invasion of the festival people…do i know you?

3 Azamat 165 B.E. (Baha’i calendar)
Soundtrack in my head:  Kimya Dawson, “Tire Swing”

Today was the WORT Block Party.  For those of us who frequent Madison neighborhood festivals, this is the first one of the season.

There seems to be an identifiable “festival crowd” here in Madison.  At least among those who frequent the WORT Block Party, the Marquette Waterfront Festival, the Atwood Summerfest, the Orton Park Festival and the Willy Street Fair.  When I go to one of these festivals in Madison, I find myself recognizing dozens of faces.  These are people I swear I’ve seen before, but with whom I’m not acquainted.  It may very well that I’ve seen them at co-op events, Willy Street Co-op, neighborhood meetings, public hearings, or at a party somewhere.

One such person waved at me as I was walking towards my house this afternoon.  She was with a housemate of mine and we both said that we recognized each other, and eventually we were able to figure out why.  They convinced me to abandon my house-cleaning plans and instead go to the WORT festival with them.  We talked for a while at the festival, and she talked about this same phenomenon of recognizing people one can’t quite place.  At one point, she went up to one such person she recognized and was able to figure out why she knew him.

While there, I saw one woman who I initially saw at a party years back, and then at a Metro public hearing, and then later at another party where we actually exchanged some words. From time to time I see her at a bus stop, and today I saw her at the festival.  One of these days I’ll probably know her name.  Another woman I saw I met at a camping event last weekend.  Back then I swore I’d seen her before, but could not place her.  Now she’s good enough of a friend/acquaintance that we can engage in some extensive conversation when we run into each other, as I did today at the festival.  I also saw a guy with a longish red beard.  I remember both of us were trying to place each other when we ran into each other last year.  It turned out he used to work at Mifflin Street Co-op.  My co-op house had a close relationship with Mifflin Street Co-op, until the food co-op was forced to close its doors eighteen months ago.

Madison is like that, to a large degree.  With a population of 225,000, it still has a small-town feel to it, and I like it that way.  It’s kind of comforting.  I like living in a town where it’s easy to run into people you know and can say “hi” to.  But, as one friend pointed out, Madison is not a place where you can be invisible.  You can’t just disappear into the crowd.  She talked about how she used to be able to make late night trips to the convenience store in pajamas or boxer shorts, but realized she could not do that here due to the very real possibility that she might run into someone she knew.

The WORT Festival is where these “festival people” first seem to come out of hibernation.  Like various mammals native to this area, they’ve shed their winter coats, and walk with a bit of spring in the step, as if a burden had been removed from their shoulders.  Unlike various native mammals, they put on their sunglasses and sunscreen, and often have beers in their hands.  Taking in the music, the booths, and the people-watching, it is a sure sign of summer…

exile on mifflin street

6 Jamal 165 B.E. (Baha’i Calendar)
Soundtrack in my head:  The Pogues, “The Sickbed of Cuchulainn”

Ah yes, the first weekend in May.  Once again, it is time for the Mifflin Street Block Party,  In this time-honored outdoor neighborhood event, undergraduate students celebrate the approaching end of the semester by partaking of spirits, and spreading, er, good cheer amongst themselves and their neighbors.

I usually pray for heavy thunderstorms.

Okay, I’m trying not to be a cranky neighbor.  When I was in college, in a neighborhood not unlike the Mifflin Street area, we had a cranky neighbor who forced us to remove some ugly old sofas from our porch.  We were told that they were an eyesore, and was able to invoke some law that somehow prohibits eyesores on one’s property.  But one person’s eyesore is another person’s useful item, and we ended up deprived of a nice place to sit in the summer.

So I think about that when I complain about my neighbors.  Whatever people do in the privacy of their own homes is their business (as long as no one gets hurt)  but clearly there’s lines that need to be drawn.  I need my sleep. I’d like to hear my own music, not my neighbor’s. I’d like to go about my business without having my train of thought interrupted by the chants of “Beer! Beer! Beer! Beer! Beer! Beer! Beer!” And I want to feel comfortable walking on my own block without having to deal with someone who becomes aggressive when they drink.

I’m not the only neighbor over 30 in the neighborhood. So are several of my housemates, and a child lives here part-time. Behind our building is one that has some families living in it, and I occasionally see people with strollers walking down the block.  One block over from the festivities are the Capitol Centre apartments which house many senior citizens.  Do you want to tell all of us to move so students can party without having to worry about disturbing their neighbors?  I thought college was supposed to prepare people for the real world.

As such, I just don’t get this Mifflin Street Block Party “tradition.” The party today is entirely different from the one broken up by police nearly 40 years ago, when it had more of a feel of protest and solidarity. It is now a beerfest that has continued without a permit for years. It costs the city $80,000 to contend with an event people never got permission to hold. 

I think about the values communicated when such a party is permitted to be held. To insist that people have a right to inflict such inconvenience on their neighbors and such expense on the city is absolutely mind-boggling. I wonder if such tolerance would be extended to people holding a similar festival in one of Madison’s low-income neighborhoods.

I don’t necessarily have solutions. I know the city has been trying various ways to deal with the party. It just bothers me that there is such an attitude of entitlement associated with it.

So, tonight, my housemates and I are planning an “Escape From Miffln Street Block Party” excursion to the restaurants and establishments of another neighborhood, perhaps Willy Street or the Atwood area.  And we’ll try to be patient and not get angry about festivities that we can’t do anything about.

Oops, gotta run. Someone’s relieving himself on our property again.  Time to go up to the balcony and pour the boiling oil.