One of the charming aspects of living in Madison, Wisconsin has to do with geography — the city is arranged around two large lakes (Monona and Mendota) with other smaller lakes stringing along geologically to make for some nice waterfront property and entertaining names (Wingra, Waubesa, and Kegonsa). The aerial views flying in and out of Madison’s pleasantly small airport are engaging regardless of the season. Between Monona and Mendota, is an isthmus occupied by the State Capitol building and downtown Madison. State Street connects State government to the University located to the west along the shores of Lake Mendota.
When you decide to move to Madison, you have to make a critical decision — do you live on the west side or the east side? How do you know which side to choose? I’ve not yet read an article that discusses the differences between the two sides, although no doubt, one is out there somewhere. We used to live in Northern Virginia, and some years after settling there, I happened to read a long article in the Washington Post magazine about differences between living in Northern Virginia versus Southern Maryland — both locations in the “greater Washington DC metro” sphere of influence. After reading the article, it was apparent we would have fit better in Maryland, but by then, we were cemented into Virginia. When we were moving to Madison, we were again faced with the location decision, this time between East and West. Since we were moving a high schooler, we showed her 3 schools and asked her to pick one; then we’d choose a house in that district. She chose a school on the far west side in Middleton (at the edge of Madison), so we found a house in a very nice nearby neighborhood. Perhaps we chose the wrong 3 schools to show her, or she made a rash decision, or we didn’t do enough homework, but ultimately, she decided (after we were settled in) that maybe that wasn’t the ideal school for her, but too late. And ultimately, it seemed, we might have “fit” better on the east side, or at least further east. However, all things considered, Dad was working on the west end of campus, and eventually Mom did, too, and anyway, Daughter only lived here for 2 years before heading back east to college. Whatever. We live in a great neighborhood, although now we’re in the market to downsize.
There remains the issue of traveling around town. It seems that most people who live on the east side, think it’s too far to come over to the west side for activities or shopping, and vice versa. For someone raggedly experienced with driving around the Washington DC metro morass, spending 20 minutes on the Madison Beltline to get from the west side to the east side is just not worth blogging about. But for people unfamiliar with the concept of “traffic”, it’s just too much effort to drive more than 15 minutes. Unless of course there’s an extremely compelling reason — um… a Badger game, ice fishing, or Brat Fest. But “extremely compelling” is a phrase of shifting meaning.
Today, I have the challenge of an east-west decision. I have a book group meeting tonight in which we’ll discuss Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Lacuna” and I’m really having trouble retaining the definition of “lacuna” in order to describe what that means but that’s another blog. The host of tonight’s session lives in Maple Bluff which is on the far east side of Lake Mendota. I work on the west end of campus, about 7 miles due east of my house. Therefore, it doesn’t really make sense to go home before I go to book group. And anyway, the husband has a dinner meeting of some sort and won’t be here anyway. OK, so I will go into work carrying lunch & dinner, get some extra hours in (to make up for the many days of time off that we get as Wisconsin State employees — have to get that work done somehow), leave work about 7:15, and get to book group easily across the isthmus and around to Maple Bluff. Afterwards, coming home will involve a quick run around the Beltline back to the west side — with zero traffic.
If I were moving to Madison now, which side would I live on? Or really, it’s not just two choices because you could also live centrally located in some very nice older neighborhoods. I guess living close to work, in this era of efficiency, is the best idea, so westerly becomes the choice. Relatively.