Two advanced creative writing students and I arrived on Friday afternoon and leave tomorrow morning. We attended panels together and separately, shopped (books! graphic novels! manga! jewelry! art!), ate at nifty little restaurants, petted some of the many dogs being walked around downtown Madison (and one horse), composed senryu* in exchange for pairs of earrings, missed Susan Palwick, whom I got to visit with on my last (and first, and only other) visit to WisCon, and in general had a great time.
Despite everything experienced and purchased and lined up to be read, I will forever remember this WisCon whenever I use my new cell phone which, unlike the cell phone I arrived with, has a camera and GPS capabilities and a full QWERTY keyboard that I could use for texting except I don’t text and 8 GB of storage for mp3 music files. Unlike the cell phone I arrived with, it also works. The old phone stopped working this morning, refusing to do anything other than power up to display a sickly yellow screen devoid of text. Now, I don’t text or use my cellphone to access the internet (because I’m 1) old and grumpy and 2) cheap and broke), but I always have it with me and couldn’t imagine driving home sans cell phone, despite the fact that of course the students with me have texting, internet accessing, music playing cell phones practically glued to their palms. So I called the Verizon store, determined they were only 3 miles away from the hotel, and was told that if my phone were indeed broken I could not have it repaired through them, but was welcome to buy a new one.
I told my students I was going to drive to the Verizon store and they decided to come with me. So we piled into Scarlett and headed for E. Washington street, which begins 1.5 blocks from our hotel. Forty minutes and some inspired, Gene-Schaechterle-style cursing later (on my part), we had not managed to pick up E. Washington street. Seriously. This part of Madison is a warren of one-way streets and road construction, which would have been only a minor convenience if not for the half marathon course that, block after block, sweaty and humorless police people would not let us cross. It was infuriating — literally infuriating and by the time we pulled back into the hotel garage I was determined to get to the Verizon store if it killed me and/or several other people. I told my students I would walk as it was only 3 miles and I needed the exercise anyway and they both volunteered to accompany me. Hyper-conscious of my position of power relative to the students, I made it very clear that I didn’t expect them to come, that I thought they should stay and go to more conference panels, that not coming would in no way reflect badly upon them. But still they came, and I think it was due to them either not wanting to be alone at the convention, not wanting to sent me alone across Madison, or (and I’m really thinking it’s this one) they are so dependent on their cell phones that my being without one for 24 hours really did seem tragic. So off we went, crossing the capitol plaza to E. Washington in 2 minutes (see? see how frustrating the 40 minutes in the car was?) and walking down the street.
And just about the time I thought we’d come at least 2.5 miles and we were deeply into a neighborhood of post-industrial blight that I wouldn’t have wanted to traverse at night and was having second thoughts about traversing in 85*, shadeless heat, with nary a stripmall or even mini-mart in sight, one student said, “I didn’t have any breakfast and you should know that sometimes makes me faint.”
“We have to be close,” I said in a chipper, don’t-faint-please-God-don’t-faint-while-I’m-responsible-for-you voice. “Mapquest said it was only 3 miles.”
“Actually,” spoke up the other student, “my GPS said it was 6.3 miles.”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“I figured it was wrong and you knew what you were doing.”
Well holy crap. Any student who has taken a class with me should KNOW that I often have no freaking idea what I’m doing — I tell them that I’m a bit of a ditz and to speak up if I get mixed up about due dates and to always, always, check my addition on grading sheets and then we bumble along, laughing about my poor memory and poorer arithmetic skills and it’s okay because I know my subject matter and I’m a good teacher and I crack a lot of jokes. It should not be in any way inconceivable to them that either Mapquest was mistaken or I misread the results.
So there I stood on the hot concrete in front of a defunct Subaru dealership, wanting to strangle one student while simultaneously preparing to catch the other one in case she fainted and ended my academic career.
And then I saw the Subway sign.
We walked two more blocks, entered a blessedly cool Subway shop, and I bought us all lunch. The sandwich maker listened to our story and marveled that we would even consider walking from capitol square to the Verizon store and said that he’d have to tell his girlfriend she was right — Iowa really did stand for “Idiots Out Walking Around.” But he very nicely gave us the name of the least expensive cab company in town.
So we took a cab the rest of the way to the Verizon store, which cost $15. There it was determined that my phone was indeed dead. I picked out a phone priced at $79 and an accessory pack costing $50. Luckily, there was some sort of settlement when Verizon bought Alltel, my former carrier, and I got a big discount on the phone and $30 off the accessory pack, so the whole thing cost me only $59, plus the $15 cab fare to the Verizon store and the $13 cab fare back to the hotel. Needless to say, I had to cancel my plans to buy a convention t-shirt and a second pair of earrings.
But I do have to say, the phone is pretty dang neat.