Train of Clowns

Just as the Edgewater drama subsides, another circus is coming to town. Watching Madison try to accomplish something is now a three-ring event.

Madison eatery magnate Chris Berge has proposed to create a bikes-only pub on the Madison Southwest Commuter Path. This narrow asphalt drive was formerly the Illinois Central train tracks, and is now a wonderful biking, rollerblading, dog-walking, power-striding, stroller-strutting avenue that connects much of the west side in a car-free, carefree way.

Having grown up on the Illinois Central tracks, we always looked forward to the annual summer passage of the Circus Train. But now, if you watch for even just a few minutes, the circus comes every day.

On football Saturdays, the transportation artery runs red with Bucksters trundling their way through backyards only to pop out right at Camp Randall, where they are greeted by “Nail’s Tails,” our community sculpture dedicated to the dangers of sexually transmitted disease.

The path is a well-used joy. And Berge’s idea sounds great. As described in madison.com’s piece by Mathew DeFour, Berge hopes for it to be “a hobbit hole meets the American Players Theatre meets a 1950s national park recreational area.” The working title for the joint is the Badger Den.

Wonderful idea, Chris. A perfect Madison concept; innovative, smart and fun.

That being said, it does leave one question for Mr. Berge.

“Chris, are you freakin’ nuts? Are you seriously proposing to have fun literally in the backyards of Madison’s staunchest Not In My Back Yardists?”

This is a land where democracy regularly devolves into gang narcissism. For instance, Gregory Street, which runs parallel to the bike path, has 1,437 speed bumps and nineteen stop signs in a three-block run. Warms your heart with it’s welcoming, obstacle-course feel.

Just a little review, Chris, as you prepare for this venture. Many of the people in the neighborhood who enjoy the bike path first opposed it. As if a train running through their backyard was quieter than a bike, or that abandoned rail tracks have aesthetic appeal.

There is also a serious problem with anyone actually entering this neighborhood. These villagers form the sharp end of the Pedestrian Rights spear. They chastise any driver who has the audacity to go from work in an automobile on their Monroe Street by angrily waving a red flag as they announce to all the world that they have decided to cross a street.

Wait, Chris. There’s more.

This is also the compound that twisted the late, amiable Ken Kopp slowly in the wind when he tried to sell his grocery store that had served the neighborhood for decades. And that has, at times, acted as if the Edgewood educational campus were a Gary, Indiana, slaughterhouse rather than a remarkable learning community.

And don’t forget the development of a hotel across from Camp Randall that was bitten to death by ducks to the point that it is now a hollow victim of process, the real estate bubble and a developer driven as mad as Captain Ahab on the Pequod.

So Chris, if you are committed to building the Badger Den, get ready for the following: First you get approval from Mayor Dave and the council. No problem. They get it. But unfortunately they are not the power in Madison. The power is “The Neighborhood.”

So after the elected officials smile and back slowly away, be prepared for petitions leading to neighborhood tribunals leading to lengthy deliberations to hold more hearings leading to obscure committee rulings leading to threats of boycotts leading to a referendum on your appetizer menu. And Fred Mohs will sue your ass just on principle.

And then, just when it gets close to approval, you will casually mention in one of the meetings that you want to serve beer. And wine. And the sky will darken and the heavens will open and there will be gnashing of teeth and ripping of garments because somewhere, someone will be having fun.

One final observation, Chris, as you embark on this adventure.

It’s something we said to each other when they waved at us from the Circus Train.

“Some of these clowns are scary.”

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Comments? Questions? Write johneroach@mac.com.

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