COVID Tourism – Madison, WI

The times we live in continue to be interesting and unprecedented, and I’m not sure what this weekend is going to look like. Regardless of any uncertainty, Christina and I hopped in the car, rented a hotel room, and headed up to Madison, Wisconsin.

Last time we passed through the area, we bought some discounted vouchers at Escape in Time Madison that are expiring within the next few weeks. We have no solid plans yet for the weekend aside from playing two rooms at Escape in Time, which we can do at any point during the trip.

I’m partial to the idea of visiting the Wisconsin Dells, only an hour away. I’ve heard great things about the hiking near there and there are plenty of entertainment options, many of which scratch the puzzling itch. (Escape rooms, Geocaches, and Wizard Quest) And I’m also looking forward to seeing some kind of comedy or magic show sometime; last weekend we planned to go to a magic show in Lake Geneva only to have the tickets sell out before we pulled the trigger.

This trip has already been memorable, though. Out of any of our trips, even the ones before many states had released from lockdown, this one already feels the most impacted by the pandemic. It’s also the first time we’ve really seen anything related to the riots that were in the news a few months ago.

Regarding the COVID situation, today is the first day Wisconsin is implementing a mask mandate, but when we checked in at our hotel yesterday, the hotel blasted us with signage that people without masks on were unwelcome anywhere inside the facility. It doesn’t change too much for us since the state requires this kind of handling as of today, but compared to the other places we’ve stayed, it’s a stark difference.

I don’t talk much about my opinions on COVID handling preferences, but I’ll share one nugget about it today. I hate the “tail wags the dog” approach we’ve been seeing, where Twitter and politics play a huge role in how our leaders react, and the reactions are short term only, just as long as the illness causes a panic in the public consciousness and dominates the news cycle.

I’m all for developing better standards and habits within society. Don’t go out when you’re sick? Check. Wear a mask when you have any kind of symptom of any kind of illness? Check. Restaurants give customers enough space where a sick stranger can’t get you infected? Check. Wash your hands after using the bathroom? Check x 1000. Seriously.

It’s probably a hard task to get a nation to change slightly forever vs. panic and react dramatically for a few months, but every year we have tens of thousands of preventable illness-related deaths that don’t reach “celebrity” status. The same simple measures that would protect our vulnerable populations long term would go a long way toward helping in any pandemic situation, too. And it wouldn’t require declaring rules in and out of law on the spur of the moment.

Moving on from the topic of COVID, we also got up close and personal with an area seriously impacted by the rioting that happened during the protests a few months ago. Christina and I wanted to try a late night cookie from Insomnia Cookies and our hotel was outside the delivery zone, so we took a ride to downtown Madison.

State Street, the street depicted in this post’s image, was trashed. Even months after the fact, only a few businesses had replaced their glass fronts, and most of the plywood replacements had graffiti sprayed over them.

I found it sad. The area was pretty lively with college-age individuals hanging out (the street is essentially on the campus of UW Madison), and I wondered how many of them had participated in destroying the area. The businesses destroyed were almost all small, independent places. A food & games store, a VR arcade, a Chinese restaurant… All the rioters did was hurt a few small business owners; this didn’t help bring about any positive change.

So it’s a poor way to start a trip, but fitting of the times, to focus on all the weird ways society reacts to conflict. Maybe the steady, level approach is unattainable in this day and age, when you can go to Google and find 2+ major media outlets, 5 PhDs, and 10,000 strangers on social media reinforcing whatever random stance you already decided you want to take, but I at least want to do my part in asking everyone to think through problems rather than feeling through them, especially when it comes to thinking about the consequences of the actions taken by us and by our leaders.

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