Here’s my dad sitting at the Brocah Irish restaurant on Main Street across from the Wisconsin state capitol building. Dad lunched on a salmon sandwich and fries, and I on a chicken breast sandwich and side salad, – our all-American food in an all-American city.
Down the block, men and women on their noon-hour breaks similarly dined at tables of restaurants that spilled outside on to the capitol-square sidewalks. Other folks bought their lunch from one of the numerous food carts . Their choices of cuisine were diverse, – Asian, African, Indian, Mexican, Latin American, and of course, Chicago red hots. Food in hand, some returned to work, while others sat on benches to eat in the blue-sky air and sunshine.
Several times I watched passerbys pause to chat with seated diners. Old friends and acquaintances exchanged smiles and handshakes, tidbits of news, and then waves of good-bye as the passerbys continued on. The diners’ smiles lingered as they returned their attention to their food. Friendliness lingered in the air.
The mellow-scene took Dad by surprise. For the past 45 years, Dad’s been practicing law in the downtown Chicago loop. The loop’s outdoor-lunch scene is frenetic. Throngs of people dressed for air-conditioning not summer heat pour on to the handful of cement plazas. They stake out a 2-foot-square spot on a bench, stone wall or step and eat their lunch. On odd corners, street musicians entertain, but their personal music is drowned out by the cacophony of car horns, traffic-cop whistles, and bus engines. The dull rumble of stop-n-go traffic reverberates off densely-packed buildings.
But here Dad was in Mad-Town, – the seat of Wisconsin’s government, home of one of the world’s best universities. Yet the sidewalks and streets were congestion-free. People walked, cars and buses drove, but space permeated. Sunlight and breezes swept through the capitol square, connecting sky to lakes. Dad laughed in glee that just one street off the square no traffic light or police officer’s hand directed our crossing. We were free to walk not just where we wanted, but when we wanted.