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I spent a weekend in Madison one night.
By: Mike Christian 2/28/2013

The idea of going on a “business trip” has always seemed exciting to me. I’m talking frequent flyer miles, expense accounts, and “three martini” lunches sort of exciting. Not jet lagged presentations, and trade show tear-downs sort of exciting, but I digress. The thought of getting out of your cubicle to do your work can be quite scary for some, but for others it is the perfect opportunity to hone their crafts in a new setting. 

I have colleagues who travel for their jobs. They hop from city to city, conference room to conference room, IT manager to IT manager. Late night phone calls home, pizza delivery, and an uncanny knowledge of dry cleaner locations. And although I love adventure as much as the next guy, this just doesn’t cut it for me. I’ll take my “business trips” sporadic, and efficient. 

When I tell friends and family that I’m going somewhere on business, I often get no sympathy. In fact, I’m usually met with sarcasm, and a touch of jealousy. “Where do you have to go drinking now?”, or “Which of your drinking buddies is the babysitter?”, to which I respond “Manitowoc, and Matt.” 

On rare occasions, I get to respond; “Madison, and John”. And when that happens, I know I need to be strictly business. Now, don’t get me wrong. John can hold his own on many different levels, including humor, drinking, and unusable facts (All of which I am eagerly studying), but he is also a shrewd business man who is perpetually learning (also things I’m working on). And so we set out for Madison. For business.

We left on Saturday morning around 8:30 am. Our first appointment was an 11:00 at Capital Brewery. We were both nervous, and made uncomfortable small talk. YEAH RIGHT!?! We were more like ninjas. Prepared, confident, and loose. After a smooth hour and a half drive, we arrived at our hotel for early check in. When we requested a cab, the hotel clerk smiled, and said “Bockfest?”, and we proceeded to apologize in advance. And because we were thinking in advance, we also asked about the shuttle service later in the day to Capital Square. The hotel clerk smiled and said “Distil America?”, and we proceeded to apologize in advance, again. And I gotta tell you…I think the groundwork that was laid right then and there, proved to be a professional move. There was to be no surprises. Everyone was on the same page. Well, atleast reading from the same book, just from different character viewpoints. 

Our first appointment went pretty much as planned. Arrive at 11:00 to a waiting line of 1000 people. Show the VIP passes and go to the line of 500 people. Yes, very privileged. Hand stamped, rules made known, and wait in line again. By 11:30, a Blonde Dopplebock, some of the first of the year, was pouring into my commemorative plastic mug. The first sip is preceded by a “cheers”, and the show is on. 

The entire brewery is pretty much accessible to all participants. The brewing tanks, the bottling line, the warehouse all have people congregating around and drinking. Outside, the large beer garden is lined with porto potties. There are two additional beer bars outside. One has 12 bartenders, and the other satelilite location has 5. It’s about 25 degrees on a February Wisconsin Saturday. Most people have winter jackets, hats, and boots. Others are dressed as ketchup and mustard bottles, clowns, bananas, and most importantly the one and only Bockfest Queen, with tiara and sash to prove it.  
There are bands that are taking turns playing classic good time tunes. They play the theme song to Cheers. They play polkas. They play background music that quickly gets drowned out by laughter, and collective good vibes.  
Within an hour, there is not a sober person on the property. The cops all cautiously laugh at people tripping and spilling their beers. The bockfesters are feeling no pain. It’s somewhat of an inside joke that the 6 man police force has taken its position right next to the pulled pork station that is signified by a large pink pig. Almost too good to be true. But the cops are not there to disrupt the fun, only to protect and serve. It feels nice to have them there.
The people watching is absolutely priceless. In between laughter, we talk shop. What are some of the trends we are seeing or reading about? How is business today compared to 5 years ago? How much has changed? What is the best way to use social media to enhance business? And then the banana walks by. And we decide another beer is necessary.  

Each person in attendance is given a wristband that has little tabs on it. One tab for a complimentary 16oz Blonde Dopplebock, one for a 32oz “any other beer”, and one for food from one of the food vendors. And if you feel it necessary to have more beer after the complimentary ones, it is available for cash. Fortunately or not, we never had to use cash. As we redeem our final free beer coupon, we notice a group of people in the brewery by the brewing kettles, that was before blocked off. We can see them through some windows, but we don’t know how they got there. I make eye contact with a man I know from the brewery, and he points me in a direction, indicates to show my wristband (which I now realize is orange, the others are green)(VIP BABY!!), and raises his beer glass. We follow his directions, and within a minute, we are in the land of nonstop free beer.  

The entire area is filled with vendors, regional managers, and brewery representatives. Ironically, no business is being conducted. The conversations are crude, embarrassing, and just plain beautiful. It is the Nirvana for all the industry folks. There is no customer service, no code of conduct, and no limit on beer and laughter. One man that I know from the biz approaches John and I with a smirk on his face, that is not congruent with the rest of the smirks on the faces of the other bockfesters. He reaches into his inside coat pocket, and produces a small bottle that is filled with a clear liquid. It is not the liquid that the partially scraped off label indicates. He says “homemade grappa, 7 years aged. My uncle made it. Enjoy cautiously!” And we do. And our laughter spills onto the curious group next to us. Before we know it, the fine beer buzz that we had been meticulously grooming, has turned into an all out “Now we gotta go!” But not before we sample one more 32oz commemorative plastic mug, full of ale. 

We get ourselves outside for a breath of fresh air just in the nick of time. But the outside is a collage of overserved fest goers. The cops, still manning the pork station, nod in appreciation as we dump out our last sip before leaving the premise. We manage the sidewalk with confidence, on the way to the lineup of taxis. It was very fortuitous that the driver of the car we selected, understood our broken language. We were still on schedule, to arrive back at the hotel for the 3 o’clock check in. We had definitely earned a few hours of rest, prior to our final appointment for the day, which was scheduled for 5pm. A whiskey tasting event on Capital Square. 

I vaguely remember paying the cabbie, grabbing our change of clothes from the Jeep, and heading for the front desk of our hotel. Upon arrival, we were greeted with congratulations for surviving Bockfest, and the sad news that our room was still not ready. The entire hotel was previously filled with high school wrestlers and their families who were in town for the State Tournament. And despite the idea that the clock is always ticking in their matches, they must have needed the extra time to drop weight. And this threw a minor monkey wrench in our plans. 

The hotel manager was very apologetic, and was in crisis mode, as we were on a strict timeline. It’s hard to blame him for his solution to this problem, for I’ve never turned down a free beer, but he suggested we have a seat at the bar and enjoy a complimentary drink, for what he assured us, would be 15 minutes. After three pints of Miller Lite, and an hour of Nascar coverage, we were finally allowed to see our room. We had just enough time to stumble into our change of clothes, and catch the shuttle bus to our next appointment. The whiskey tasting. Double click here to add text.