Fear and loathing in Stadium Village

But nobody can vandalize a bike right in front of John W. Hoff and expect no consequences.

John Hoff

On the weekend before Halloween, I told myself to stay away from Dinkytown. Even normal weekends are crazy in Dinkytown, but outlandish costumes were bound to increase insane drunken behavior. I figured some wild criminal acts which would normally take place in Madison, Wisc., might occur in Dinkytown because of Madison’s crackdown on revelers.

Did I want to be part of the liquored-up madness? No. My big plan for the weekend was to read a book by a recent Nobel Prize winner, and perhaps have a few yummy, very affordable Chinese meals at Village Wok in Stadium Village.

It might be good to point out “Stadium Village” is the area of stores and shops along Washington Avenue Southeast near campus. While Dinkytown is the place a student goes deliberately, seeking fun, Stadium Village is more of a choice by default. Like, you’re on the campus anyway, so why not walk down the street and grab a bite to eat?

You hear the legend of Dinkytown before you even arrive on campus, while Stadium Village is a place you go many times before you learn it’s called “Stadium Village.”

Walking in the darkness, I heard a loud crashing sound, and looked across the avenue in time to see a young man pulling back his fist from a lit-up plastic sign for Boynton Health Service. He was laughing, and two friends were with him. He had just punched out most of the letter “n” in “Boynton.”

I watched in confusion. Was he mad at Boynton, I wondered? Had he been wronged, somehow, by medical staff? What exactly was his grievance? Or did it have something to do with the letter “n?” I’ve always thought it made more sense to say “Boyton” instead of “Boynton,” but not strongly enough to commit property damage.

As the group walked away from the sign, laughing, I realized damaging the Boynton sign was not a rational act, not some kind of revolutionary statement, but something stupid and random, like tipping over flower pots or hanging on small trees until the branches break.

I was calling 911 on my cell phone just as the young man who smashed the sign proceeded to vandalize a couple bikes locked to a rack.

The group continued down the sidewalk, walking three abreast, and as I talked to the police dispatcher, describing their appearance and direction of travel, there was a crash of metal so loud I asked the dispatcher if she’d heard it. Maybe it was a newspaper rack, or perhaps a metal sign which is supposed to help guide people around campus. The guy doing all the damage was dressed in a kind of a puffy reddish orange suit.

As the group arrived in the heart of Stadium Village, I worried they might go after the plate glass windows of the barber shop where I get my haircuts, or the little store where I buy my Coke (though it is the devil’s drink) or even my favorite Chinese restaurant, Village Wok.

I could see the suspects and a police car seeking the suspects, and told the police dispatcher something like, “They are directly in front of the hood of your officer’s car, right across the street.”

It was pretty grim to see the group surrounded by cops, sitting on the cold sidewalk. One unfortunate bystander in a costume like Gilligan from Gilligan’s Island got caught in the dragnet. I pointed out to the police that poor Gilligan was innocent, just part of some wacky misunderstanding, rather like something the original Gilligan would do.

It turned out the guy who had committed the property damage was dressed in an M&M costume. I’d never seen Halloween candy go bad before Halloween.

He was only 21 years old on the day of the incident, but has since turned 22. He’s actually a rather nice-looking young man and reminded me of students I’ve taught as a teaching assistant, and soldiers I knew as an army medic. I pictured M&M guy telling his upset, disappointed mother what he had done and confessing to an angry father.

My civic duty turned my stomach, and I took no delight in it. But nobody can vandalize a bike right in front of John W. Hoff and expect no consequences.

All night long I worried M&M guy might be harmed while jailed with rapists and murderers, dressed like a piece of chocolate with a delicious candy coating that reportedly melts in your mouth, not in your hand.

But a police report I received after the weekend said M&M guy was issued a citation and released. Reading that, I thought a night in jail would have done him a world of good.

I do not think a college neighborhood should be distinguished by gritty and broken-street ambiance.

Witnessing an act of property damage, we should react with carefully controlled outrage, as though it just happened to our own stuff, in our own residence.

The fact many of the persons who commit these acts have friendly, familiar collegiate faces should not be enough to keep us from doing our civic duty, which is to be an observant, reliable witness and call the cops.

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]