0

That’s The Way The Matzah Crumbles

Well that was fun.

As you know, Wisconsin made it to the Final Four last year and lost against Kentucky, but this year, they managed to surpass that, defying all the odds (well, the odds of making it to the championship in general being rather slim, when you consider how many teams are in Division I basketball; they were a #1 seed this year) and it was really exciting.

Not so exciting was flying back to Madison from Baltimore and landing roughly at the time the championship was ending.

I changed planes in Minneapolis, and as soon as I arrive and make it to my terminal, the TVs are all tuned to the game. Since Duke is the opponent, and they’re based far, far away in North Carolina, the bulk of the terminal are Badger fans. They’re leading at the half, and then we have to board the plane, for what will be the weirdest flight ever.

First of all, it’s a flight from Minneapolis to Madison, which is pretty ludicrous in and of itself, since they’re only 3-4 hours apart by road, and it’s a tiny plane. Second, everyone on the plane is either wearing Badger red and glued to their smartphone/laptop/iPad or munching on matzah, or both, like the mother/daughter pair across the aisle from me. When the cabin crew announces the “turn off all electronic devices,” a few people manage to keep watching the game for a few minutes, until the captain says over the intercom:

“Listen, you all need to turn off your electronic devices. I know it’s the game, but it’s regulation. We’ll try to have you on the ground as soon as possible, but until then, just enjoy your flight. We will not be offering a complimentary beverage service, but

Mind. Blown.

An in-flight score service, who knew.

The excitement builds as we take off and sail over the two states. True to their word, the flight attendants keep us updated on the score, and it’s close to an even score as we land in Madison, and the cabin goes dark in preparation.

We land.

The lights come up, the phones go on, and the first thing I see it a text from my dad:

“Wisconsin loses.”

Oh gosh.

I don’t know what this means.

A big part of me is disappointed, but just as much of me is curious as to what will happen, if it’ll be a danger zone, and part of me is relieved, because all the crazies will be leaving Madison just as I’m attempting to get a ride in. Fortunately, a lady a few rows behind me asks me where I live, and turns out we’re a block from each other, so she called a cab for us before we even left Madison, which was super nice of her. We end up sharing with another guy, a stats professor, and get home rather quickly.

The rest of the night is quiet at least.

And again, that was fun.

On Wisconsin, I guess…?

2

March Madness

It’s that time of year again.

That time when people go absolutely bonkers over a bunch of lines on a piece of paper that they’ll forget about once April comes.

Yep, March Madness.

I was never a huge college basketball fan growing up, and that didn’t change once I got into college. I mean, it’s one of those things that I can understand other people enjoying, but I just don’t see much in it. And the obsession with brackets; call me old-fashioned, but when I think of brackets, the first thing that comes to mind is dental surgery. It’s all anyone talks about this time of year, and the chances of being even remotely close are quite slim, even if you buy a hundred brackets from ESPN.com.

And of course, one of the perennial hot-button issues regarding college athletic programs waits until this time of year to rear its ugly head.

You guessed it, I’m talking about salaries for college basketball players.

John Oliver did a piece on it last week, and while I agree with his viewpoints, coming from an American college background and seeing the direct effects of the economy on the situation at large, I think that something substantial needs to happen to finally put this problem to bed.

Before we start talking about salaries for college athletes, let’s look at who really benefits from NCAA and March Madness. First, a small circle of executives. Second, a slightly larger circle of merchandisers. Third, a slightly larger circle of coaches of winning teams. Fourth, a slightly larger circle of coaches of lesser teams. And if there’s any money left over, the schools.

Does this seem like a pyramid scheme to you? Because that is what it feels like to me. Honestly. Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus said it best in their phenomenal book, Higher Education? How Colleges are Wasting our Money and Failing our Kids – And What We Can Do About It (2010): however many teams there are, there can only be one winner. Everyone else is a loser, in more ways than one. Once a team is out, the buck stops there; merchandise is tossed into the furnace, the advertising offers disappear, and the coaches’ checks are written and distributed. Now, we’re not only hurting ourselves, but we’re hurting underpaid apparel factory workers in China who have to scrap their entire stock of Purdue University Final Four sweatshirts, t-shirts, and hoodies when the Boilermakers get knocked out in an Elite Eight upset. For the coaches, life isn’t so bad; they get to peace out with a sweet check and take a cruise to the Bahamas or whatever basketball coaches do the rest of the year. But the players themselves do struggle, and some of them sustain injuries that not only end their careers, but relieve them of their scholarships and possibly leave them with lifelong conditions.

I could really go on and on and on about this, but I guess what I’m getting at can be summed up in a few points:

1. Coaches’ salaries need to be cut. I’m probably preaching to the choir, but did you know that in the majority of states, the highest-paid private employee is a university coach? That’s pretty disheartening for someone whose work is as seasonal as a Macy’s holiday gift-wrapper. Or if not their salaries, then ban them from allowing to benefit from corporate branding and advertising.

2. People just need to calm down about all this. If the media didn’t make such a fuss over March Madness, people would calm down considerably. The closest sporting event that I can think of that is on this scale while remaining amateur is the Summer Olympics, which happens only every four years. Give colleges a break; they’re under enough pressure from people like Scott Walker as it is.

And finally, the million-dollar question: should college athletes get paid?

My opinion is…it depends. I don’t think that college athletes should get a salary just for being on the team. I do think, however, that they should be allowed to benefit in a similar fashion to their coaches, and be allowed access to the same resources and endorsements from companies like Coca-Cola, Wendy’s, Nike, and all the rest, based on their merit, talent, and sportsmanship. I think that regardless of skill level or playing time, they all deserve to have health insurance covered by their university, regardless of how light or severe the injury; without them, there would be no team and no income for anyone, at all, period. (I mean, come on. Could you imagine people paying just to watch a bunch of older white men to stand around in headsets looking constipated?) I don’t think that they should be penalized for being recognized for their skills and talents; it’s what got them there in the first place. And finally, I think that the NCAA needs to crack down on the intensity of their program, both on and off the court. Coaches should be monitored more carefully to see that they are not over-exerting their players in practice/training to the point of exhaustion or physical/mental illness, and in games, rough play should be taken more seriously; after all, if you’re going to call them amateurs, don’t expect them to play like pros. Probably less than five percent of them will ascend to that level anyway, and though it’s nice to dream, I would imagine that most college athletes want to do something else with their lives than turn pro, even if it’s something as simple as living in a comfortable home, or getting married and having children, or having a less dangerous, better-paying job.

As for me, I’ll be casually following Wisconsin, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

Oh, who am I kidding, they’re a #1 seed and up against Coastal Carolina, so beat ’em, Badgers.

6

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: It’s an Old, Old, Old, Old World

Another day of doing mostly nothing, but I found some brochures from my trip to Old World Wisconsin while cleaning out my car the other day, and realized that I never got around to updating my post from last July about my fun but exhausting day there, so here we go!

Theme Song! (Click Play):

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 5: It’s an Old, Old, Old, Old World (Old World Wisconsin, Eagle)

Last July, WeKache and I were bored on a Sunday, so we decided to have an adventure at a place I found on the Internet: Old World Wisconsin. So, I left Madison, swung to pick him up in Milwaukee, and off we went.

We had to do a little backtracking as Old World Wisconsin is in the town of Eagle. Eagle is a tiny, tiny town in the southeastern portion of Wisconsin (population: 1,950, according to Wikipedia) yet is home to one of the largest and most impressive living history exhibits that I’ve ever seen. Opened in 1976 by the Wisconsin Historical Society, Old World Wisconsin gives you an idea of what life was like in the 19th and early 20th century Wisconsin from the points of view of German settlers, Finnish settlers, and more. Getting there was a drive down country roads that almost got us hopelessly lost; there is not a lot of signage until you get very close.

Once there, you can’t see that much from the road. We drove down a long path to the parking lot, from which you can only see the visitors’ center, the cafe, and the bike shop. Once you go inside and pay admission, you get to pick up a souvenir tag with the name of a person on it, and at one of the homesteads, you get to do chores. The little kid in me was so excited.

The park is large but easily walkable, yet for the lazy and tired there is a shuttle bus that goes between the various homesteads that make up the park’s grounds. It was a nice day, so WeKache and I alternated between walking the wooded paths and taking the lazy bus.

We began at Crossroads Village, the Yankee Area. This was just a general “old world” area with universal things like a pharmacy/general store where you could see things that they sold there; a blacksmith shop and cobbler shop with live demonstrations; an old church; and a house where you could try using a washboard and clothesline to wash some clothes. WeKache and I had fun doing that. There was also a grease pole. We did not do that.

Next, at the Finnish Homestead, we came just in time for an ice cream making demonstration. We got to taste some; it was a little bland but good on a warm day. They had chickens running all around, and we took some funny pictures with farm tools. We also saw the Finnish home, and WeKache got a very interesting picture of me that he put in black and white. With the period-dressed farmer’s wife in the foreground and me looking at some objects on the table in the background, it looked like I had fallen into a time slip. No photoshop needed.

After walking to the Danish Homestead, we got to tour their home, which had some delicious looking food on the table. They had a water pump outside which we got to try, and a strawberry patch out back where we were allowed to pick and eat the tiny fruits.

The walk to the Norwegian Homestead was long, but that was probably the coolest one. They had this awesome one-room schoolhouse, with a real period-dressed schoolmaster talking about what school was like. We frolicked around the beautiful farmhouse, where I used an old hand-powered sewing machine that I was probably not supposed to use, but in my defense, it was all threaded and had fabric ready, and there were no signs saying not to use it. Whoops. I think that was also where we saw a lady cooking bacon over a fire, but that might have been at the German place.

Next was the largest one, the German Homestead. There was cows, pigs, chickens galore, and even a pie-eating contest. The cool chores thing was at one of the farms; WeKache and I tried our hands at sewing, grinding corn into flour, and chopping wood. The guy at the wood-chopping booth was helping the little kids do it, and even one of the adults too. I made it look easy; I’ve never chopped wood before, but I managed to get it in one quick slice. WeKache said I looked very manly doing it. He stepped up to try it and found out that it was harder than it looked. At least for him.

We backtracked to the Polish Homestead, which was just a house and some chickens, and then took the bus around to the African American Homestead. It was mostly just a cemetery (a real one, I think, although WeKache thought it looked fake) and an old church. I guess the African Americans didn’t have houses.

It was getting later and we were getting tired, so we caught the bus back to near the visitors’ center, where we went to the newly-opened bike shop. There, you could try riding an old-fashioned giant-wheeled bicycle around a curvy dirt track. I suck at riding bikes – I haven’t owned one since I was nine, and when I tried to ride a friend’s bike in college I couldn’t even keep myself up – but these were surprisingly easy and fun to maneuver, at least for me. The trick that the guide told us was to lean back, even though it seemed antithetical, but it actually worked. Once you did that, I guess your center of gravity changed. WeKache grew up in China, where riding bikes is basically a prerequisite for life, but he had a hard time getting the hang of it, even with me telling him “Lean back! Further! I promise you won’t fall!” I would love to ride one again one day.

Overall, Old World Wisconsin was really like a step back in time. Only at the bike shop, which was near the parking lot, did we see any type of 21st century life, and even though everyone there was dressed up in period costumes, I was the one that felt weird, wearing a t-shirt and jeans and taking pictures with my iPhone and WeKache’s SLR camera. The guides all really committed to their roles, and kept it very chill; they answered questions, but weren’t overly cheerful and did a good job of not reacting to cameras. It wasn’t flashy or Disney-esque at all; the buildings looked old, but well-kept, the animals were real and cute, and it was all a very low-key operation, just like a little village in the woods. Each area was completely separate, and completely unique (take that, World Showcase!) with different types of architecture, artifacts, plants, and animals. There were plenty of people there, but there were times that it was just the two of us, especially on the walking paths and at the smaller homesteads, and not a lot of people with screaming kids or babies. If you’re in Madison/Milwaukee, have time to spare, and want to have a fun, chill, and educational off-the-beaten-path experience, I’d definitely recommend Old World Wisconsin.

Come on, who doesn’t need a break from technology every now and then?

0

Halfway Point For Some

Today is my dad’s half-birthday.

Half-birthdays are weird; it’s kind of funny to think that tomorrow you will officially be closer to your next age than your current one.

Speaking of halfway points, this past weekend I headed to Milwaukee to pick up WeKache, then to Beaver Dam for the 2014 Cache and Release Challenge. For this event, 30 brand new caches were planted in Beaver Dam. 63 teams from all over Wisconsin showed up for a chance to find them and win prizes. We arrived only minutes before the event started; by the time we had our map ready, everyone had scattered. With WeKache driving, we found 15 of the 30 caches before 5 PM, not too bad.

Most were relatively easy, but we attempted two of the three puzzles and came through victorious, with help. We met up with a father/daughter team and combined clues which took us to an empty parking lot. We were about to give up when we see them drive up, letting us know that they had gotten some numbers wrong and gave us the correct info. We followed them to the real site (or what we thought was the real site) and searched fruitlessly for 15 minutes when a team all in purple showed up, heading in a different direction. We followed them, and the daughter spotted the cache. The second puzzle involved a cryptogram, which we cracked pretty easily. We spent about 15 minutes searching on our own, before seeing another group arrive and joining with them. The coordinates that the cryptogram led to were in the middle of some slippery rocks in a small grove of trees. I was leery of climbing them, but as soon as we walked up to the grove of trees about four other cars full of teams showed up and all of a sudden there were no less than twenty pairs of eyes looking. I was tired, so I hung back and watched while someone else found it and passed it around. My 1800th find was our 12th find of the day, a bottle attached to a plank of wood in the ground with a decoy cache nearby. Heh.

By 4:30, we were tired and thirsty, so we called it quits and headed to the cafe for the prize raffle. We had each received a raffle ticket for attending, then 1 ticket for every 5 caches (we got 3 each; the max was 6 for all 30, which 7 teams got!). Even though I lost my original ticket, one of the first tickets called was one of mine, then moments later, one belonging to WeKache…and then it happened again! 40 prizes were given out, as well as several cash prizes. All told, 4 of our 7 tickets were prize winners, so much so that the prize table staffers started calling me by name. WeKache let me pick all 4 prizes to share between us, so we ended up with a starter geocaching kit (which went to me), an orange ID badge holder (me again), a beer stein painted with a panoramic view of the pavilion at Swan Park, where we had been earlier (that went to him), and a cookbook set, 2 books (which I took) and a recipe card box (which he took). We spent the rest of the afternoon getting to know a married couple team from Devil’s Lake and a family team from West Bend.

All in all, it was exhausting but fun. I told WeKache that it felt like we were tokens/avatars in a giant board game with the town of Beaver Dam as our map, and he agreed.

Finally, speaking of halfway, I half (whoops, I mean have) several half-finished posts to complete, which I will link here when I’m finished. Off I go!

0

Last Night as a Nomad

After one month of travel involving seven states/territories, six flights, four time zones, and only one lost pair of headphones, I am back in Madison. I am still a homeless person, though, until tomorrow morning when I get my keys and meet the movers. Then, the new school year will be that much closer to beginning. For tonight, though, I’m in the luxury of the Hampton Inn. Free wifi, fluffy beds, and a bathtub = heaven.

My dad was well enough today for a trip to DC, so since I was flying out of Reagan (a first for me!) we packed up mid-afternoon so all four of us (mom, dad, sister, and me) could have dinner together. It also happens to be my parents’ wedding anniversary, so that was something fun to celebrate. We had Greek food at Zorba’s in Dupont Circle, after which Dad and I found two geocaches, one real and one virtual, and both within spitting distance of my sister’s apartment. I then said goodbye to my sister, and headed to the airport with my parents. Even though I will be seeing them in about three weeks, it was still weird to say goodbye; this past month has seemed like a bunch of giant goodbyes. I almost missed my flight because I was charging my daughter (iPhone) at the next gate over, but according to my seatmate, they only made one or two boarding announcements. They really didn’t give us a whole lot of warning; the girl in front of me in line had gone to the bathroom and returned only to find that her entire family had boarded without her and now they were doing the final call, which is the one I heard.

The flight was about an hour and forty-five minutes, although it seemed like no time at all. I walked down to baggage claim with my seatmate, a woman called Kristen who was in town for business. Even though we were far from the last ones off the plane, for the first time, our bags beat us out to the baggage claim. One taxi ride later, I was at the hotel, and of course one of the two desk attendants is a friend of mine, and the other is one who actually just moved out of the building I’m moving into, and lived only one floor below me. She seemed positive about the building, and from what I gathered she was leaving because she was in a one-bedroom with a roommate.

Overall, it’s been a fun month, with some ups and downs but mostly ups. I got to experience life as a true nomad for a month, sleeping on planes, couches, floors, and in my own bed. I experienced the hospitality of three friends and got to see their homes for the first time.

Positives of living the nomad life:

  • Always experiencing new things. Everywhere I went, I managed to see or do something new, even in Baltimore. I spent very little of the past month bored, and subsequently, very little time thinking about myself. It was fast-paced and exciting. I can find something fun almost everywhere, from the airport in Charlotte to a sleepy beach town in Puerto Rico.
  • Freedom of movement. There’s just something about being able to pack yourself up into a backpack, a suitcase or two, and just jet.
  • Freedom from possessions. Even this morning, it didn’t take that long to gather my things together, including those items I had accumulated on the trip (a fan from Puerto Rico, a journal from Arizona, school books from home) and overall, it was nice not to be burdened with so much stuff. If it couldn’t fit into my bag, it didn’t come with me; I threw out a lot of junk I would have normally kept. Cue tomorrow, when I open my suitcase and ask myself, “what is all this crap?” Still, it kept me from accumulating too many unnecessary things and buying souvenirs for myself or for friends.

Negatives of living the nomad life:

  • Always on the go. My first few weeks were so action-packed that I barely had time to breathe, or reflect. Even though my Arizona roomie Kathleen admired my ability to reflect on the moment, I couldn’t really settle too long in any one place until I got back to my parents’ house. It was good to be forced to be forward-thinking, but it was tiring.
  • That feeling of homelessness. Along with the excitement come the questions. Where is home? I’ll be somewhere else a week from now, where will I be a year from now? What should I be doing now to prepare for then?
  • I missed my stuff. I’ll be the first to admit my materialistic instincts. I missed my own familiar bed, my car (although my wheels in Puerto Rico and essentially having my dad’s car for the week because he couldn’t drive were huge perks), my clothes, my book collection, having a place where I could receive mail, and even eating the foods I’ve become accustomed to. I also gained a greater appreciation for privacy as well as how to be a better roommate/house guest, and got some good decorating ideas. Most of all, I got the urge to be a good host so I can return the favor or pay it forward.

With only one more night of unharnessed luxury, I might as well live it up: a hot bath and then to bed. Oh, and bienvenidos to my newest visitor from Guatemala.

4

Adios, Mendota

Just a quick update.

The apartment is fully packed (well, 90%) in boxes and bags. Some will go into my car; most of it, though, into storage.

I have about half of my paper down, which I will finish tonight come hell or high water so I can print a copy, then pack up the printer.

I still need to eat the dinner I just cooked, put laundry in the dryer, and take books to the library.

Tonight will be my final night in 620 N. Carroll St., Apartment 409, ever.

Tomorrow morning I will return my Internet box (too stressed to think of what it’s called), get some money from the ATM, retrieve my water bottle from the gym and possibly take a shower if I feel so inclined, pick up some contact solution at Walgreens, shove some stuff in the mail, and get the 1:00 PM bus to Chicago (already paid for!), or, if I play my cards right, the 11:30 AM bus.

I will have no fixed address for the next month.

Adios, Mendota…hola, being a hobo.

0

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Czech Slovak Fest

Finally, almost a week after returning, I have a moment to compress and express my thoughts on the Czech Slovak Fest in an episode of…

That’s So Jacob Presents: Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 4: Czech-Slovak Fest

 

Official proof I was there.

Official proof I was there.

One day this past semester, I mentioned to an APO friend, Liz, that I was part Slovak. I don’t know how the topic came up – I think we were talking about languages – and she mentioned Phillips and the Czech Slovak Fest happening in June.

My first thought: “Awesome! I wanna go!”

My second thought: “Wait. Where’s Phillips?”

I asked my mom’s friend, who lives in the central part of the state, about two hours away, where Phillips was, and she said that it was “a small town, somewhere north of us, I think.” I looked it up on the map, and little did I know, but it is four hours north of Madison. That’s a lot of driving for one day. My parents said that I could spent the night there if I got tired, but after looking up info on the town – population 343 – it didn’t seem like the most fun place to spend the night. Plus, through the three days of the festival, the only interesting things were happening on Saturday, so I set out relatively early in the morning to make the trek up to northern Wisconsin.

Usually I can shave some time off of my drive, but even I was worried when my GPS said I’d be in for four hours of driving, each way. There are two ways to get up there: taking the superhighway through Stevens Point/Wausau, or taking a more scenic route through the Dells and a few rural counties – Clark and Taylor – that I hadn’t been to. To my benefit, I loaded a few geocaches for each of those counties, plus Price (where Phillips is) in case I hit a dead zone.

I left a little later than I wanted and thought that I could make it at least halfway without stopping…but not so much. My eyes started drooping around Dells, so I pulled off for a Starbucks. This is the first time I’ve seen the Dells in the summer, and it was surprisingly crowded. Once armed with coffee, I hit the road again as the scenery got more and more rural. Surprisingly, outside of a small area near Necedah, I had great cell phone reception, even while stopped for a train in some little town I can’t remember. I don’t think I ever saw a sign for Clark County, but pretty soon I was in Taylor County, passing through the adorable town of Colby. In Medford, I made my first stop, to grab a nearby geocache so I could check Taylor County off my list; for some reason, I missed Clark. Oh well. When I saw the Price County sign, I knew I was getting close, and after four full hours, I arrived at Phillips High School and the festival.

My $2 entry fee got me a nifty button and a festival guide. They were selling Czech and Slovak treats in the cafeteria, but it was mostly pork and thereby uninteresting to me. I did, however, enjoy the display posters of Slovaks and Czechs in Wisconsin; I’m a sucker for posters.

As I was about to enter the gym, which held the craft fair, I saw my friend Liz, dressed in a traditional kroj, along with her mom. I got a cute picture with her, but unfortunately, I had missed her pageant performance. Those events had happened in the morning. Whoops. At least I got to enjoy the craft fair in the gym.

There were a surprising number of actual Czech and Slovak souvenirs in the craft fair. I was hoping to practice my Slovak, and I managed to overhear two ladies speaking it at one of the booths, so I greeted them in Slovak to their surprise. We had a short conversation in Slovak before switching over to English. I told them my story and they told me theirs. Before I left to see the other exhibits, one of the ladies pressed something into my hand, “here, take it. For being such a good Slovak speaker.”

I looked down, and it was Horalky, a delicious chocolate wafer cookie treat. YUM.

After that, I poked around some more, and went into the auditorium to watch some performers. It wasn’t too impressive, but the girl in the kroj playing the tuba wasn’t too bad; I’m just not too into tuba, so I left, to find the library. In the library, they had all these computers with Ancestry.com databases loaded up on them, and though it took awhile, I managed to find some really interesting stuff, including several census records with my family, and the names of my great-great-grandparents, Israel and Annie. I got ahold of my mom and dad later, who told me that they didn’t know his name, but they thought that her name was Bluma. However, people had English and Hebrew names at that time, so it’s very possible that Annie was her English name. I also found my great-grandfather’s army draft card. According to the physical description on the card, we looked a lot alike!

The school-part of the festival ended, so I gassed up the car, got a Subway sandwich (for a town of 343, the fact that they had a Subway is pretty impressive) and found a geocache, before heading to the VFW Post for some beer tasting and chatting with other townsfolk. I had a really nice conversation in Slovak and English with Ivan and Linda, a couple visiting from Neenah, about our trips to Slovakia, the things we saw, and the foods we ate. There was a polka band playing, and some older couples were dancing. It was cute. However, it was getting late, and I wanted to hit the road before dark, so I left after 7 hours of fun.

Coming back, I decided to take the highway route to see something different. I’m glad I did; even the highway wasn’t as well lit as I thought it was, and I couldn’t imagine how dark the countryside must have been. I stopped in Stevens Point for some food, and arrived home at about 1:00 in the morning.

In conclusion, though I didn’t have that many expectations for the festival, I think that it was probably worth the trip, just to see something different. I was hoping to speak more Slovak, but the fact that I spoke any was a bonus. It was a good excuse to get out of town for the day, even if my legs were exhausted for two whole days.

3

Welcome to the Dead Zone

So here I am, jollily making my way through several new counties (Ozaukee, Sheboygan, and Washington, to be precise), and racking up geocaches (admittedly, fewer than I would have wanted; I left too late and spent too long looking for a few). Most of the time, I have no problems with the geocaching app on my phone, or my phone in general.

Driving home, however, something happened around Horicon that I noticed on the way over, too.

I had entered…The Dead Zone.

 

A dead zone is an area where even though calls and texts may go through and the maps function may still work, other apps requiring GPS/network (Facebook, Email, Weather, Safari, Geocaching) are completely unusable.

And that sucks.

Since I’ve had a cell phone, I don’t recall ever being in an area without any service. On the East Coast, you’re never far from a large city, and in Texas, there are so many people and cell phone towers that even in nowheresvilles like Schulenberg and Flatonia, service is usually pretty top-notch. This is not the case, however, here in Wisconsin.

 

I first noticed it when I went to Perrot State Park. I can’t remember when I lost it, but I went through entire counties with no service at all. I got it sporadically across the border in Minnesota, but once we reentered Wisconsin, nothing until La Crosse. I didn’t stop in Horicon, but I checked online and there are plenty of geocaches in all of those places, and I wonder how people get to them without bars. I have AT&T; it’s quite possible that U.S. Cellular and Verizon are better, but probably not by much. Still…do geocachers in those places still do old-school geocaching with GPS units and packets of paper? Or is there something I’m missing?

Further research through att.com resulted in this lovely map:

cellmap

 

Above is the map of Wisconsin. You can see that there is, indeed, a humongous dead zone that stretches across the southwestern part of the state and into Iowa and Minnesota. That’s a lot of dead air space; several counties’ worth. Oddly, even when I zoomed in on Horicon, there was no dead zone.

Call me a First-World-er, but being somewhere without cell phone service is scary. Suppose your car were to break down or veer off the road outside Richland Center or Prairie du Chien; how would you get help? Would you wait for someone to come find you? Would you hitchhike somewhere? Would you just walk somewhere? There are good reasons for being without cell phone service; if you’re camping, for instance, in a national park or something and want to be left alone, or if you’re with other people, but to be alone, in an unfamiliar place, without cell phone service is kind of freaky.

The 21st century may have crippled society, but cell phone service is a crutch that could potentially be life-saving.

I promise I’ll have a real entry about something relevant and not superficial tomorrow.

I hope.

3

Season in the Sun

One thing I’ve learned since being in Wisconsin for almost a year is that there are but two seasons: winter and roadwork.

When I moved here, I guess I didn’t notice the roadwork part much; maybe because school was starting, they eased up. Winter was winter, but as soon as it ended, roadwork came and it’s still coming.

It started with the construction on new buildings. That’s not so much of a problem, but it is kind of a nuisance sometimes to have to dodge construction workers and risk being crushed by falling debris on the way to the gym.

But then, they started tearing up the roads.

It started when school was over, and it started here on Langdon. Driving straight down Carroll or down Langdon towards State Street isn’t a problem, but the left side, until recently, was closed off. The weird part, though, was that people still drove through it anyway. I still don’t get that.

But then, there’s Johnson Street.

“Giant mess” doesn’t even begin to describe it. The street is orange as far as the eye can see, with the netting, cones, and barrels. Not to mention down to one lane. It’s come to the point where I dread going east, and when I do, I’ve been driving around the Capitol just to avoid Johnson. The Capitol.

Going to the west, the end of State Street in front of the library is all torn up and cut off from the public. It’s like basic training just to get to the front door of Memorial. A girl actually fell in a hole right at the intersection of State and Lake. I didn’t see it happen, but I did see her get helped up. It’s pretty ugly-looking. At least the creepy guy who leans against the wall and tries to start conversations with me whenever I walk past him isn’t there anymore.

Then, there’s W. Broadway in Monona. Um…no thanks, ever.

And going eastbound on the highway.

I think I need to go read a book or something.

4

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Traipsing through Trempealeau with Minnesota On the Side

On today’s episode of Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin, my friend Rahul joined me in an adventure to see four new counties plus a whole new state.

That’s So Jacob Presents: Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 4: Traipsing through Trempealeau with Minnesota On the Side

File:WI Trempealeau.png

Trempealeau is in red, with Winona right beside it.

I rate today’s expedition somewhere between a success and a failure. In terms of success, we hiked a mountain in beautiful weather, made it to a brand new state for both of us, and had tons of fun. In terms of failure, however, no geocaches were found and the drive back was probably one of the worst storms I’ve ever seen.

Rahul and I have wanted to do an out-of-Madison trip for awhile now, and since there’s “no day but today,” I pooh-poohed the monsoon-like weather forecast and decided that I wanted to see the Mississippi River and finally add Minnesota to the list of states I’ve visited; unless we’re talking about age, 40 is a better number than 39. Wisconsin has oodles of state parks but today I chose to start in Perrot State Park in Trempealeau.

We got a pretty good morning start, leaving Rahul’s place at about 8:30 AM. Some friends of his were going to join us but they all bailed, which turned out to be nice because it was a great time for us two to get closer. Leaving Madison, we had gorgeous weather, and I thought that maybe, maybe the weather forecasters had made a huge mistake. We took a Dunkin’ Donuts break in Wisconsin Dells, and from there, drove through two counties I’d never seen before: Monroe County and Trempealeau County before arriving at our destination at 12 noon.

Trempealeau, Wisconsin, is a tiny, tiny town of about 1600 people and three decent-sized buildings. The park is right on the Mississippi; driving up to it, we raced the train running along the road. I saw a sign that read “fee area,” so we parked near a small restaurant and walked into the park, stopping to read about Perrot’s Post. We met some bikers who showed us a map and several different hikes we could do, each about 45 minutes. They recommended Brady’s Bluff, but we were right at the trailhead for the Perrot Ridge Trail so we started on that one.

The trail was sunny, muggy, and buggy. Early on, we found a fallen tree suspended beside the trail, and Rahul went and walked across it. I was not so courageous, since my shoes were older with less traction. I got up on the log, which was covered in moss, and let go for barely a second before I came crashing down. Fortunately, I have good balance so I landed on my feet. I tried it one more time but ended up just doing the sloth thing and hanging off the log.

The rest of the hike was pretty steep uphill, but the reward was plentiful. At the top, we were greeted with a view of the Mississippi floodplain on one side, and on the other, the river and the town of Winona, Minnesota in the distance. I hadn’t had any cell phone service since Wisconsin Dells, but atop the mountain I got enough bars to FaceTime my dad in Ocean City. On the way down, we carved our names into some sandstone. By the time we reached the bottom of the trail, it was starting to get ominously cloudy, so I left it up to Rahul to decide whether we were done after a little under two hours of hiking, or if we wanted to do another trail. He voted for another trail, but we didn’t make it very far before it started pouring. Fortunately, we were at a juncture where the trail went back down to the road, and we missed most of the storm due to being in the dense, aromatic forest. It was a long walk back to the car though, and we were just about out of luck, resigned ourselves to getting soaked when I flagged down a truck. A friendly local couple named Rob and Robin, who had seen us arrive at the park earlier in the day, gave us a much needed and appreciated lift back to the car.

We still had plenty of daylight left (well, more like day-mist-fog-cloud cover), so I decided that since we were so close to Minnesota that we could see it from the mountaintop, we should drive over the border just to say we were there.

So we did, and now I officially have been to 40 states. Wahoo!

Over the border, the first town we ended up in was Winona. Winona is a pretty little town, there was not that much there, but it was a Sunday afternoon and kind of gross outside so maybe people were just chilling elsewhere. I looked for a geocache or two but couldn’t find any (boo 😦 ) but we got to enjoy lunch at a lovely little cafe, the kind you expect to find in a small town, probably one of the few local survivors of the Great Burger King/McDonald’s/Wendy’s/KFC purge of the 1990s. We happened to walk in at the start of a violin/ukulele concert by some local kids and teenagers, so we enjoyed that while we ate. The kids were really good on the violins, and this one girl did an awesome rendition of “So Happy Together” by the Turtles on ukulele which was really something else. I recorded most of it and sent it to my mom, who loved it. After we finished lunch, we were briefly caught in the rain, but it was an otherwise uneventful ride back to Madison.

Oh, and next time I go to Minnesota, I will be highly disappointed if there are no ukulele players heralding my arrival.

“welcome, to minnesota…we’re not north dakota…”