The east side of town is ramshackle and bohemian with tumble-down cafes and Rastafarian shops; it’s considered dirty and dangerous and brimming with communism.
The east side is, of course, much nicer.
My work is on the west side of town and nearly everyone that I’ve met lives on the west side of town. They speak fondly of Barnes and Noble and shudder at the noisy, raucous life of downtown. Today I stood at the bus stop, waiting for a bus to take me to the eastside, and a guy asked me what time the bus was scheduled to arrive. We chatted for several minutes and then he said, “So are you going home now?”
“Oh no,” I said, “I live down here by the capital. I’m going to the east side for groceries.”
“That surprises me,” he said, “Just from talking to you, you seem like the kind of person who’d live over there.”
I laughed and told him the story about Sam being surprised that I lived east of the square and the guy sighed and rolled his eyes. “If you say you live on the east side, people think you’re a commie.”
“Oh is that what it means?” I asked with a grin.
“No, it means you’re alive, it means you exist,” he said, looking frustrated as the bus rumbled to a stop. “It means you’re not a mindless robot. The people on the west side make republicans look like socialists.”
This city is really something else.
Categories: my life in words