Created:Sunday, September 6, 2009 9:23 p.m.CDT
FONT SIZE: Road Trip Vol. 1: The search for Lot 29

By KEVIN DRULEY - Shaw Suburban Media

Editor’s Note: For each Northern Illinois football road trip this season, the crew at will chronicle our travails for our readers. This is installment No. 1, Madison, Wis.

MADISON, Wis. – The man standing near an alley on Regent Street still needed tickets an hour after we first encountered him. He lifted his familiar cardboard sign and loitered in the same No. 14 Wisconsin jersey and denim Badgers hat, and it served him right.

Call it vengeful, if you must. Even petty. Won’t faze me. I know justice when I see it, and this was nothing less than the sweetest kind.

Team Daily Chronicle sought someone to share the suffering with after the lone shaky stretch of an otherwise pleasant day trip. In town for the Northern Illinois football season opener, our quest to find UW parking lot 29, home of the media, lasted almost as long as Saturday’s first half.

Clueless Wisconsin students and crummy cartography contributed equally to our woes, though Huskies beat writer John Sahly ultimately accepted the bulk of the blame. “The lot’s right by where we get our credentials,” Sahly kept saying, coddling his trusty GPS device. Questionable.

In John’s defense, there did not appear to be any mathematics or logic departments on campus. Every time we drove by a lot, longing to see our new favorite prime number, we’d instead be greeted by a 46 or 132. There was no rhyme or reason to the ordering or numbering whatsoever, and it eventually got to be laughable. Sometime during the middle of the search, we found a street that had lots 25, 28 and 30, but no 29. Turned out it was four blocks away.

We moved on from the incident and walked through downtown Madison en route to Camp Randall Stadium, which quite literally shook during the third quarter when most of the 80,532 fans on hand obeyed House of Pain and proceeded to “Jump Around.” We spotted plenty of red “Jump Around” T-shirts once we entered the Madison city limits, a welcome change from open fields and a “Hay 4 Sale” billboard.

Riding up included a few more landmarks than that. I kept this thought to myself, but wondered for a good 25 miles why Wisconsin route markers looked so dumb. If you’ve never been, it’s a rounded-corner rectangle over a triangle with the number inside, and resembles a filled-in closed captions logo with ears. Markers in Missouri, where I’m from, feature the numbers inside a drawing of the Show-Me State, and it seems to me everyone else in the union could follow suit other than maybe Hawaii and all those tiny New England states.

Route markers and other things indigenous to Madison and Wisconsin had grown on us by the time we left. Seeing all those students jumping around and rooting brought to mind a not too distant past when we could actually yell at sporting events. Our frustrating drive around campus still brought lots to see, including a view of Lake Mendota and Memorial Union. It was enough to make me ponder going back for the holiday today. Heck, I could even grab a free lunch – the Hong Kong Cafe on Regent is serving one up from noon to 2 p.m.

We could have used a GPS to escape Camp Randall after the game. Moments before some drunken coeds would mistake his tripod bag for a clarinet holder, photographer Beck Diefenbach persuaded a stadium employee to open a gate that saved us another couple minutes of walking.

In retrospect, we might have been deprived of more off-the-wall sights. A 10-minute walk down Regent uncovered a true McDonald’s walk-up window, dancing tailgaters who couldn’t let go and the quietest pizza eaters anyone could ever fathom.

A group of gawking women even rated our traveling party a collective “7” (Bo Derek being a “10”), just before we arrived at the only number that mattered.

Finding Lot 29 is a whole lot easier if you’ve been there before.

• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for Shaw Suburban Media.

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