Never have I seen such a seductive town as Madison, Wisconsin. Nope, not New Orleans, not New York, but this capital city between two lakes in the northern Midwest, renowned simultaneously for educational research and drinking prowess, tempered by what is at times unbearably frigid weather (but that can be fun, too—who gets a “snow day” in grad school?). Yes, as a double graduate of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, I have watched time and again an eye-rolling high schooler dragged on an admissions tour by her alumni parents (a gleam in their eye so bright with nostalgia they’re practically planning another toga party) only to watch that student show up the next day with the same wide smile and a bright red UW Badger hat, exclaiming, “This place is awe-some!!” Legendary UW football coach Barry Alvarez said when recruiting athletes he just had to take them down State Street, the pedestrian-only main drag that connects the capital building to the campus, populated with restaurants, bars, and shops. The city takes care of the rest.
At Travel + Leisure magazine in 2003, I pitched a story about my hometown of Milwaukee to the magazine’s Editor-In-Chief. I believe her exact response was: “Who goes to Milwaukee?” Uh, Harley riders and cheesemongers to start! Okay, perhaps they’re a bit outside of T+L’s demographic, but I was nonetheless given a page to amuse my Midwest pride.
Living in California now, I always enjoy a trip back to Wisconsin’s largest city to set my head straight (as long as it’s between May and October, ahem). Milwaukeeans bring a lot to the table: they have classic Midwest traits (down to earth, hardworking, hospitable) but they’re also informed, interested, and often activist. On a recent trip to Portland, Oregon, I thought of Milwaukee more than once. Perhaps most endearing, Milwaukeeans have a vicious sense of humor about themselves (Cheeseheads and the pervasiveness of Big & Tall stores will do that to you).