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American Landscape

What are the things that puzzle, enrage, delight and tickle you as you go about your life in Madison?

American Landscape

Postby aaron » Mon Mar 26, 2007 8:49 am

Last week I was driving around town and, aside from a few somewhat picturesque neighborhoods, I was struck by how kind of "depressing" much of the landscape in Madison has become. Not as bad as a lot of places, mind you, but still a number of adjectives came to mind to describe it: cold, utilitarian, cheap, charmless and soul-less, to name a few.

Then, this weekend I was reading a book by Chris Hedges which had the following to say about the environment that has been created in much of America these days while describing driving through a typical U.S. city:

"The drive to the office is a depressing gauntlet of boxy, cut-rate motels with names like Melody Lane and Best Value Inn. The street is flanked by a flat-roofed Walgreens, Blockbuster, discount liquor stores, Taco Bell, McDonald's, Bob's Big Boy, Sunoco and Citgo gas stations, a Ford dealership, Nails USA, the Dollar Palace, Pro Quik Lube and U-Haul. The tawdry display of cheap consumer goods, emblazoned with neon, lines both sides of the road, a dirty brown strip in the middle. It is a sad reminder that something has gone terribly wrong with America, with its inhuman disregard for beauty and balance, its obsession with speed and utilitarianism, its crass commercialism and its oversized SUV's and trucks and greasy junk food. This disdain for nature, balance and harmony is part of the deadly, numbing assault against community."

Amen to that.
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Re: American Landscape

Postby Mister_A_In_Madison » Mon Mar 26, 2007 9:10 am

Maybe there's a documentary in here somewhere... "NASCAR Nation"?
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Postby narcoleptish » Mon Mar 26, 2007 10:14 am

I totally agree with aaron. There is such a big chunk of the population that is both incredibly susceptible to marketing and absent of any sense of style on their own. Their main source of influence is evening and weekend television, men's magazines, and sports bars. The center of the universe for this population is undoubtedly Quaker steak and lube. A Wild Kingdom-like safari in search of these people could do no better than a mid-july "bike night" at quaker state or a super bowl sunday afternoon at woodman's.

The ugliness and lack of style that pervades the landscape has bled into, or perhaps even started with, the people. What passes for public attire in this country is both hilarious and disheartening. YOU, that couple at home depot on a saturday afternoon. The man, resplendent in the finest cotton sweatpants of questionable cleanliness, a sports-themed shirt of some kind, baseball cap, and depending on the weather, either high-tops (often unlaced) or flip-flops. My day seems so much more complete when it includes your scaly feet. The woman, a beacon of light in a satin mark martin windbreaker, mom jeans, and dirty slip-ons. If kids are present they are just smaller versions of mom and dad. I just want to go up to them and say "when did you give up? At what point in life did you just wake up and say 'that's it, from here on out, I don't care!'"
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Postby Bwis53 » Mon Mar 26, 2007 10:26 am

Yeah, once in a while, I have to ask myself: I came back to Madison, from suburban Chicago for what? I used to frequent older neighborhoods, there, that would remind me of Madison. I even chose older locations for my kids' Summer Camp. If I'm going on a leisurely walk, I will stare and drink in a historic building, because I don't know how long it will remain. I like to think about the guys that built it and the uses of that building.

Oh, and you shoulda taken a gander at the gaggle on State St. last weekend. Talk about Freakfest!

I'm a little ticked at that term,"Anti-Growth". I think the neighborhood groups need to adopt the term: "Guided Growth" or something like that.
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Postby gargantua » Mon Mar 26, 2007 10:55 am

You know, I think we can all agree that main thoroughfares everywhere look like the view of Janesville from I-90.....but that's because they're commercial districts. Most people don't live there, they still live in neighborhoods, many of which retained their charm and character in the residential areas.

The ugliness of which you speak doesn't strike me as a particularly new phenomenon. There's just more of it now, because there are more of us.

As a people, yeah we're pretty coarse. That's how we roll.
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Postby Ducatista » Mon Mar 26, 2007 1:21 pm

narcoleptish wrote:I totally agree with aaron. There is such a big chunk of the population that is both incredibly susceptible to marketing and absent of any sense of style on their own. Their main source of influence is evening and weekend television, men's magazines, and sports bars. The center of the universe for this population is undoubtedly Quaker steak and lube. A Wild Kingdom-like safari in search of these people could do no better than a mid-july "bike night" at quaker state or a super bowl sunday afternoon at woodman's.

True, but at least Madison offers alternatives to cardboard culture. You can cruise out to Bike Night at the Lube on a summer Weds evening, or you can roll down Willy St to One Wheel Wednesday at Escape.

You can drive to work flanked by Taco Bells and discount hotels, or you can walk to work flanked by two lakes and the Capitol.

And, thank our sweet, sweet lord, there are plenty of alternatives to Woodman's.
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Postby auntgoodness » Mon Mar 26, 2007 1:33 pm

Unfortunately the strip malls and avenues in Madison are corporate samey-same like everywhere else. Still, I'm always struck by how clean and "Disney's Celebration" this town looks when I come back from a trip to a big city.
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Postby narcoleptish » Mon Mar 26, 2007 4:38 pm

Ducatista wrote:
narcoleptish wrote:I totally agree with aaron. There is such a big chunk of the population that is both incredibly susceptible to marketing and absent of any sense of style on their own. Their main source of influence is evening and weekend television, men's magazines, and sports bars. The center of the universe for this population is undoubtedly Quaker steak and lube. A Wild Kingdom-like safari in search of these people could do no better than a mid-july "bike night" at quaker state or a super bowl sunday afternoon at woodman's.

True, but at least Madison offers alternatives to cardboard culture. You can cruise out to Bike Night at the Lube on a summer Weds evening, or you can roll down Willy St to One Wheel Wednesday at Escape.

You can drive to work flanked by Taco Bells and discount hotels, or you can walk to work flanked by two lakes and the Capitol.

And, thank our sweet, sweet lord, there are plenty of alternatives to Woodman's.


You're right, the things we're speaking of are by and large away from the center of town. I think where you choose to live influences your buying choices and the "style" you choose to exude. Lots of people live outside the beltway and tend to shop where they are. It's just the sameness of the people out there that admittedly bothers me. If you spent half as much time on the rest of yourself as you do trimming that frickin goatee, you might not all look so much alike.
I've thought about stopping at escape on a wednesday night but haven't yet. As of this month I'm down to one bike and although it's really pretty, it rarely runs well.
Last edited by narcoleptish on Tue Mar 27, 2007 1:16 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby ConstantTraveler » Mon Mar 26, 2007 8:23 pm

Throw this into the equation though...
If every place looked different in the sense that there would be no strip malls and chains... only lots of small, quaint, mom and pops everywhere... wouldn't every place generally look the same?

Heck, I've driven through and stopped in enough small towns. The ones that have a nice little downtown/Main Street area. After a while, they all blend in together. Baraboo, Stoughton, Portage. One might have its courthouse in a central square. The other might have a river pass through its downtown. In another, a river might be a few blocks away...

But in the end, they all seem the same as well. It's like the group of non-conformist kids who always want to be different... but if enough different, then they're not really being any more original either.

Just food for thought.
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Postby square » Tue Mar 27, 2007 1:05 am

tell me, again, what makes you a better person than mr. unpretentious, dirty sweatpants at woodmans? i'm just trying to figure out why everyone is supposed to get dressed up to go to trader joes, that's all. shouldn't we just be happy to live within our means? isn't that less crass consumerism than trying to get a better job so we can FINALLY afford some organic produce?

i mean, i agree that a little time and energy should be spent on our surroundings, but this whole thread smacks of snobbery.
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Postby narcoleptish » Tue Mar 27, 2007 2:06 am

square wrote:tell me, again, what makes you a better person than mr. unpretentious, dirty sweatpants at woodmans? .


Because I didn't just decide to give up, that's why. Because I didn't keep myself looking and dressing decent just long enough to find a mate, only to let myself go and then sit around with the guys, scratching my fat ass, wondering why "the ol' lady don't put out no more". Because I put just a little effort into my appearance before I leave the house.

Look at old pictures from the fifties and before. People used to take pride in the way they looked no matter where they were going. A picture from a sporting event back then showed every man in a goddamn suit! Now, I'm about as likely to wear a suit as I am to wear sweatpants, but I do make a simple effort to look decent. I do not spend a lot of money on clothes, you don't have to. Some of my best stuff comes from st. vinnies. Put on a pair of real pants! Wear something without a team logo on it! There are other shoe styles besides sneakers and sandals! Every different function in your life does not require it's own baseball cap!

Men are by far the worst offenders in this. When I was bartending, the bar I worked at was popular for first dates. I could usually pick them out. The woman would arrive first and sit facing the door. She always was dressed very nice and had obviously taken some time to look her best. Ten or fifteen minutes later, in comes the guy in jeans, a T-shirt, and a baseball cap. Fucking putz. This same scene played out many times.

No, I'm not a better person than Mr. sweatpants just because I've got better style. When you look better, you feel better, and judging by the looks on many of these peoples faces, they ain't feeling too good. I know they ain't looking too good.

Sorry for the slight hijack aaron, but I think the two subjects are in the same family or genus, if not species.
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Postby aaron » Tue Mar 27, 2007 7:19 am

narcoleptish wrote:
square wrote:tell me, again, what makes you a better person than mr. unpretentious, dirty sweatpants at woodmans? .


Because I didn't just decide to give up, that's why. Because I didn't keep myself looking and dressing decent just long enough to find a mate, only to let myself go and then sit around with the guys, scratching my fat ass, wondering why "the ol' lady don't put out no more". Because I put just a little effort into my appearance before I leave the house.

Look at old pictures from the fifties and before. People used to take pride in the way they looked no matter where they were going. A picture from a sporting event back then showed every man in a goddamn suit! Now, I'm about as likely to wear a suit as I am to wear sweatpants, but I do make a simple effort to look decent. I do not spend a lot of money on clothes, you don't have to. Some of my best stuff comes from st. vinnies. Put on a pair of real pants! Wear something without a team logo on it! There are other shoe styles besides sneakers and sandals! Every different function in your life does not require it's own baseball cap!

Men are by far the worst offenders in this. When I was bartending, the bar I worked at was popular for first dates. I could usually pick them out. The woman would arrive first and sit facing the door. She always was dressed very nice and had obviously taken some time to look her best. Ten or fifteen minutes later, in comes the guy in jeans, a T-shirt, and a baseball cap. Fucking putz. This same scene played out many times.

No, I'm not a better person than Mr. sweatpants just because I've got better style. When you look better, you feel better, and judging by the looks on many of these peoples faces, they ain't feeling too good. I know they ain't looking too good.

Sorry for the slight hijack aaron, but I think the two subjects are in the same family or genus, if not species.


I totally agree, 100%. You see people today (in this country, anyway) going to church or to a fairly nice restaurant looking as if they were going out to do some yardwork. I have even heard people say that they would not go to a particular place (i.e., a wedding or some such thing) because they had to "dress up". Fer Chrissake. It is pure and unadulterated laziness...as well as a lack of respect for other people and/or tradition. And I also agree that how you present yourself to the world speaks multitudes on how much pride you have in yourself.
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Postby Bwis53 » Tue Mar 27, 2007 8:30 am

Mmmm,well I don't think I really want to go back to the 50's. I can still remember what people wore to church back then. Some how, in more recent years, some people have slipped from "dressy or business casual" to "real casual or sloppy" and there's the ol' "let it all hang out!"

Back to our landscape, I like compromise. That dirty stip, Aaron mentions in the opener, makes me think of East Washington. Still I wouldn't want to bulldoze the whole thing, from the Square to the highway. I'd like to update the good-looking older buildings
and replace the truly rotting ones. The Associated Bank, on State St., is a nice example.

The way we complain about strip malls says something about how inhumane they feel. The consumer has become a comodity.
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Postby gargantua » Tue Mar 27, 2007 9:14 am

I think we get a lot of this cheapness because of simple economies of scale.....because big chains can do it cheaper, and sometimes better. Every burger joint or pizza joint in each chain looks exactly the same because they're designed to maximize each function....distributing their product and taking in money. It's cheaper to build 'em all the same, you can standardize your training, and so on.

In the end, it's all about making money as efficiently as possible, so no wonder it's soulless.
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Postby Ducatista » Tue Mar 27, 2007 9:24 am

Ugly strips aren't necessarily soulless. I love the classic Ernst Haas shot of Albuquerque:

Image

It loses a lot at screen size, but at 4ft x 3ft it's pretty amazing.
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