Railing against digital exhaustion

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column. 

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MICROTONES by Chris Lay, associate publisher 

Nestled in a tiny cubby of a storefront where the Southwest Commuter Path crosses West Washington Avenue you’ll find Porter, a homey coffee shop slash bistro slash upscale bodega. It’s a cozy enough joint, but my favorite part about it is the historic photos on the wall of the rail station and roundhouse that occupied the premises a century ago. Standing there and putting it together that the images I was looking at were of the very place I stood gave me a tiny little jolt of excitement, as nerdy as that might sound.

But I’m not here to talk about Porter, since to do so would open up the still-simmering controversies related to its owner, Gilbert Altschul. Instead, I wanted to advocate for something less controversial that still manages to connect Madison to its rail-riding past: The Madison Railroads Instagram account.

Touting itself as “A retrospective view of railroads that operated in the Madison, Wisconsin area,” the page is a repository for images sure to delight local trainspotters. Personally, I can’t tell a SOO 4202 from an EMD SW1200, but scrolling through image after image of old locomotives, maps, birds-eye views, and other ephemera is one of the most calming experiences I’ve encountered in recent memory.

There’s been so much talk about methods of self-care we can and should embrace in the increasingly overwhelming year of our lord two thousand and eighteen, but I heartily recommend adding the aged pastels and sepia tones of these gently swaying behemoths to your rotation. That’s right. Drink more water, start a journal, walk more, and smash that follow button to get a regular dose of these marvelous machines captured rolling past a surprising number of recognizable Madison landmarks.

There’s a whole subculture out there devoted just to watching trains, and some of these folks get really worked up. But they also produce long, eerily calm videos of… trains… just doing train stuff, and now that I’ve discovered that local connection to that train-gazing pastime, I’m starting to understand its unexpected appeal.

Illustration by Rachal Duggan.

Illustration by Rachal Duggan.

New this week:

Tone Madison has a couple more events to announce this fall: Our September 16 stage at the Willy Street Fair featuring His & Her Vanities, and an October 9 show at Arts + Literature Laboratory with electronic artists Eric Hall and Apollo Vermouth.

Grant Phipps digs up the highlights of UW Cinematheque’s fall screening calendar.

Holly Henschen explores the unequal experiences of baring it all in Madison, with an illustration by Rachal Duggan (above).

Chali Pittman talks with two neon artists who take an inventive approach to language in a new show at Union South.

Elsewhere on the Madison internet: Music critic Jessica Hopper will visit A Room of One’s Own on September 21 to share her new book Night Moves. Speaking of authors, the Wisconsin Book Festival lineup is out. Artist/designer Lauden Nute talks with American Bandito. Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers will play a November 16 show at The Sylvee. Michelle Wolf will play the Comedy Club on State from October 4 through 6. Other new additions to the fall show calendar include Snake On The Lake Fest and Naia Izumi.

This week’s Madison calendar: Toupee and Sissy Spacek make for a noisy night at Mickey’s Tavern. A two-night Hot Summer Gays blowout. And more.

An ode to the best and worst of Madison summers.

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