Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Remembering The '"Rath"

My air conditioning is out.

Considering the time of year it is, things could be worse. The forecast calls for dropping temps, so I probably won't be using it this week, anyway. I ran it yesterday just to test it and things didn't go well, so The Guy is coming tomorrow to take a look. If Sully can land a plane in the Hudson, I can go without a.c. for a week.

Still, it's a little muggy in the house, especially in the back bedroom where I take my afternoon nap. The conditions today took me back to Madison, Wisconsin circa 1988. It was the summer of my senior year, and I was taking a couple of classes. It was the final six credits that I needed for graduation. I even remember the classes: World War II and some class that dealt with nutrition. It had nothing to do with my major, but all my requirements for a degree had been fulfilled, so I took two classes that were both of ease and interest to me.

I didn't work in the summer of '88. My parents were cool that way. That said my job was college. Do well at college, then move on to the "real world" (They loved to say that. Believe me, it's true). With two three-credit classes I was never bogged down with too much work (home or otherwise). I was smart enough to realize that the Real World was fast-approaching: September of 1988. I better make the most of it.

The University of Wisconsin is a beautiful campus, surround by four lakes. On the shores of Lake Mendota sits the Memorial Union, one of UW's most historic buildings. The biggest room was the Rathskeller, gathering place place for professors, aspiring intellectuals, drunks, and me. Days like today remind me of afternoons spent at the Rathskeller. I didn't have air conditioning at my Madison loft, so on days that were too warm to swelter inside, I would walk down to the Rathskeller for a pint or two. This was a healthy walk, probably 2-3 miles from where I lived, but the walk always built up a nice thirst. There were plenty of tables on the outdoor terrace with outstanding views of the lake.

Midday afternoons were never that busy, so I'd order a 24 ounce cup of beer (Miller, I think), buy some pretzel rods (a nickel apiece back then), and take a table. From there, I would do nothing. I'd watch the water. I'd overhear nearby conversations. I'd take some crushed pretzels and feed the ducks that would come to shore (the Union folk frowned on that). Hours would drift by. Every time I thought about going home, I would remind myself that September of 1988 was coming fast and go get another beer. Every so often the Union would have live music outside, mostly jazz. Sometimes I'd come across a friend, which would lead to another round. Then another. More pretzels, please. It's as good as it sounds.

Surprisingly, I handled my beer better then than I do now, so waking up the next day never provided any real complications, and the memories of the night before were always crystal clear. I've been employed by the Real World for over 20 years now, complete with all the rewards and heartaches associated with such a promotion. I'm not a dumb guy, and I realized that my time spent on the Memorial Union terrace sipping tepid Miller High Life was time well spent, some of the best times ever. I'm nostalgic for that time, while fully embracing what I have today.

I hear the pretzels are .25 now.