Saturday, June 26th
It was on this day that i finally decided to test my courage and go to the top of The Gateway Arch -- officially the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial -- at 630 feet (half the height of the Empire State Building), the tallest man-made monument in the western hemisphere. For a long time i believed that i was afraid of heights. The last time i went to the CN Tower in Toronto, i somehow found myself on the outside observation deck, and i had to cling to the wall. The phobia is so bad that i can't even watch a film where the good guy and the bad guy are fighting on the edge of a tall building -- even though i know that, in reality, they're really only a couple of feet above a load of mattresses -- without breaking into a sweat.
It seems i don't, though. Getting on that plane at London Airport should have given me my first clue: i had no trouble whatsoever looking down at the earth from 30,000 feet. I was in an enclosed space. So perhaps what i have is a fear of falling...?
But i needed to test myself further -- never a bad idea, how else can you know what you are capable of? So on Saturday morning, i went to the 8th & Pine Metrolink station and thence to the Old Courthouse (one of the oldest buildings in St Louis) where the tickets to the top are sold. $10.
There are tiny claustrophobic tram cars that go up each leg of the Arch, and they take you, in three or four minutes, to.... It's not really an observation deck, more an observation platform, and yes, the view to east and west is truly spectacular and i had no problem with vertigo whatsoever. Here's some pics i took (1., the approach, 2., the view, looking down at The Old Courthouse, 3., Busch stadium, 4., looking in the other direction, across the Mississippi into Illinois).
It was lunchtime by then so i wandered over to Ballpark Village, which is right next door to Busch Stadium. (I wouldn't call myself a big baseball fan at all, really, but, insofar as i am one, i'm a St Louis Cardinals fan.) http://www.stlballparkvillage.com It's a huge entertainment complex with several pubs, a theatre, a museum, and somehow i managed to blunder in to a pub called the Budweiser Brewhouse. Now, let it be said, that Budweiser is, in my opinion, one of the worst beers anywhere. You know that old joke about making love in a canoe, i'm sure. It's f***ing near water. But i found a very nice beer there, Goose Island Honker's Ale, and had an excellent club samwidge. It wasn't especially, my type of place, but i was enjoying every moment.
After lunch, i wandered, through the deserted streets of downtown St Louis on a Saturday afternoon. It really astonished me how little goes on there, as i've mentioned previously. Most of the cities i know, downtown is vibrant with clubs and pubs and shops, but downtown St Louis is just for working in, and little else in the normal course of things. (Apparently this is true of many American cities -- everything's gone to the suburbs, everyone goes to the mall.) But i enjoy wandering. Too bad i wasn't able to wander into the suburbs, though...
But at 4 o'clock i had to be back in Belleville: Chuck and i were meeting Dave & Cindy for dinner at a restaurant in St Clair, Missouri (where they live) at five and it's an hour's drive and so at around three o'clock i realised it was time to get on MetroLink and get the train back to Swansea. Erm, i had no idea where the nearest MetroLink station was, though! It must be over in this direction, i said to myself, and headed off the wrong way. Starting to panic now, i went into a shop and asked someone -- and it took me a good twenty minutes to walk there. OK, i am 'way late now.
I needed to get to the Swansea station. Oh, guess what? The train went out of service at Fairview Heights -- two stops short of my destination. Bloody hell! But i texted Chuck, told him the situation, and he drove to Fairview Heights and collected me -- and it was in the direction of St Clair anyway, but we were now really late. We didn't have time to go back to Chuck's to pick up the present i'd bought for Dave & Cindy's daughter Jackie, bummer. (She and i adopted each other as non-biological uncle and niece some time ago, and i had bought her a t-shirt with some Haida art on it.)
Thus we entered the Great American Highway System: Interstate 255 to 270 to 44. The highways are huge and vast and magnificent! So wide, i couldn't believe it. I was very impressed by their width (although i couldn't help but wonder about the environmental impact). And we were hit with a torrential rainstorm -- the only rain of my visit -- and that slowed us down some more and now we were really late.
Well, when we finally reached Tres Toritos Mexican Restaurant in St Clair -- the furthest west i've ever been in the USA -- Dave, Cindy & fambly were already well tucked into their meal, we apologised profusely for our lateness, which was mostly my fault, but the rain didn't help.
Tres Toritos is not a restaurant i would willingly go to again. The food was okay -- i had a chimichanga, the portion was huge, i couldn't finish it, what a waste -- but it's simply not my style. Too brightly-lit, for one thing, and they had no draught beer. I asked for a bottle of Corona and when when the waiter brought ir, he didn't bring a glass, and i took umbrage. He brought me a glass. I refuse to drink beer out of a bottle, that's for troglodytes.
I'd met Dave a few days earlier, but this was the first time i'd met his wife Cindy and his daughter Jacklyn and indeed their grand-daughter Taylor. Such a wonderful family. I actually met Dave several years ago, on a Yahoo! forum devoted to cult media. I posted once about the frustrations i was having at the time, trying to find a listenable radio station. (The one to which i had been a devoted listener for years, changed management or ownership or something, all of my favourite on-air personalities -- many of whom were Facebook friends -- either quit or were let go, and their programming changed for the much worse.) Dave responded with the suggestion that i try St Louis's KSHE, and i did and i loved it, and listening to the deejays talking about the city, and hearing about what goes on there, inspired my fascination with the place. Dave changed my life.
After the meal, we went back to their house and i started to think (yes, i did!) that one of the best things about this entire trip was seeing my friends at home, in their own environments. And i felt very much at home with them. We nattered late into the evening and i felt blessed to know such lovely folks.