Quotation du jour: Eddy L. Harris ~ A vacation is external. A pilgrimage is internal. An adventure combines them.
Wednesday, June 22
And so i awoke at Chuck's apartment, in his spare room, in Belleville, Illinois -- not too far across the river from St Louis. Belleville is part of Metro East and is served by St Louis public transit (MetroLink and MetroBus).That's their logo over there.
I have often maintained that Americans in general are among the friendliest, most generous people on this planet. I was proven right many times during my stay, but Chuck went over and above. When i was first planning this trip over a year ago, and trying to find a relatively inexpensive hotel, Chuck messaged me to offer me his spare room. (I was at Kelsey's pub having an after work beer at the time.) I was overwhelmed. We were "only" Facebook friends, after all. But with hardly any hesitation at all (after all, he might have been a serial killer -- or i might have been, he didn't know, either) i accepted gratefully. (Facebook, love it or hate it, sometimes it leads you to the wrong people, but more often it introduces you to the absolutely right ones.)
Chuck did so much for me -- buying my favourite tea, giving me oodles of useful advice and more than anything, driving me to the Swansea MetroLink station every morning and picking me up every evening -- even when MetroLink deposited me somewhere unexpected that was 'way out of his way. And that's the Swansea MetroLink station.
Missourians and Illinoisans also seemed a more-than-usually friendly folk -- strangers greeting you in the street and people i asked for directions when i got lost -- which was often! -- who would go out of their way to point me in the right direction.
I need to bitch and moan about MetroLink a bit, though. Okay, obviously i was unfamiliar with the system, so some of the problems i had were my own fault, but really, the system sucks sometimes. For a start, there are no manned stations, so i was never able to ask an actual human being for help. I wanted to buy a week-long pass on my first day, and although the option was there on the ticket machine, the capacity to buy one didn't seem to exist. So i bought a one-way ticket ($2.50) and then had to validate it at another machine. It took me several tries to realise that that machine wasn't working. The one next to it worked fine.
But i had so many problems: one day the ticket machine ate my debit card, another, late one evening, i was very tired, wanted nothing other than to sleep, it deposited me so far from where i wanted to go that out of desperation i took a room in an hotel -- the City Center Hotel, in fact. It was dark. If it had been daylight i would have seen that i wasn't all that far from where i wanted to be. That was a $179 mistake. (My room was sumptuous, i must admit!)
As for MetroBus, i never even tried to figure them out! The destination signs never meant anything to me. (I wanted to buy a street map but was never able to find one -- maybe in this age of the GPS they no longer make them?)
Anyway, i had determined that my first stop was going to be the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. Took the train to the Forest Park/De Balivière station, found the museum almost immediately and it was terrific. Exhibits from all eras of Missouri's history. Unfortunately an exhibit that would have been very interesting, the history of Route 66, was opening after my departure, but it was an excellent start. Then i decided to head east into Forest Park -- which is larger than Central Park In NYC and includes the Zoo, the Art Museum, and the Jewel Box, a massive greenhouse. And headed south instead.
The first few days in St Louis, i had heaps of problems getting my bearings. With the sun directly overhead i had no way of telling in which direction i was traveling. Plus most of the cities i know have a north/south axis -- St Louis is east/west. It was difficult to get orientated. It didn't take long before i realised that i was out of the park but i kept going -- i like exploring anyway, i wanted to see where it would lead.
Now, you have to remember that it was about 100 degrees Fahrenheit and very humid and it wasn't long before i began to think that maybe this wasn't such a good idea. I was hoping to find a restaurant or pub, feeling more than a little dehydrated, but i saw nothing but suburban streets. Sure, i have Google Maps on my phone but in sunlight that bright i couldn't see the screen! And i wasn't sure how to backtrack, as i had taken too many twists and turns. There were very few people around, either, but eventually i met an elderly black man and asked him how to get to a MetroLink station (my polestar at this point) and he gave me excellent directions and even walked with me for a bit, even though he'd been traveling in the opposite direction and ultimately i found the Skinker station and headed back downtown. Where i immediately got lost again!
Downtown St Lou is certainly not what i expected. It's a beautiful place for sure, but where are all of the shops and restaurants? I found very few. Where do the office workers have lunch? And the ONLY two shops i found that day were Missouri Threads -- which sold souvenir t-shirts and sweatshirts and postcards and what-not, and a combo smoke and liquor store (where i bought Chuck a "thank you" bottle of Glenfiddich). I finally found (i.e., stumbled upon after what seemed like hours of wandering around) Tigìn Irish Pub on Washington Avenue ("Tigìn" is Gaelic for "little cottage"), and was able to eat and re-hydrate But i didn't stay long. I wanted to get to the river.
Well, i knew how to get there. Had my first daylight close-up view of The Gateway Arch, the tallest man-made monument in the western hemisphere.
But just beyond the Arch is the Mississippi River. Oh, my! At my first sight of Ol' Man River, the strangest thing happened.
A tiny little tear rolled down my cheek. Well, more than one. Actually, i wept with joy. I'm really not sure why i reacted like that. Sure, the Father of Waters is so full of majesty. power, history, imagination, music, literature. But it could have been something more mundane, like the fact that i had wanted to be there for so long and had finally made it!