Mound City Syndrome
If America were a family St. Louis would be the middle child, not in terms of age but certainly in terms of psychology. I mean, everybody knows about the Big Apple, the Windy City, the Big Easy and La-La Land, but nobody thinks about poor old Mound City.
And doesn’t Mound City know it.
I was in St. Louis to meet up with a friend who lives there. I arrived at the Amtrak station and asked a woman at the information desk the best/quickest to get away from there. She pointed at a map titled ‘Metrolink’, beneath it were two lines stretching from East to West St. Louis.
“Metrolink, hey?” I said to myself.
The woman leaned on the counter and looked closely at me, “You’re not from around here are you?” Before I could answer she continued, “I bet you thought St. Louis wouldn’t have a mass transit system. Well, our network is just as comprehensive as those in the ‘bigger’ cities.” I looked again at the red and blue lines on the map. Perhaps the words ‘comprehensive’, ‘mass-transit’ and ‘network’ were slight exaggerations.
My friend had work and wasn’t able to meet me until later. He suggested Skinker as a nice neighbourhood to while away a few hours, so I took the ‘train’ there.
Right as I exited the Skinker metrolink I came across a little café called Kayak. I went in and ordered a coffee. The cashier looked at my big backpack, “Where abouts have you come in from?”
“Chicago,” I told him.
“Oh yeah? I bet you think they have some pretty good coffee there.”
“Sure, I –“
He cut me off. “Well, St. Louis has some good coffee. Everybody talks about Chicago, everybody talks about New York, but check it out,” he held up a fancy glass device for me to look at, “we have a chemex pour over device too.” Then he fumbled and dropped it. “Dammit,” he sighed looking at the spattered glass shards, “we just got that.” I asked for my coffee to go. As I left the cafe I glanced at a copy of The Riverfront Times lying open on a table.
St. Louis rates third highest in nation for murder: That’s still pretty dangerous!
With about an hour to kill I decided to visit the St. Louis Art Museum in the nearby Forest Park. Rambling through the big park I felt progressively lost so I stopped a gardener to ask if I was going the right way. “Yah, the museum’s just up the hill,” he said without stopping digging, “Wha in the East are ya from?”
He stopped digging and turned to look at me. “Oh well ya know Forest park is five hundred acres bigguh than Central Park.” I told him that I didn’t.
“Yes sah,” he said, adjusting his cap, “and just as good.”
I thanked him and continued up to the museum.
The man working at the museum’s front desk looked up from his laptop as I approached. “Hello, welcome to the St. Louis Art museum. How can I help?”
“Hi. If you only had an hour what would you see?”
He thought for a moment before pointing to our left. “Well, through there is our permanent collection, we have some Van Goghs and one of of Monet’s water lily murals.”
“Oh cool,” I said, “I saw his other murals at the Art Institute and MOMA too.”
“Well you should see these ones, they’re just as good as the ones in Chicago and New York!” He slammed his fist down on the desk. I jumped a little, “Wow! Okay, okay I’ll check it out.”
After wandered through the gallery for forty or so minutes I became less interested in the art than in finding benches to sit on. I was contemplating a particularly ugly renaissance baby (or was it a leprechaun?) when I got a text from my friend telling me he was nearby. As I left the guy at the front desk called after me, “Tell everyone about SLAM, it’s a better acronym than MOMA.”
That was true.
I found my friend parked and waiting for me just outside Forest Park. “Welcome to St. Louis,” he said as I got into the car, we set off down Skinker Boulevard and I recounted my day to him.
“Metrolink -,” I began.
“ – is nicer than New York’s subway,” he ended.
“- serves just as good coffee as Chicago.”
“Forest Park -”
“- is 500 acres bigger than Central Park.”
“SLAM – ”
“ – beats MOMA.”
It was like conversational rock, paper, scissors.
We drove past Washington University in St. Louis, the grand Brookings Hall loomed tall. “Do you know that is one of the top 15 undergrad programs in America? Everybody talks about Princeton, Harvard, or Yale but Wash U. in St Louis is every bit as good as those places.” We continued downtown, my friend pointed out various things along the way, explaining how they were, “Every bit as, tasty/prestigious/conservative/liberal/historic/interesting, as their counterparts in Chicago/New York.”
Then we turned onto Memorial Drive and a giant silver rainbow sprung up ahead of us. The Gateway Arch. I was completely captivated by its extraterrestrial beauty. “My god, it’s amazing,” I said looking up at the giant monument, “I’ve never seen anything like it.” Without taking his eyes off the road my friend said, “Yeah, yeah, it’s fine.”
“No, really. It’s incredible. There is nothing like this anywhere else I’ve been.” I insisted. He paused for a moment, leaned forward over the steering wheel and looked up at it. Then he said, “Did you know that Barack Obama likes our deep dish pizza better than Chicago’s deep dish pizza?”