Sunday, March 21, 2010

St Louis VS Chicago - The St Patrick's Day Brawl

I can imagine the laughter our readers from the North are holding back right now. It's true, Chicago is well know for it's Irish community. There are still whole neighborhoods (Beverly) that cater to the Irish family and traditions. The St Patrick's Day celebrations that originate in Chicago are taken so seriously the city famously dyes the Chicago River green. (Yes, that's pretty cool, but work with me here - they're laughing at you right now) As far as American cities tied to St Patty's goes, Chicago is probably near the top, right behind Boston. As for St Louis, I'm not sure that anyone outside of the region would know we even have a parade, let alone two. I mean, sure, they likely assume we have at least some sort of celebration... Maybe we dress children up like leprechauns and pull them around in wagons or, maybe, let all the traffic lights stay at green all day... One thing is for sure - there'd be no point in dying the Mississippi River. That dark shade of brown isn't going anywhere.
Ok, so we don't do anything super cool like Chicago's green river. But we both, historically, have Downtown and local Irish neighborhood parades (we have Dogtown while Chicago has the Southside parade). There's got to be something cool and unique about our celebration, right? For you, the dear reader, I thought I'd better find out. For purely scientific reasons I decided to participate in both St Louis parades; The Saturday Downtown parade and the Dogtown neighborhood parade on Wednesday. Unfortunately, I participated in my research [read: beer drinking] a little too much to completely fulfill all of my required experiments. But, in the spirit of people underestimating St Louis, let's compare the Chicago and St Louis celebrations anyway!
Let's get the craziest part out of the way... Did you know that Chicago doesn't actually have a parade on St Patrick's Day (StPD)? That's right! Their Downtown Parade is on the Saturday before StPD just like ours is, but the Southside parade is on Sunday. Score one gigantic point, St Louis, for having your neighborhood parade on *actual* StPD. Now, I know for a fact this wasn't always the case.
Back in the pre-aughts (or 90's) when I was in high school, Chicago definitely had the Downtown parade on the day of. How can I be so sure? Because every kid and their best friend, Cameron, skipped school to go to the parade. Sadly no one I knew had a 60's model Ferrari to drive Downtown in, but we did have the Metra and it goes pretty fast. Also, you can drink on the Metra - and we did. Actually, we drank at the bars downtown too! I was, at the most, 16 and surely didn't have a fake ID. How the hell did we get away with that? I can only assume that all the children skipping school and getting absolutely trashed is one of the reasons Chicago changed up it's day of parading. Either that or they agreed Sundays make better hangover days.
As for St Louis's Saturday parade, it's definitely a family affair. Not that people aren't getting way beyond buzzed. There is definitely a party in the streets. Many a college student was beyond comprehension when I walked up to the just started parade.
The parade itself is fairly pedestrian... They do have a few Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade style balloons. You know, the one's that always seem to be 10 to 15 years behind the times. This year I'm pretty sure I saw both Garfield and Power Rangers balloons. Being that this is a StPD parade, you better believe the creepiest of creepy traditions was in full effect. No, it's not the teenage stepdancers although I do think that's weird. It's the little girls dressed as stepdancers!!! It's like they've been growing them in really humid basements. Just look at that curly hair! And the make-up? Why?
I know, I know. It's a tradition and I'm sure one many girls are proud to take part of. And truth-be-told I think its a pretty cool display to watch. I just don't get why they bring the toddlers along and make them dress up like that. It's beauty pageant creepy. Of course they have that in all StPD parades so that's nothing new. What is seemingly different about St Louis's StPD parade is that you can claim roadside parade-route plots!
I'm not sure how it's done or organized, but people practically build forts out there on the sidewalk. Seriously, it's like a rudimentary home. The party tent I hung out in was heated and had two private port-a-potties. And it wasn't some company that set it up. It was just a family! Apparently all they did was rent some bathrooms, told them where to drop them, and then the morning of the parade set built a small home around them. I promise you it was awesome and more than made up for my stubborn insistence that it was no longer winter. I would have frozen my ass off out there. As for Chicago, I'm pretty sure they'd shoot you if you did something like set up a party tent on the sidewalk. Or at least send the bagpipers over. So what's the verdict? Major points for dying the river, Chicago. And thanks for letting people build temporary shelters on the sidewalk, St Louis. Verdict: Tie.
Wednesday's actual StPD parade in Dogtown is a whole different story. It's very much in a neighborhood. And an Irish-settled neighborhood at that. Why is it called Dogtown? Well, when some Irish minors settled there they used dogs as security. Also, apparently during the 1904 World's Fair, a visiting tribe of natives from the Philippines kept sneaking over and stealing the Irishmen's dogs for food. Don't judge. You would've too if you'd seen the dogs I imagine the Irish were keeping.
Anyway, this parade feels much more like a whole neighborhood decided to come out of their houses and walk down the street throwing green beads. In fact, most of the "floats" are just 4 generations of Mc-whatevers showing off their finest Irish sweaters. Oh and there's also the creepy stepdancing children. We can't leave out the creepy children. Still, this event makes you somehow feel much more involved with the parade. Maybe it's the neighborhood. Maybe it's the people. But one thing is for sure, this is the parade to be at if you want to be drunk. There's a lot to do after the parade is done and because it's a work day, it just feels like you're being bad. People seem to go all out.
That part actually isn't too different from the Southside Parade in Chicago. It's, by far, the most disorderly. So much so that they don't even have one anymore! That's right, cancelled. After 2009 the Irish powers that be decided to not have it anymore because it was getting too out of hand. Wow. Didn't see that coming. So, this one's easy. Dogtown parade plus two for having it on actual StPD and plus 4 for actually having it. Negative 17 for not having one at all, Chicago. For shame.
Who would have thunk it? St Louis with a superior StPD celebration... It barely makes sense! But then again, does anything make sense when it comes to Irish tradition? Leprechauns, banshees, blarney stones, Darby O'Gill (best movie EVER), creepy baby stepdancers... I'm sure Chicago is pretty disappointed in itself for failing this very scientific matchup, but honestly, the river looks green year-round. I'm sorry... I really didn't want to be the one to say it. Please don't send the bagpipers.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Daily Grind

The commute to work... I'm going to guess it's the worst part of your day, but that's because I also assume you don't work for the DMV or live with Kathy Griffin. In posts of yore I've mentioned the St Louis traffic "sitch." Yeah, it's still non-existent. But get this - Since then, it's gotten better by an entire Interstate. An Interstate 64 to be exact.
While St Louisans still call this stretch of concrete by it's original name (Highway 40), they didn't call it anything but bulldozer food for the past two years. MoDOT ripped up the whole thing and started anew in 2007. Here's the thing - the city quickly grew accustomed to taking alternate routes, and the traffic *still* ran smoothly, sans the occasional accident. But since the I-64 reopening in December of 09, we have a whole slab of fresh concrete to burn oil on. Imagine the luxuriousness of driving to work now! You can practically name a St Louis highway lane after your dog and you'd only have two other people to sue for copyright infringement.
Lucky for me, I don't even have to get on the highway to get to work. In fact, I live two miles away from where I work (Habanero) and I don't even have to go through a single stop light! Nope, I take a secret and unlikely route. One that a co-worker awesomely called a portion of, "the batcave." I now go an extra 5 mph through that section. You're probably saying to yourself, "He totally means that little street that no one knows about that runs under I-55 by Chouteau's Landing. You know, the one by the fenced empty lot?" And you'd be right! Congrats! You win a pictorial tour of my quite unique drive to work! [Prize value: 2 blog points. May be redeemed at any Arch Observer House Of Sarcasm. Now with 20 locations!]
First stop: Beautiful Soulard! Heading towards St. Peter + Mary + Paul - Mary Church the sun is always highlighting that awesome steeple as depicted in this quick pencil sketch I made.
Once I cross Broadway and get closer to the river things get horribly industrial. It's actually quite depressing considering the great things that could be done with such prime real estate. And I say "real estate" because there isn't much there in salvageable buildings if all the industry were to suddenly move out. It's pretty much a wasteland of empty parking lots, concrete blocks and corrugated metal. Would you be so kind, Google maps?

View Larger Map
The one saving grace of this part of the drive is the very clear view of the Arch as bounce my way down the cracked and potholed streets. Number of traffic lights in this area: Zero. Number of stop signs: Two. Next stage: Batcave!
Arch In The Distance
NannaNannaNannaNanna... As you can see in the following photo, the Batcave is nothing to look at. It's not the smoothest ride either to be quite honest with you. What it most certainly is, though, is the most dramatic part of my ride. I'm not ashamed to pretend that I'm driving through some sort of time/distance transportation tunnel - hence the little burst in mph. To leave my "secret" tunnel I bust a right on to Chouteau Ave where I'm magically whisked away to the mystery that is Chouteau's Landing/the-run-down-area-you-see-on-your-left-from-the-highway-as-you-enter-St Louis.
Chouteau's Landing is a funny place. Actually, how St. Louisans pronounce "Chouteau" is what's funny. I'm going to give phonetic spelling a shot here: SHOH-doh. Or, if I were to make a lame joke out of it (which I absolutely will), it's pronounced the same way I'd the answer the question, "Do you like Charleston Chews?"
The interesting thing about this area is that it's home to many of the last original buildings and warehouses left over from the Arch grounds clearing. As discussed in the last post, most of the still remaining buildings are in Laclede's Landing. They do exist here too, but are basically just shells of brick and wood. This area isn't an entertainment district by any means. Except for a few offices and a plant of some sort still active here, the area is mostly abandoned. Sad right? So close to the Arch and downtown... All those historical buildings... Well, fear not!
Someone is making an effort to save Chouteau's Landing. Much of this project has been delayed, but some work recently began on some buildings facing the prime driving strip that is Broadway. But I'm not driving toward Broadway. I'm headed straight east to the river, and the only thing I can see in front of me is the graffiti wall.
And it is glorious. You can see it coming all the way down Chouteau, but it's hard to understand it's size until you cross the railroad tracks and get dwarfed by its magnitude. Ok, it's not THAT big, but it really is quite a sight as you get closer. Sadly, much of the good art by graffiti artists that know what they are doing has been covered by amateurish paintings of genitalia and stick figures. Luckily, this is just a small portion of the painted wall that apparently stretches much further south down the river. One day I'm going to pack a lunch, roll around in some dirt, throw on a huge backpack and walk down to see how far it goes. There's a possibility of some original artwork down farther...
Apparently, as few as 10 years back, there was some sort of yearly competition called Paint Louis that would draw the world's finest graffiti artists. I've found a few articles and video's of the original work, but there isn't much out there to get a full sense of what this event was like. That sort of makes sense if you keep in mind this mostly happened in the 90's. We were using printer paper that you had to rip the edges off of and the internet was still powered by Al Gore rubbing balloons on his hair. Here's one interesting tidbit; the original website for Paint Louis has been updated recently. It's now just a blog, but the main title reads "Paint Louis 2010." It's quite possible the original owners of the URL just let it lapse and someone else is just throwing a few posts up, but what if? I'd be so into it, but it would totally mess up my secret shortcut to work for a few days... Oh yeah, take a left!
Suddenly, there's a huge river on your right as you travel up Wharf St. I'm not going to leave you hanging here... It's the Mississippi River! This stretch leading up to the Arch is interesting for two things. If you wanted to, you could literally drive your car into the river. I'm not sure if it's original or what, but the whole bank of the river here is large brick cobblestone rubbed smooth from years of taking the occasional water beating. If you have a boat, you could launch it right here in the shadow of the Arch. Just think about the cool points you'd score if you were showing off to future in-laws or making a video for college admission application. Sorry... When I imagine scenarios I tend to movie-fy them.
The other interesting aspect of this stretch is the ample parking lining the road. And there are *always* people parked there. Not just empty cars, mind you. No, people just sit in them. And it's not like it's crazy scenic here. They could easily park down closer to the Arch and get even better views. Something weird is going on here... Sometimes I think it's prostitution related and other times I think it's drugs. It's probably neither, but it sure does make my drive even more exciting!
The last part of my drive takes me past the Arch towards the Eads Bridge. There isn't a time of day or visual angle that lessens how impressive and beautiful the Arch looks. Honestly, if you haven't been directly underneath it, you have no idea how huge it is. It's scale is deceptive. A now under-appreciated neighbor to the Arch is the Eads Bridge. Something many St Louisans don't know is that, before the Arch, the Eads Bridge was St Louis's main attraction. I happened to catch some old 1950's era documentary on KPLR a few months ago that highlighted St Louis's major attractions and I was amazed that almost all the focus was on this bridge I had been taking for granted. It was considered a triumph when it was finished in 1874 as the longest arch supported bridge and the first bridge constructed with true steel. I won't go too deep into the history of the Eads Bridge, but this wikipedia article is awesome. To prove to the public that it was safe they led an elephant across because it was thought at the time that an elephant wouldn't walk on something if it wasn't safe. Silly 19th centurions.
Finally, I swing a left onto Washington avenue and make my way to the parking garage near my office at Laclede's Landing. Easy-peasy. Total traffic lights crossed: zero. Total stop signs: five. Total time traveling: four minutes. Total arbitrary number better than other people's drive: twenty-three.
Of course, if we score that Google Fiber super-speed internet, I may never have to leave the house again. I could just internet to work. That thing has so much bandwidth I could probably fit an arm in there. Eh, I think I'd make the drive anyway... I mean, how many other people get to pass that close to the Arch everyday?
By the way, you should seriously take a look at the new city website on getting Google Fiber to St Louis. The business alone that it would draw to the city is worth investing a few minutes of your time getting the word out. Plus, it would please the Google God. You wouldn't want to feel that smite. His wrath is mighty, but decorated almost daily.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The New New Old Rock House

Something amazing is happening in St Louis. Within the past few months we've gone from a city that many of the hottest bands seemingly avoid at all costs, to an unfettered hotbed of scheduled live shows. Now before you start checking TicketMaster for that Color Me Badd reunion tour you've been pining for, let's set some guidelines on what constitutes a "hot" band. First of all, I must like them. I mean, if I didn't this would be the worlds second most boring post right after this actual post. Secondly, they must have some sort of Independent Music buzz - the kind of bands that sell out small to mid-range venues like the Metro in Chicago. Thirdly, they can't be Jay-Z. You see, these aren't the types of bands you'd hear on the radio. Occasionally you'll catch one on Letterman, making their television debut, but they get most of their exposure from webmag's like Pitchfork and by general word-of-mouth.
Anyway, St. Louis often gets skipped by these types of bands. Two of the reasons are that so few people live downtown where most of the venues (Off Broadway, The Firebird) are located, that it's hard to bid on a popular band fearing a low draw. And, second, much of these band's target audience live in college towns. Sure, both Wash U and SLU pull in some great shows, but not the caliber or draw power of a band like, say, Midlake. Well, suddenly, that's all changed. There is a new venue muscling it's way onto the scene and it's name is Old Rock House (ORH).
It began with We Were Promised Jetpacks (WWPJ), a band all the way from Scotland, who's debut album was a real highlight for me last year. I kept searching the computer screen for some venue name that wasn't Old Rock House, but sure enough, on March 15, that is where they are playing. I thought it was an odd choice for WWPJ, but I'd enjoy seeing a band in a different venue. After all, I'd had drinks at ORH before and I found it to be an enjoyable experience. Then came a shocker...
Frightened Rabbit! A band (also coincidentally from Scotland) that is responsible for one of my fave albums of the past 5 years was playing in St Louis. And they were playing at ORH!?!? Frightened Rabbit had, just a year ago, shut me out from two shows in Chicago which sold out almost as quickly as they went on sale and now they were playing at a place that I recently considered "just a bar." It didn't stop there. Not long after that, the aforementioned and well regarded Texas Indie band, Midlake, booked there. Suddenly I realized what I was dealing with here is a NEW Old Rock House.
And that's where my boring music rant takes an interesting turn... Apparently, this new Old Rock House is new in another way too. Yes, there was originally another and very famous Old Rock House that previously stood near what is now the stairs going up from the river to the Arch. This older Old Rock House was one of the original stone buildings in St Louis. Built in 1818 out of rubble-stone by Manuel Lisa, the Old Rock House was originally a fur trade post at the corner of Chestnut and the river levy. It's most famous, however, for being the absolute best place on the Mississippi river to get a hangover and probably a few STD's.
In 1880 Old Rock House was turned into a saloon where one could enjoy a nice Ramos Gin Fizz with anyone from the riverboat captains to Mark Twain himself. It was a favorite of millionaires and warehouse workers alike. At some point during this time a mansard roof was added which gave it, as you can see in the pictures, a very unique, dare I say, awesomely ugly design. This addition gave the owners enough room to let their patrons rent a bed for the night, presumably so as not to drink and ride horseback.
Of course, the original old neighborhood fell on hard times as Mark Twain and horses were replaced by Ryan Seacrest and trains. With city planners looking for a way to clear an area they thought was a blight, plans for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial were drafted. Land and old buildings were soon bought up for clearing and demolition. Only three buildings were to be saved - the Old Cathedral, the Old Courthouse and, yes, the Old Rock House. I assume back then the first two were just called "Cathedral" and "Courthouse," otherwise, it seems to me it would be ridiculously easy to save your building by adding "Old" to the front of the name. Interestingly, it was reported that Franklin Roosevelt himself requested that the Old Rock House be saved. I knew that guy could party.
It wasn't until 1947 that submissions were taken for what the memorial itself would be. All the committee members agreed that Eero Saarinen, indeed, had the coolest name and should be awarded first place. Luckily, he had designed what we now know as the Arch. "But wait a second... I've been to St Louis and seen the Old Courthouse and Old Cathedral, but there is no Old Rock House on the Arch grounds." Yeah, well that's not the only thing that was supposed to be on the Arch Grounds... See Saarinen's 2nd draft below.
There are all sorts of things on this drawing that aren't on the Arch grounds; Frontier Village, Tea Pavilion, restaurants, even a TJ Maxx if I'm reading that map right. And what's that? Yep, the original design called for the Old Rock House to be the entrance into the Arch. Pretty sweet if you ask me. Unfortunately, as plans to begin construction edged closer, another issue appeared - Old Man Railroad (not be confused with buildings starting with "Old" referenced earlier in this post). At the time the country still relied heavily on railroads and the Old Rock House stood right in the path of least resistance. Congress refused to grant the building funds until the issue was resolved and boom went the dynamite.
Well, not literally. Actually the Old Rock House was dismantled with the promise of rebuilding at another site. The public, satisfied with getting a brand new shiny Arch, never questioned it and, slowly, it's memory faded. In 1965 an article ran reporting that more than half of the presumably stored Old Rock House was missing. Project leaders thought that only the original parts of the building were worth saving so they discarded anything that was added on in subsequent years. Pile on the fact that reconstruction was never budgeted and you have a recipe for Old Rock House failure.
As for where pieces of the Old Rock House now rest, there are apparently a few stones stored openly in the Old Courthouse, but after that there isn't much to go on. It's likely lost forever. Or is it???
Well, yes, it is. But now there's the New Old Rock House. Or, wait, the New New Old Rock House (NNORH). While I'm sure the owners of the NNORH probably use the name as a tribute to St Louis' drinking establishment past, I'm surprised not to find any history on their website about the original bar. I think that's bullshit... Ahhh, who am I kidding. I can't stay mad at you NNORH. You're making my band seeing dreams come true and I couldn't be happier to be seeing them in a place I'll try to pretend has a bed I can't rent upstairs.
Before this post ends, I'd like to to touch on all the historic building stock St Louis lost to the Arch grounds. Block upon block was razed with the Eads Bridge the only thing saving Laclede's Landing from a similar fate. Imagine a whole riverfront neighborhood with original cobblestone streets like the Landing. I imagine it would remind people a bit of the French Quarter in New Orleans. While the Arch may define us as a city, I can't help but consider the cost. Check out these sites for pictures and information about the Old Rock House and this lost part of the city. I gathered all of my info there.
Coincidentally, this year marks an impasse for the monument. Poor original design of the interstate system has cut downtown off from the Arch and Mississippi River for decades and the park surrounding the Arch is rarely used. After years of public input there is a new competition taking place to design a new park around the base of the monument that matches the Arch's grandeur. As designs are being slowly whittled down, there has been no word yet on what the best include, but most interested community members are hoping for a connection with downtown again. Completion of the project is due in 2015. Damn it, I hate when my posts get all serious.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. This is an emergency post from the Arch Observer emergency weird beard shaving broadcasting system. This is, in fact, a real emergency. In the event there wasn't one you'd wonder why they make this drag on and then before it's finally over do one more long, loud beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. Luckily, as I said before, this is a real emergency and since I've never heard what a real one sounds like, I'll just assume a dude comes on and says, "Look, we're all gonna die. Here are the secrets we, the government, have been keeping from you. Secret #1: There is no Delaware - We made it up. Secret #2: Benjamin Franklin invented casual Friday's so we could figure out who the weirdos in the office were. Secret #3..." And on and on.
Anyway, sorry about the emergency. I had a work-related picture taking today and I needed to shave for it. Since I have no time left today to write a proper Arch Observer post, I'm going to use my short time to put out a missing water containers report.
Last Saturday I was at another sellout Arch Rival Roller Girls bout. It was at this M-80's vs Smashinista's bout (full disclosure: I bench coach for the Smashies) when I lost my dear 3-year-old, white Sigg water bottle. I only set it down for a moment and then, poof, it was gone like Kaiser Soze. Well, needless to say I feel like I've lost a part of me. Specifically, the part of me I drink out of.
Here's a picture from Kaboodle that suspiciously looks exactly like *my* Sigg bottle. Interestingly, if you go to that page and click to buy, the item is not found. There is something very strange going on and it's got Kaboodle written all over it. I wonder if -
AMBER ALERT: Reported abduction of a Sigg bottle. Last seen sitting atop the M-80's bench. The bottle is white, has multiple large dents and is called, but will not respond to the name Dolton. If you see this bottle please contact immediately.
Seriously. I'm drinking out a glass here...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Missouri Mails You Things

This isn't one of those fun, care-free, sterilized for your protection type posts you're used to from Arch Observer. No, this one poison-tipped. How does one poison-tip a blog post? Dip a corner of the computer you're typing on in whatever large vat of poison you have lying around the house. What's the point? I don't really know. It seemed very vindictive at the time. I wouldn't recommend trying it though. All it did was make it so I can't type the "^" symbol (the real symbol I can't use was replaced by this one for safety's sake) and the contact with my computer has ruined a perfectly good vat of poison. I should have just written this to "Every Rose Has It's Thorn." Anyway, this hastily sorta-poisoned post is aimed towards you, Missouri Department Of Revenue!
Purchasing a new car can be a stressful situation for many people. Not so for me. Doing a ton of homework before a big decision is sort of "my thing." I go in knowing as much as there is to know and there was no exception when I decided on ditching my older, larger, nicer car for more of a city-optimal small car. When all was said and done I chose to go with a Volkswagen Rabbit. It fit all of my pre-purchase needs; It needed to be small, a good value, have an auxiliary jack for the iPod and drive reasonably well. It even came with a bonus Donnie Darko inspired nickname: Frank. Well, it didn't come with it. I added it on.
All my mindless research and back and forth with dealerships led me to Sunset Ford out on Gravois Rd in St Louis County. The used VW Rabbit they had on the lot completely fit all my categories of want and even looked like a Frank. I was helped by an excellent representative by the name of Derrick Wood. Derrick is the internet sales manager and could not have been any nicer or straight forward. We worked out a price over email and the phone before I even saw the car.
It was seriously the finest car buying experience I've had and I can go on and on, but that not at all what this post is about. Buying the car was what led me to discovering a slightly strange fact about Missouri law. Before we get into this let's hop in my Delorean time machine (I don't use it as a day-to-day car), punch in one year ago this month, get this baby up to 88 mph, and get in line with 1-year-younger me at the St Louis BMV. That was where a very nice lady handed me a letter and instructed me to send it to the lien holder for my car. The letter instructed my lien holder, GMAC, to kindly send the title of the car to the Missouri Department of Revenue. I found this strange considering that every other state I've lived in doesn't ask for this. Feeling a little off about it, I asked her to clarify. Yes, in the state of Missouri the lien holder does not get to keep the title. Satisfied with the answer, I left it at that. I send the letter... GMAC sends them the title... Whatever.
Oh no! It's 10:03 pm! Quick - get back in the Delorean!
Back to 2010. Or "the Future." I go to see the finance guy at the dealership to finish up the paperwork. He asks me for the Saab's title. I say the state of Missouri has it. I know this because GMAC sent me letter saying they had sent it to them. "Yeah," he says, "they should have then sent it to you." I never received a car title I assured him, but he insisted that they should have sent it to me. He makes a few phone calls and the state gives him a date that they apparently sent it. This was now proof enough that I lost it. I agree, blaming the mail is a huge cliche, but in my building they screw up the mail all the time. I'm not surprised at all.
What I am surprised at is that the State sends title in the mail and doesn't, at least, certify them! I mean, it's a car title. A pretty important document if you ask me. If I had known that Missouri actually sends these to people I might have called and inquired to where mine was at. I never considered they'd send me a title to a car that I didn't outright own. I had assumed it was safe and warm in the belly of some concrete building in Jeff City sitting next to government conspiracy documents. Surely I'd need Nicholas Cage to acquire such important paperwork. Nope, they send it to you. Presumably wrapped in newspaper.
Not knowing that the state does such a thing cost me an extra $50 so that Sunset Ford could get a new copy of the title. Nevermind that it only costs $11 through the Missouri Department of Revenue. Apparently this puts Sunset Ford out so the extra cash is to recover... I don't know... Styrofoam coffee cups and rubber key chains. Luckily, my experience here didn't ruin the whole car purchase for me. It was a short and annoying inconvenience that I thought they were being a bit ridiculous on, but I still drove away happy that I had made a good decision.
And let's get this straight. It was only $50. Certainly a small pittance compared to the cost of the vehicle. Plus, it's still true that the title was my responsibility even though I had no knowledge that it should be. Still, I could have used that money on a sweet french fry holder.
There you go Missouri Department of Revenue. This post just totally nailed you. Literally dozens of people will hear about this. And just think if a link to this falls into the wrong hands... I imagine those "wrong hands" might send a sternly written but poorly worded email about this to completely the wrong department. Again, that's if. Consider this your warning. In the meantime I'll likely just raise my eyebrows a little whenever I get mail from you. Visually, most won't notice, but inside I'll mocking you. Perhaps my first chance will be if and when I get the title for Frank. Wouldn't it be a delicious update if I don't end up getting that one too. Eh... I'm actually sort of over it already. Apparently blogging is cathartic. Instead I'll just update the Facebook status. Segue!
That's right! In case you haven't noticed has joined Facebook. Check over to the right of the screen and click on the "become a fan" button if you're interested in day-to-day observering. I'll be doing things like updating my beard status as well as live updating from different St Louis events and such. Plus, it's a great chance to publicly judge me and discuss topics with other fans. Wow! It's like we're from the future!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Day With Metro St Louis *Slash* I Rode A Bus!

Full disclosure: I actually have ridden a bus. The title to this wasn't supposed to throw you off, but I can see how it could. Quite the contrary, busses and I have a long and heated history going all the way back to 1st grade. That was the year I saw a 12 year old boy hit a 10 year old girl in the head with a lunch box. Keep in mind this was 1983 and lunch boxes were built like cars and weighed 7 pounds. I mean, seriously... Did the 80's not have the best built lunch boxes of any decade? Why did I need steel and iron to protect my cheese and mustard sandwich? Yes, I often had cheese and mustard sandwiches when I was a child. Try trading that... Anyway, yeah, one of my earliest memories of the bus was a girl bleeding from the head and the bus driver having no idea what to do.
Cut to 25 years later and where do I find myself? Riding with Ms. Courtney Sloger down Broadway past the Farmers Market in just such a contraption. My life had come full circle! There she was bleeding, and I with my metal He-man lunchbox... Woah... Flashback... Luckily for Courtney, that actually didn't happen. However, I had an uneasy feeling as I climbed the steps on my first bus ride in quite a long time. As it turned out, my school bus flashback was probably the most dangerous thing on that bus. Well, other than my dance moves.

I hadn't ridden a bus since 1993. And that was a school bus. True story. In all honesty, I had no idea how to ride a public transportation bus, nor did I want to. I always assumed they weren't a safe way to travel. After all, that's what all the scoundrels, kidnappers and identity thieves used when they wanted to look for their next victim. So, when Courtney from Metro asked me to go for a ride on a few of the downtown bus routes to get my opinion on St Louis public transportation, I had no idea what I would think about it, but I assumed the worst. I mean, it's the bus! Right?!

Yeah, it is the bus. It's not glamorous and you're always on their schedule, but they weren't like I assumed. First of all, they weren't dirty or falling apart. Second, they're kind of fun! Did you know you can control the bus!?!? Yeah, there's a cord you can pull on that makes the driver stop! I thought they only had those in the movies. Actually, it's a bit embarrassing that I didn't know that. I guess I thought it worked like the train... Fine, I thought it was still like the school bus. They stop everywhere. That would be impractical for buses. Make sure you're paying attention when you're getting close to your destination. They'll pass it by if no one is standing there or you don't notify the driver that it's your stop.

Currently, that's the most fun part of bus riding... A few negatives for me: At least on some buses, you need exact change. As a guy who rarely carries cash (apparently Brunswick Zone "fun dollars" don't work anywhere) it would be much more convenient for me to pay with debit. Unfortunately, the cost of installing a system like that on Metro's buses would be well beyond current public funding. Also, I think there is a sharp learning curve to hopping on the taking-the-bus wagon. I just don't know the routes. Very few stops post the times or the routes the bus will be taking. Multiple bus lines stop at the same location. I just think it's too easy for a new rider to get lost in all of this. I would imagine that it becomes routine after a few rides, but it's a big jump for me.

That said, there's one route Courtney took me on that I could really see as useful to the quickly thriving downtown-living community. The 99... Or the Downtown Circular (PDF). This route seems like a great opportunity for Metro to cash in on the late night crowd that hops bar to bar down Washington Ave, not to mention post-Cards and Blues games. Also, for those nights that parking around Washington Avenue is impossible, a park and ride seems like a pretty smart idea. If your friends think it's weird just tell them you're doing your part to save the earth. They shouldn't mock you for that, but if they note that driving to the city and then taking the bus for a mile doesn't really help save the earth, just remind them that they paid $10 for parking. And that wearing a fedora is douchy - it's 2010 for God's sake. Of course, you could have just taken the Metrolink in and saved your friends from themselves.

I have taken the Metrolink before... I actually find it quite enjoyable and would take it often if given the opportunity. Therein lies the problem... The Metrolink light rail system in St Louis is simply inadequate. Living anywhere north or south of the city you really don't have any easy access to it. Sure, I could drive to it, but why not drive a few miles more to my destination... I could bus it, but now we're talking a serious increase in travel time. Public transportation thrives on being convenient and St Louis' simply isn't. Take a look at Chicago's L map. It's like the veins of the city. Just like off ramps on an expressway, businesses thrive around L stops. Now take a look at Metrolink's map.

View MetroLink Stations, St. Louis, MO in a larger map
What we're missing here is a convergence. A hand, of sorts, stretching throughout the city. I'd take the train quite often if one came through Soulard. Unfortunately, this is not a likely scenario anytime soon. There's a vote coming up in April on a small tax increase to support St Louis transit. Now, I've heard rumors that no one likes tax increases... That may or may not be true, but before you pass judgement, do a little research. Check out the for more detail on exactly what the small increase would be and what St Louis could gain from it. Also, hit up this explanation of the possibilities from the St Louis Post-Dispatch where you can find some maps on proposed expansion. After all that reading, if you're so inclined, join the Facebook Group, "Vote Yes For Public Transit in St Louis," that's dedicated to supporting the issue. Even if you're against it, it might be fun to go Troll it out over there. Start with, "you suck." That always works.
As for my time on the buses with Courtney, I'm happy to say both of us made it out without any serious head-wounds. You can find Courtney blogging over at and on twitter at @STLTransit. Thanks for the fun ride Courtney! I wish I could remember how to safely secure my bike to the front of the bus... To Arch Observer video!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

How Do You Wake Up A Sleeping City? Yelp!

It's not like I'm constantly thinking about how St Louis can improve, but I do think about it a lot. Case in point: As you know, one of the most important discussions you can have at work (besides the validity of Mark Wahlberg as an "actor") is what is everyone having for lunch. During a one those deep discussions last week a co-worker was wondering what he can get in the downtown vicinity fast. Then it hit me. I sat back in my seat in complete and utter shock. My jaw figuratively fell to the floor. My brows literally furrowed in a way that makes my forehead wrinkle so strangely that it can only be compared weird-wise to the likes of my Weird Beard. Yes, I'm exaggerating. Well, not about the forehead.
Anyway, you're likely asking why you're still reading about me describing my shock. Relax, I'm trying to build drama. Here comes the payoff... While my co-worker wondered where he can pick up food quick, I realized that there isn't a McDonald's downtown! How is that possible? They're everywhere! I think there was one in my basement when I was a kid. Actually, I should clarify that there *are* McDonald's in "downtown" St Louis. There's one pretty far south on Jefferson and Google maps (The Mickey D's listed on there are incorrect) tells me there's one on Tucker a few blocks north of Washington Ave, but I wouldn't count either of those walkable to the everyday downtown worker. Not that this is a bad thing.
It's not like not having a McDonald's is a huge loss. I, personally, don't even eat fast food. It's just weird to imagine a major downtown area without one! Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago it's hard not to find two McDonald's within a mile of each other. And in downtown Chicago, if it's not McDonald's it's something else. No matter which way you swing a love handle there will likely be a fast food restaurant begging you to try their new "premium" something. Try that in downtown St Louis and you'll quickly notice that your stomach will be pointing at almost anything other than a fast food joint.
And that's where it gets even weirder. There really isn't a lot of chain restaurants downtown. Going even further, there aren't very main chains of anything! There are very few stores you'll recognize when traveling in the core of the business district. Where am I going with all this? Well, what you *will* see is a downtown stocked with locally owned small businesses.
Yes! Another thing that makes downtown St Louis awesome! It hasn't been destroyed by Walmart-like corporate invasion. I realize some of this wouldn't hurt. Hell, I'd be crazy excited for a downtown Apple store. What we have now, though, is a local business heaven and we need to preserve it.
It's no secret many downtown restaurants are struggling. There's just not enough people here to fill all of them all the time. But it's getting there. I foresee a time not so far away where every empty storefront is bustling with customers... Where it will be difficult to get a table on a Tuesday night at Jade... Where El Borracho will need to kick a full bar of people out at closing... Where we'll all be driving flying cars... Here's the cool part. I'm not the only one.
Perhaps the most telling sign that downtown St Louis is about to explode is that the local business-centric website, Yelp, has begun investing in making a presence here. Yelp is huge in most of the major US cities and they've recently installed a St Louis Community Manager (the person in charge of sponsorships and organizing Yelpers) who'll be expanding their operations in the coming months. What this means for local businesses is that they'll be getting support not only from a large online community, but free promotion. That is, if they want it. Too often small businesses ignore what people are saying about them online. A smart business owner will take advantage of what Yelp brings them - direct discussion with their customers that potential customers will very likely see. This city is on gigantic opportunity and we need to take advantage of any help others are willing to give us.
So there. We don't need McDonald's if we've already got great local businesses that offer good food fast. Oh, you don't know where to go or if you'll like it? Hmm... Try Yelp. And feel free to contribute. We'll only get out of it what we put in it. I think I'll end this with a Yelp review I wrote for the aforementioned Jade. Too bad Yelp doesn't accept reviews of Mark Wahlberg... It wouldn't be pretty.
Jade Restaurant and Lounge
910 Olive St.
St Louis, MO 63101

The first thing you'll notice about Jade is exactly what you won't notice... A large, well placed sign. It's a bit hard to find - especially on a dark rainy night.

The great news is that everything else about it is delightful! From the decor, to the cleanliness, to the excellent and accommodating staff, I was pleasantly surprised on my visit to Jade Restaurant and Lounge.

The food? Another win. If you judge your asian food on the deliciousness of the crab rangoon like so many St Louisans do, you'll be very happy you chose to dine there. It's hand made, crisp and not too greasy. Pretty much everything you want in a rangoon.

I, however, judge almost solely on the spicy tuna roll. And let me tell you... it was the best I've had in St Louis. That's no joke. Perhaps it was just a good night for the Sushi chef, but I haven't had better here. The tuna was fresh, the rice perfectly cooked and the spiciness was just right. I'll be a patron of Jade again sometime soon just to make sure it's as good as I had the first time. Until then, 4 stars!

One caveat - when I was there it was mostly empty similar to other reviews here. Being a new restaurant I hope people give it a chance. If the problem is that you can't find it, just go to the corner that Culinaria is on and walk west. When you smell crab rangoon take a left and enter the door. You're either in an Asian restaurant at that point or somebody's apartment building. If you're in an Asian restaurant, you're probably at Jade! Sit down and order some saki. If you're in an apartment building, look at the resident listing like you're pretending to visit someone. Then feign a cell phone call and say out loud, "Oh, you're at Jade? I'll be right there!" This saves embarrassment. Now leave and start over from Culinaria.
P.S. Since this review was written Jade's business has considerably picked up. I'm happy to say you'll now find it much busier! Also, here's some of my other reviews to peruse.