Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Well, looks like they didn't burn Madison down...

Listening to: "Something About Airplanes" - Death Cab For Cutie

Prior to starting my job with CongloMo a year back, I graduated from this Midwestern University in Madison, Wisconsin sometime in December '04. This city has an annual ritual held every Halloween weekend where various people would meet up on State Street in ridiculous costumes, and drink untold amounts of alcohol till they passed out in your front yard dressed as Homer Simpson. Most interesting of this revelry (besides the antics of the blottos) were the costumes: they ranged from the mundane (nurse, wench, nun, Jesus, policeman) to the unique such as cardboard robots, a giant Duff-beer can, a traffic-light, or whatever your imagination can bring about. For me, I had two criteria; i) it must be almost one of a kind where few others will have the same, ii) it must be inexpensive. The years between 2001-2004 had me dressed up as:

2001: Neo from The Matrix. I already had a black trenchcoat and a nice pair of RayBans in my wardrobe, and spent the night with my pals offering red or blue pills to various nuts dressed as Spidermen, Freddie Mercury, pirates, witches, etc.

2002: Poor costume choice. Nobody understood my Area Man from The Onion costume. I learned something that night: Not everyone in Madison is apparently a fan of The Onion, America's Best News Source. This led to Criteria iii) People should be able to "get-it"

2003: UPS man. Brown shirt, brown slacks, brown shoes. Several UPS envelopes taken from the nearest postal booth. What can brown do for you?

By the way, it was my first ride in a police car. No charges filed.

2004: Election fever was gripping the States with all those annoying clipboard-carrying campaign workers pestering you to vote for Kerry or reelect the Bush/Dick. I decided to field my own candidate, one that wouldn't sound like Bus
ch-lite or a Dick: Ben Folds.

Complete with my "Ben Folds - President" t-shirt and hat (which I ripped off and edited from the 'John Kerry- President' and 'Bush Cheney 04') I went around State St. canvassing for signatures from the drunked
masses. In one night, I got over 70 drunken signatures for Ben to be President of the United States, which is perhaps more than a single Dem and Repub worker can ever get. Fuck the Two-Party system, yea!

Campaign slogan? "He WILL Give You Your Money Back... (and black tshirt too)".

One sober dude actually thought he was running for election...

Anyway we all know a mass gathering of "idiotic" costumed folks fuelled by alcohol results in disorder, and Halloween in Madison is infamous for riots breaking out especially at the end. 2002, 2003, and 2004 were (in)famous for shop windows being broken, beer cans and garbage bins tossed about, tear gas, and people getting arrested. If you're interested to see Batman being hauled away in the paddywagon, Madison's the place to be. 2004 was my last Madison Halloween, and my pals and I missed the 4AM riot as we were watching 'Dawn Of The Dead' instead in the dormitory on the other side of the hill.

Last week went peacefully, which was a rare event:

Success! Far fewer arrests, no pepper spray give city reason to celebrate

by Lynn Heidmann (Monday, October 30, 2006)

After months of planning, the annual Halloween celebration on State Street ended peacefully for the first time in four years Saturday, finally allowing the city — and University of Wisconsin students — to breathe a sigh of relief.

Though city officials were quick to admit the new plan was not executed flawlessly, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said the event met his goals and expectations and added that he is pleased with the outcome of Halloween.

“This year’s event was a big step in the right direction,” Cieslewicz said in a release. “This is the first Halloween in several years at which the deployment of police in hard gear and the use of pepper spray was not required.”

The Madison Police Department reported only 230 total arrests between Friday and Saturday nights, compared to 566 arrests in 2005. And Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said only two of those arrests were felonies — one charge for possession of marijuana and the other for battery of a police officer after a man head-butted a State Trooper, allegedly thinking he was a horse. There were no cases of serious injury or property damage either night, Verveer added.

But despite the relatively low number of arrests, Verveer said the city still made plenty of money to cover part of the costs, and not just from ticket sales — which totaled more than 32,000 tickets — but from fines as well. Officials at the arrest-processing center accepted both cash and credit cards on site from out-of-state residents as bail, Verveer added.

Yet George Twigg, spokesperson for the mayor, said looking past the arrests and the intoxication, the mayor is “very happy.”

“It seemed like it was a very positive and fun atmosphere, and that continued through both nights,” Twigg said Sunday.

The biggest challenges of the evening, according to Twigg, were the long lines of people waiting to get tickets and enter the event near Library Mall, along with small groups of people looking for trouble on the 500 block of State Street near bar time.

Verveer said the biggest complaint from the student body and local business owners was the lack of convenient entrances and exits. Several business owners’ doors happened to fall just outside the State Street area barricades where people were not permitted to walk past, Verveer said, so they reportedly lost business from partygoers who did not want to walk the extra distance to get to the bar.

UW Interim Dean of Students Lori Berquam said she was also happy with the outcome of the event, but noted the biggest problem with over-intoxication still remains. Alternative activities during Halloween were scheduled at Union South, Berquam added, but said the turnout was lower than expected.

Berquam said the university remains hopeful that Halloween will turn into an even safer event in years to come.

The bottom line, Verveer added, is that the event was safe, organized and fun for those who attended.

“Unlike each of the last four years when there were calls from the highest ranks to shut down the party, we’re not hearing any of that,” he said. “I really think … we’ve turned the corner, and there won’t be calls from city officials demanding extraordinary tactics to try to end this event.”

For the first time in several years, Berquam said she is impressed with the way students conducted themselves at the event.

“I’m proud of our students,” she said. “I’m proud of the way they handled themselves, and I’m proud they were able to demonstrate this to the community.”

Looking ahead, Verveer said there is a good chance many aspects of this year’s celebration will be carried on to next year with a few improvements and adjustments. Verveer added his “dream” for next year is to get even more UW students and Madison residents to attend the celebration on State Street and really get them excited and proud of the event.

“I don’t care about all the students from out of state, I care about our own students, and it did sadden me a little that UW students stayed away from State Street for various reasons,” he said. “I would be in denial if I didn’t acknowledge [my constituents] who thought this plan was a load of crap, but I hope we can get them back [to State Street] next year.”

Ah... life in uni.

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