getting lost at the memorial union terrace

Soundtrack in my head:  A.R. Kane, “Deep Blue Breath”

memorial union terraceSo a couple of weekends ago, I found myself hanging out on at the Memorial Union Terrace on Lake Mendota. For those of you who don’t live in Madison, let me explain what “the Terrace” is. Madison has one and Chicago doesn’t, which is one of the reasons why I live in Madison.

The student union of the University of Wisconsin happens to be located at the edge of Lake Mendota. In the back of the Union, there is a large patio area that leads right up to the edge of the lake, and people refer to it as the Terrace. There are probably hundreds of metal tables and hundreds of matching chairs with a distinctive round sun or sunflower-like pattern on the back. In addition to a great view of Lake Mendota, there is also a stage in which concerts are held during the warm months, where you can watch the band against the backdrop of the lake. Students and members of the Wisconsin Union can buy beer and food there. On a nice afternoon or evening, hundreds of people hang out there, talking, drinking, listening to the music, enjoying the food, people-watching, gazing at the gorgeous sunset, etc. It’s not just students and alumni—one thing that makes Madison distinctive is that the campus area is more integrated with the rest of the town than in most other college towns.

It’s a great place to lose yourself. It is not uncommon to run into someone you know there, and it’s all too easy to let entire afternoons and evenings go by, lost in good vibrations and great conversations along the lakefront.

That’s what happened to me a few weeks ago. I walked over to the Terrace at about 4 p.m., intending to spend maybe an hour or two doing some journal writing, but then I ran into a friend of mine. She, in turn, introduced me to some other friends and we hung out, taking in the sun and the blues music being played on stage. At about the first brat and second beer during my third hour at the Terrace, it dawned on me that I might be spending the rest of the evening there…which I did.  As I watched the spectacular sunset, I enjoyed listening to a folksinger less than half my age who nevertheless had a remarkable knowledge of music from the late 60’s and early 70’s, and then, after it got dark, we watched a blind jazz/blues pianist from New Orleans take the stage and energetically charge up the crowd as his hands engulfed the keyboard like a fire about to spread out of control.

I love September.  It’s weird, because every summer I find myself desperately not wanting it to end because it’s, well, summer, but then September strikes and I’m suddenly loving the cooler nights and mild days, and later I’m reminded that fall is my favorite time of year–something that I forget every April or May.  You’d think after thirty some-odd years of this cycle, I’d remember what my favorite season is, but then again, if I’m savoring each new season like I’m experiencing it for the first time, then all the better.  But now that it’s past Labor Day, the days on the Terrace are numbered, and in not too long, it will be too cold to hang out there for the rest of this year.  The best I’ll be able to do is look out over the snowy terrace and the frozen lake from the warm confines of the Rathskellar.  But I’ll try to let my self “get lost” at the Terrace as much as possible in the meantime.

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