The Good Samaritans At Smart Studios

“What if we just, you know, stopped by?”

The stretch of highway that connects Minneapolis to Chicago is monstrously monotonous. The road is flat, the plains expand in all directions, and the Wisconsin state police are eagle-eyed and everywhere. Anti-abortion billboards – so convicted of the imperativeness of their cause that pausing to consider proper punctuation would be unthinkable – scream at passers-by: “WHAT. EMBRYOS ARE BABIES!”

My boyfriend and I were headed back to Illinois, where we both lived, after a week in the woods of northern Minnesota. Doused in dirt, clad in plaid, heads haloed by handkerchiefs, we bid farewell to my family in Minneapolis and hit the highway on a sunny Sunday morning.

Interstate 94 extended before us into the gaping open sky, pavement and horizon meeting as delicately as the fingertips in “The Creation of Adam.” We passed through the tourist-trap of Wisconsin Dells but didn’t stop, deciding we were short on money and time – though later we did stop long enough to make out behind a gas station while cicadas chirped a swelling soundtrack like the waves crashing on Lake Superior’s rocky shore the week before.

After a full day of driving the sun was in decline, and so was our patience. We loved the road, but we’d just spent a week driving around Minnesota and claustrophobia was starting to set in, my black Ford Focus beginning to feel a bit more coffin than car.

As we neared our boredom breaking point, “Vow” – the first song off Garbage’s 1995 self-titled debut – came on. When Matt and I first met, we had bonded over our mutual childhood love for Garbage – and how much we (without even a shred of irony) continued to enjoy them. We sang along, loudly, until Matt slammed the volume button and turned to look squarely at me, his face lit up with one of the biggest grins I’d ever seen.

“You know that Smart Studios is in Madison, right?” he said, a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

I burst into laughter. “Stop trying to act like you were any more obsessed with Garbage than I was in middle school,” I said, a bit more defensively than I meant to. “And high school. And, erm, college. ‘Do I know that Smart Studios – a.k.a. Garbage’s home base – is in Madison?’ C’mon!”

Matt couldn’t be bothered to humor my puffed chest; he was on a mission. “Okay, whatever, ego; we should go see it!” he cheered. “Oh my god, what if the band is there?!” His seatbelt could barely contain him at this point, his squirms threatening to rocket him out the open window.

Again, I laughed. “That’s something a stalker would say. ‘Oh, hey, you don’t know me. No, my being here right now isn’t weird… I was just driving through Madison and thought I’d, you know, drop in on your recording studio.’”

Matt was more spontaneous than me; in general, I was too cautious, too concerned. But that was part of why we worked so well as a unit – he freed me up to indulge my impulses. He broke me out of my casing, making me more open to new people, new experiences, and new ideas. It wasn’t hard for him to free me – he had a way of arching his eyebrows when he was being mischievous that I couldn’t deny. I might find myself in trouble, but I’d have fun getting there.

Though I didn’t admit it, I was immediately wedded to the idea. It was as much the impulsiveness of it as it was the thought of showing up at a recording studio owned by one of my favorite bands. The lunacy of it was exhilarating and intoxicating.

Before I could even say so, we were in Madison. Pulling off the highway, I shifted back into a lower gear and pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot. We looked up directions to the studio and jumped back into the car, laughing and asking one another, “are we really going to do this?”

Moments later, we stood before a big red door. Neither of us willing to ring the bell, we volleyed “You do it. No, you do it!” back and forth, an increasingly manic tone to our voices, the crimson face of the door looming over us and daring us to move. Finally, Matt put his finger on the bell and gently pressed it. He grabbed my hand and squeezed it so tight that I thought my fingers might pop off.

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