Madison Monday: The National Main Streets Conference

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It’s Monday, and I’m not in Madison.  The husband and I are at the National Main Streets Conference in Baltimore, where on Wednesday, I’ll be giving a speech at the closing session.  As I write, we’re sitting in our hotel room which looks out on Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the original and beautiful throwback ballpark.  Every few minutes my husband has to get up, look out the window, and say, “That’s Camden Yards!”  Just now, he had to look again because the shadows have changed in the last 20 minutes or so.

Since getting in to Baltimore this afternoon, we’ve had lunch and a couple of beers at a pub around the street and walked down to the Inner Harbor, where we watched the paddle boat action. (My husband just looked at Camden Yards again).

Until I was asked to speak at this conference, I confess I was unaware that Madison was one of the three towns chosen by Mary Means for the Main Street pilot project back in the 1970s.  So in some ways, all of us in downtown Madison are living in Main Street central, or ground zero for the Main Street movement.  The Main Street program is under the National Trust for Historic Preservation and uses a four-point approach to transform the way people across the country think about their downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts.  There are all kinds of great workshops and tours, and tomorrow night, the Main Street Bash at the historic B & O Railroad Museum.

Paddle boats in Inner Harbor

It’s always great to be in a city again.  There are certain experiences you just can’t have in Madison, as wonderful as it is.  Riding public transportation.  The diversity of people.   Watching families in paddle boats (though paddle boats on the river would be very cool…perhaps a little dangerous with the barge traffic, but definitely exciting).  And of course, Camden Yards.

When I first took my job and was living on campus rather than in downtown Madison, I would sometimes feel when I traveled during the summer to places like Baltimore and Philadelphia and New York that everything important in the world was happening somewhere that was not Indiana.  It was as if life were a river, and I could go and watch the rapids and the waterfalls.  But my life took place in a little eddy along the side, a place where floating things got stuck and never got out again.

I’m happy to report that I don’t feel like that anymore.  When my husband and I left the pub where we had lunch this afternoon, it was very hard for me not to turn around and say good-bye to the man behind the bar who had served us.  In my life in Madison, I am always saying good-bye when I leave a place; it seems rude not to do so.  And I like living in a place where folks expect you to wave good-bye.

When I travel now, I don’t feel like a piece of floatsam that’s been left behind by the larger stream of life.  I feel like someone whose swimming out into a different stream, exploring a different part of the river.  It’s good to see what’s going on out here.  And it’s also quite nice to go home.

Look for more reports from the National Main Streets Conference this week, and my speech.

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