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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 31.0° F  Overcast
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That guy on the BMX bicycle
Riding full-tilt through life
Watkins astride his ride: Hip-hop artist, cinephile, vegetarian.
Watkins astride his ride: Hip-hop artist, cinephile, vegetarian.
Credit:David Medaris

Julian Watkins is that guy you see zipping around downtown Madison on a little BMX bicycle. He wears the alert, focused appearance of someone intent on accomplishing whatever task might be at hand.

If you park your car at Monona Terrace, the garage under Block 89 or any of the other Madison facilities operated by Central Parking System, you might know Watkins as the local swing man for the Nashville-based parking-services giant.

He is also a cinephile, hip-hop artist and gaming enthusiast who calls Barack Obama "our last hope." Since he had "a falling out with meat" a couple years ago, he has been a vegetarian. Describing himself as "a low-budget guy," he shops for groceries at Copps and is fond of Burrito Drive. He has been diagnosed with Graves' disease - a disorder characterized by hyperthyroidism and a metabolism stuck on overdrive.

Raised by a single mother, Watkins, 27, is the youngest of four brothers, single and self-possessed in ways that render certain aspects of his character - such as his admiration for the sitcom Seinfeld - that much more unexpected. "I love Seinfeld," Watkins says. "I adore Seinfeld. It's an awful lot like life in general."

His own life began in Milwaukee, but Watkins has called Madison home for the last 18 years. He started high school at La Follette, "but I couldn't finish my career there, and had to go through Work and Learn on Park Street." He was then living in Monona and working at Yogurt Express on State Street. It was around this time that he settled on BMX bikes as his preference for commuting.

"I was always a short, thin guy," notes Watkins, who today stands an inch or two shy of six feet and due to his high metabolism tips the scales at about 140 pounds. "So I was always more into BMX. And then I found it to be more of an advantage in the downtown area," due to the agility and control it affords.

Now living near East High School with a friend he has known since fifth grade, Watkins commutes to work on the low-end one-speed SE-branded 2005 BMX racing model he bought last fall at Yellow Jersey. He then proceeds to spend much of his workday astride it. The bike "makes it easier and quicker for me to get from booth to booth to handle cash and give people breaks," he observes. "I also survey the garage and handle tickets in certain areas when they need to be handed out."

The peripatetic nature of the job keeps Watkins in good physical condition. "I want a workout, too," he says. "I want to be able to feel at the end of the day after four hours of riding a bike on and off, that I can sit down on the couch and know that I earned it."

He sometimes watches two or three movies in one sitting. Other times, when he gets together with his closest brother to watch a movie, they'll give it the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment - but with more incisive commentary, Watkins insists.

When he was in second or third grade, he remembers, his mother's best friend owned Video Adventures in Milwaukee. He and his closest brother would go there after school and hang out, "because we didn't have day care or anything."

That experience imprinted itself on him. These days, Watkins has memberships at Blockbuster and Bongo. His film tastes run the gamut from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and both the original Austrian and remade U.S. versions of Funny Games to Superbad and The Air I Breathe.

"As long as it's well-made, I'm there," Watkins says. "It could be a foreign romance or family comedy that I wouldn't normally find attractive in American standards because they're so poorly made, but if it's well-made, yeah. I just saw a movie called The Signal, which is like a horror flick, sort of a romance, comedic, philosophical gorefest. It was unbelievable, but it was a small budget and it was really well-made."

He aspires to try his hand at filmmaking some day, and to "channel my energies and talents to figure out some burgeoning enterprise" so he can help his mother retire. Don't discount these ambitions: His enterprising nature led Watkins to buy a $10 music-software program for the PlayStation 2, and use it to produce a 55-minute, 10-track debut record under his hip-hop alias, Art of the MC. A second disc followed a tempestuous love affair. Both discs display his facility with language.

"I love the dictionary and I read it a lot," he explains. And if the Work and Learn Center marked the end of his formal education, he has pursued continuing education in the form of dealing with people. "People are interesting," he says. "Interacting with them is fascinating and marvelous."

And for Watkins, there are abundant opportunities to engage people. He is, after all, that guy on the bike. "I do," he allows, "get that a lot."

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