This blog post is long enough that in-post links are a good idea.
After more than six months, the vacation mode had run its course. One or two visits to downtown Madison, just to wander around, were sufficient. When I was in downtown most recently, the best moment was tracking two mice that lived in a planter bed on State Street. Those rodents were about as interesting as the best pieces of art in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
Summer has ended, and with it the tornado warnings and the sultry 90-degree days. Even with those highs, night temps dipped well into the 70s. Cool enough to sleep with the windows open. I had to use the air conditioner only once. Temperatures have gently drifted down since August. October in Madison is like January in Houston. Lows in the 40s, highs in the 60s. Later this week, lows will move into the 30s.
When it came to increasing the amount of weight that I could lift, progress stalled at 70 lbs by mid-August. In late August, I had to head back to Houston to move furniture, and drive the moving truck to Jefferson City, Missouri, in time to see the total eclipse of the sun. After totality ended, I finished the drive to Madison.
The eclipse was awesome. This eclipse picture is not.
Less than a month after moving furniture, I had to go back after Hurricane Harvey to survey the old house. The house came through apparently unscathed. Southwest Airlines was charging the highest prices I had ever seen for flights from Milwaukee or Chicago to Houston. The cost was about the same as what Delta charged for “Comfort Plus” from Madison to San Antonio. I chose Delta.
Earlier in the year, I redeemed some Rapid Rewards points to get a cheap flight from Chicago to Houston for early October. That worked great. Until I missed the bus to Chicago. The next one would have arrived much too close to boarding time. So, I called Southwest Airlines to re-schedule the flight for the following day. Despite getting a refund (in points), I still paid $550 for the remaining Business Select seat. So, the free (except for Early Bird check-in and government-mandated fees) flight became the $550 flight. If there was any good news in this, it was that the more you pay Southwest Airlines, the more points you earn. This $550 flight will eventually pay for at least one free flight in 2018, reducing the cost-per-flight to a more reasonable $225.
For all the complaining about the decline in the air travel experience, some of it might be due to the race to the bottom to offer customers the lowest possible fare. There are analyses that compare seat widths and overall room to what was available in prior decades.
Paying about in the neighborhood of $400 to $800 for Delta’s “Comfort Plus,” or $500 to $600 for Southwest Airline’s “Business Select,” brings a clear improvement in the passenger experience. Delta’s “Comfort Plus” offers somewhat larger seats, and additional four inches of leg room (as of 2017). Southwest Airline’s “Business Select” puts the passenger in the first 15 boarding positions, and you get a free drink coupon. No difference in seating; just much better odds at sitting near the front, and drinking one free shot of vodka.
In other words, if you want a 1980s flight experience, then you’re probably going to have to pay adjusted-for-inflation 1980s prices for it. Sony Walkman not included.
Far, far cheaper experiences have been Learn to Hunt events, as well as Carnivore Tracking and Wolf Ecology classes. The DNR hosts these events.
In late September/early October, I learned to hunt raccoons at the Mackenzie Education Center. Hunting raccoons is done at night, and involves dogs chasing the scent of raccoons. The dogs let out a particular bark or yell after they “tree” a raccoon. When the hunters hear this kind of barking, they use GPS to find their dog. At the tree, the hunters use bright lights to shine up into trees to look for the raccoon. This proves tricky when the trees still have most of their leaves.
After riding in a truck, waiting for dogs to bark, walking and walking through forests and cornfields to look for the dogs, shining lights up into trees, and wondering if the raccoons went to an adjacent tree, our crew got only one raccoon.
Despite this, there were several notable outcomes:
1) The one raccoon our team got was a rare cinnamon-colored raccoon. How rare? Comments from fellow hunters included "I've never seen one before" or "People spend decades hunting before they see one." One of the instructors said that cinnamon raccoons are so rare that their skins are not worth as much as the more common raccoons. "It takes three raccoons to make a hat." One cinnamon raccoon is two too few. 2) I shot a real gun for the first time. No, I did not shoot any raccoons. My first time shooting was during target practice. The gun was a 0.22LR (“twenty two long rifle”), and targets were 25 to 30 yards away.
Yours truly shooting for the first time.
3) The lead instructor made more than one reference to the book Where the Red Fern Grows. In fact, upon arriving, the lead asked me if I was familiar with the book. After responding in the negative, she offered a free copy (there were stacks on the stable). She also said that the movie version of it was playing in the classroom.
For those of you who grew up in Texas, have you heard of Where the Red Fern Grows?
While I don’t yet have a “review” of the Madison area, I do have some lessons learned:
1) Wisconsin is known overall for cheese, beer, and bratwurst. If you don’t like any one of those food items, then you’ll miss out on social experiences. When asked how one can socially integrate with others, a predominant answer was “Drink with others.” Learn the difference between good cheese and great cheese.
2) There are more bars here than grocery stores. If you avoid bars, then you’re really missing out. The diversity of bars is noteworthy. Your best bet is to sample a whole bunch bars all over the county. When you’ve found “your bar,” you’ll know it.
3) Cross-country relocation (especially outside your “nation”) is a prime opportunity to do random things that you never did before. Two good sources are Meetup.com, and the events listing in your local free newspaper. In the Madison-area, that would be the Isthmus. Doing that has led to an introduction to Sheepshead.
The one exception to this lesson is all of the interaction with the Wisconsin DNR. The shortest version of the story is that I e-mailed someone at the DNR about learning how to hunt. They put me on an e-mail list. They send out the occasional e-mail, and I poke around the DNR website. One thing leads to another...
It leads to the occasional group photo.
4) Yes, it is possible to get a sunburn at this latitude. Especially during the months of May, June, and July. It may require a couple of hours, but it is possible. Normal protection techniques (Fedora hat, long-sleeved shirt) are not enough. The sun hangs lower in the sky for longer periods of time. You may not get burned at 1:00 pm, but instead at 3:00 pm. The simplest solution is to just put on sunblock every two hours, and keep wearing a hat and long-sleeved shirt. 5) When it comes to flights, compare prices from Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago airports. Buses will take you from Madison to Milwaukee and Chicago. You have may to create a matrix of airfare plus busfare. However you do it, you must plan ahead. If you plan on taking a bus to Milwaukee or Chicago, then be prepared to walk around looking for the bus stop. The buses will not linger, waiting for late passengers.
6) If you’re going by yourself to a downtown Madison event, then there is no reason to pay for parking. With enough circling, you can find a free spot. If bringing along family or friends, then you’ll have to negotiate with them.
Outside the specific-to-Madison context, there is another lesson learned:
Regarding AAA, it may be worth it for renting a moving truck from Penske. Paying $40 - $60 for the lowest-tier AAA service may save well over $100 on a truck rental.
As for towing and roadside service, your auto insurance may already offer it, for $10 to $30 per six months. Cheaper than AAA? Maybe, maybe not. Check the terms of your auto insurance to see what they offer. If you don’t have towing and roadside service from anyone, then consider getting it if your think your car is likely to break down. Or, if you often ride with friends, and they drive old or unreliable cars. I’ve not used AAA for roadside service ever since I began driving newer, more reliable cars.
As for car rental discounts, AAA is almost worth it...unless you’re a Costco member. For example, the price for a given Hertz car for a given time period would have been about $170, without AAA. With AAA, the cost would have been about $100. Worth it.
With Costco, a similar car at Alamo was about $53. Even more worth it. If you are a Costco member, then reserve cars through them, and let the AAA membership expire. Heck, if you rent cars for more than one or two days per year, getting a Costco membership just for the travel benefits alone may be worth it.
In real estate news, the sub-$1000 one-bedroom apartments have all but disappeared within biking distance of the office. At the moment, one is better off sharing a two-bedroom apartment for $1400ish per month ($700ish per bedroom). The cheapest condos that are not on a through street start at about $130,000 plus $220 monthly fee. I would have to stay in one of those condos for at least five years before the cost of buying that condo was less than renting over the same time period. Since I've been in this town for just over six months, buying does not seem like a good idea right now.
Final note, regarding assimilation: Go Packers.