Aunt Sally is a bad host. I know this, because she tells me so several times on the phone.
I was introduced to Aunt Sally by my friend Sally, who was named after her aunt. Sally and Aunt Sally are very similar people, a fact that they don’t seem to understand and will barely acknowledge. Aunt Sally and Sally are the only reason I bothered with Madison in the first place. Originally I assumed that when I drove through Wisconsin I’d stop in Green Bay, Milwaukee, or possibly Appleton. But Sally insisted that Madison had the absolute best Saturday farmer’s market in the world, and I had to go to it if I could.
When I arrive on Friday evening, my bad host Aunt Sally has only bothered to set out a lovely table for two on her back porch, with cherry tomatoes and goat cheese on top of basil and crackers for h’orderves. Dinner is merely homemade chicken salad on a bed of lettuce, with veggie kabobs fresh off the grill. And since nearly every ingredient comes fresh from her garden, she only has one strawberry (which she saves for me). I should have seen this coming. Aunt Sally warned me she was a bad host.
Saturday morning we borrow a bicycle from the neighbor (Aunt Sally tracked it down for me the day before) and the two of us take off on the six mile trip to the capitol. We’re on a dedicated bike path almost the entire time, which Aunt Sally tells me is packed at 6AM every weekday from all the people commuting around the lake to get to downtown. Things start to get unusually crowded for a Saturday as we approach our destination. I’ve come to town the same weekend as the Ironman Triathlon. Hundreds of people are swarming around the capitol area in preparation for the event on Sunday. Competitors are doing practice laps in the lake, and we cross over the secured area where hundreds of bikes are to be stored.
We park our own bicycles and head to the capitol building. Aunt Sally and I walk the entire loop of the market, which surrounds the deceptively large and classically Jeffersonian structure. Eventually I decide to grab myself a turtle bar from one of the bakery stands, and Aunt Sally picks up an apple and some cheese curds for herself. We sit on the grass at the base of the building to enjoy our lunch.
Inside the building, Aunt Sally gives me a crash course in Wisconsin politics. “In this building, you can have a concealed weapon but not a camera.” She starts talking about the protests that happened back in 2011, explaining the backstory. Apparently the people of Wisconsin are unaware that they were front page news for several weeks. When Aunt Sally begins to explain how protestors would sing in the rotunda, I interrupt to let her know I’ve already seen the footage on youtube. She says they still come to sing on most days, though the crowds are understandably smaller. Lately there have been some arrests, including the arrest of a few elderly citizens. Aunt Sally wonders if the arrests will make national news again.
Back near the triathlon headquarters, Aunt Sally and I sample the products being peddled at the event booths. We admire the gluten-free, dairy-free energy bars, and get our calves massaged using a pretty sweet muscle roller (which Aunt Sally ends up buying for herself). We pass by the bike holding area, which is now packed with bicycles in waiting. Aunt Sally mentions how expensive professional bikes like these are, and the two of us speculate on how many tens of thousands of dollars are lined up on the racks below.
From the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright), we get a good view of the swimmers out on Lake Monona. Ironman triathletes must complete a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and finally a 26.2 mile run. I understand why some people do it, but it’s sure not going on my Bucket List.
Worn out from watching other people expend so much energy, Aunt Sally and I stop at a chocolate shop on our ride home. We talk politics a bit more, and she’s amazed when I tell her how in Washington State the legalization of marijuana passed by a wider margin than gay marriage. I tell her that the city of Seattle banned plastic bags at the grocery store, and she couldn’t believe it. “How do you get something like that to happen?” she asks with envy. It seems like Aunt Sally would welcome a plastic bag ban, but can’t fathom an entire city’s citizenry allowing such a thing.
We end our day at a fancy pizza place, and Aunt Sally helps me pick a good place to go to church in the morning. We talk more, and I enjoy every minute I spend with Aunt Sally. After all, she’s just like my friend Sally. As I leave the next day I thank Aunt Sally for her hospitality, and tell her I had a wonderful time spending the weekend with her. I don’t think she believes me, but then again, Aunt Sally is a bad host.