Wednesday, August 30, 2006

My favorite... gas station

Now, I'm partial to QuikTrip, mostly because they are clean and well-lit and safe for a girl alone at night. I do, of course, enjoy the 7/11 Citgo combos, but mostly because I like a slurpy about as often as they come. But I do have a favorite gas station in STL, and nope, it's not the free world's largest AMOCO sign. There's a Phillips 66 off of Delor and S. Grand (way South). They have a basket of fruit by the checkout, and a whole big swivel stand of greeting cards (many of which had something to do with George Bush, if I remember correctly). It's clean, and the staff are way friendly. I don't get there very much, but there is something about the things they think to include that make me want to go out of my way. Gas is a simple necessity for most of us folk. Going somewhere that makes you happy is purely a bonus.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Tourist Tuesday: The Hideaway

I, oddly, always wished I was born in an era where people dress up for cocktails. I love the Roarin' Twenties, knees showing, flapper dresses flying. There was both a formality to entertainment and an irreverance. Entertainment came, in some form or another every night. Now, except in rare cases, the place has become the entertainment itself, and long lost are the days of getting dressed up to go out for the evening. No one (other than Vance Thompson) seems to get dressed up and go out for a spin anymore. And yet, the Hideaway, on Arsenal, just east of Hampton still exists.

I came across some notes I made in the spring for a piece for (and never got around to writing), and I decided it made the perfect Tourist Tuesday suggestion. It's not tourist-y, but it has all the symptoms of being a place we don't usually go to, and one which we overlook for its obvious grace. The Hideaway is a throwback, straight-up, a piano bar that perpetually has a sign up saying "barmaid wanted". Barmaid. They have an older man and an older woman who play the piano and sing-- on weekends, usually together. She likes showtunes, and sings a fine dandy about seduction.

The place is bathed in red, and one of the first things you notice before entering is they have a dress code, allbeit a lax one, but it's posted. It's also posted in the entry, as well as behind the bar, "no profanity". Ah, class, and standards. I told you it's a throwback. Each seat at the bar has its own ashtray and its own little crocheted red placemat. When I mentioned this to my mom, she remembered all kinds of places she went to while growing up that offered these little luxuries.

My favorite part: there's a disco ball and small dancefloor. And if you're lucky, any one of the half dozen older couples that inhabit the place will be up dancing. And when I say dancing, I mean dancing for all it's worth: without a care in the world, in total joy of one another. It's beautiful, and though I don't dance, it makes me want to get dressed up every time and it makes me wish I would.

As tourists, we're looking to encounter new things, find new places, and discover some local color. Along the way, most of us want to find out something about ourselves. This Tuesday, I can't think of anywhere better to recommend.

5900 Arsenal (645-8822)

Monday, August 28, 2006

You should know... Matt Krentz

Too often in this city, those are truly helping to build our culture and give St. Louis a good name get left out. Boo hiss, I say. Or, if we talk about national contribution to the entertainment landscape it comes in the form of Nelly or Chingy or ... you get the picture. That's why you should know Matt Krentz.

Matt Krentz has been getting some media attention the last few weeks for the film Streetballers, a feature he wrote several years ago, and one which he is also directing and acting in. I caught a quick profile of Matt on Fox News the other week and Matt made a point of saying repeatedly that there were people who thought that he should make this film in NYC or LA or Chicago, that he needed to go to a big city to be successful. Matt stood his ground. He wrote the film in STL, about STL and he wanted to film it in STL. I admire his perseverence, and I applaud him standing his ground. He wanted to make this film in St. Louis, and that's what he's doing.

Why people think STL is not a place where art and culture can be created, I don't understand. But I love that someone with talent (and a budding reputation) stood up for this city and saw something here that could not be translated into another locale.

Matt Krentz is a filmmaker who was born and raised in St. Louis. I met him years ago when I first moved to town and we worked together for a spell while Matt was in between gigs working at the Sundance Institute. He has made several acclaimed shorts and worked on quite a few productions. His own company, MSK Productions is now making Streetballers. While Matt might possibly be one of kindest and most genuine people I know, he's also a visionary. Despite him not living in St. Louis full time anymore, he is often back here for work, and he brings his work with him when possible.

So if you see a crew out filming, it could be MSK. But more importantly, if you see a crew filming, think about all the things that they are bringing to this city. It's one thing for us to make great art here; it's quite another to fight with financiers to come back here and help make STL a city of great art.

I wish Matt luck, and I can only suggest that if you meet him, pay attention. Matt may go all over the place to make films, but when he had his choice, he came home. That kind of risk and vision is what we need, and it's what will help pave the way for our survival, as well as our renaissance. So really people, you should know him. He's going to make a difference.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Hoobellatoo Hurrah

Okay, so those cool cats over at Hoobellatoo, the St. Louis-based arts collective are putting on a Happening this weekend at the Royale. Sunday night (8/27) from 6-9pm at the Royale (3132 S. Kingshighway), the Hoobellatoo-ers are throwin' an Experiential Auction. This is not your momma's PTA school auction where you go home with some golf package or a basket of muffins. This is an auction for all of us.

Entry is $10, which goes to help fund Hoobelletoo and all their cool endeavors. (Your entry also goes towards your first bid). It's okay: what's an experiential auction, you ask? Well, the organizers hooked up all sorts of St. Louis specific ways to have fun. There are private meals or outings with the likes of Joe Edwards and Bill Christman-- two U. City visionaries, as well as private Schlafly tours with the head-brewer, a sound recording done by Jason Hutto, or performance pieces done by several great artists in different mediums. There's stuff for kids, couples, entreprenuers. Ultimately, the way I see it, for a donation, you get to experience this city the way the movers and shakers do. If you ask me, that's pretty f-ing cool, and fairly priceless.

My two favorites:

*Despite my hating Bukowski, I think it's pretty awesome that KDHX No-Show host Brett Underwood loves him so much. Brett will record a bit of Bukowski for your outgoing message on your voicemail. (And if you've never heard Brett before, there is some spirit of Bukowski in him-- luckily not the womanizing part though...)

*A tour o' the city with Steve Smith. I've had a lot of travels with Steve. If you want to see this city like you never have before (and he's likely to give you the historical as well as the seedy underbelly-ful trivia), bid on this one. And the bigt bonus, you get to ride in the Caddy. I know, it might seem like show, but I guarantee you someone you know will see you while you're out, and I promise you it's almost like being the star of your own parade (with some great narration).

So help out the Hoobellatoo folks. None of us need more crap, but we do still crave genuine and creative experiences. Those sorts of things are the kind you can't put a price on (so instead, bid a huge donation).

For more info, check out their website at:

Friday, August 25, 2006

The 7 Series, Reason #1

If you don't know about Hoosierweight Boxing, you're living in a hole, or perhaps so far outside of the city so as to be removed from all things progressive and interesting. Now, Hoosierweight Boxing is great-- the brainchild of Steve Smith, but its predecessor of Backyard Boxing. I know, strange but true. Boxing is the thing that kept me in St. Louis.

The above picture was taken in March of 2003 at the City Museum (the first fights there, and the fights that day were far superior to the ones that would follow at that venue). Pictured are Bradley Bowers (my business partner) and Keith Savage, with Steve's father, Pat Smith, in the back as the referee. I had heard tales the previous years from people who worked at KDHX and people who knew Steve-- tales of backyard boxing.

When I first heard these whispers, almost always right before or right after the summer holidays when the bouts were held-- I did not think much of it. Frankly, I am not a boxing fan. And I (very mistakenly) supposed that if people were fighting in their backyard that it was some kind of drunken fest of stupidity. Oh, how very wrong I was. If you lived on the South Side in the early 2000's, you knew of those matches. And when you knew more, you wanted to be there. Steve would put on fights, complete with belly dancers, fire eaters, trading cards, refreshments, and a few hundred friends and neighbors coming to watch. Backyard Boxing, to me, symbolized the greatest of an underground confluence on the SS. It was organic. The entertainment stemmed from people Steve knew. It came from suggestions and hypotheses. Some of those early fights were moments of great boxing-- boxing for the science of it, for the pure pleasure of it. It was adrenaline and creativity flying out in sweat and blood-- the exact recipe of almost all successes, this one just a little more literally.

So, in March of 2003, just when I thought I was done with St. Louis... just when I thought I might have to leave, I went to go see Bradley fight at the City Museum. I knew Steve and Thomas Crone, Bradley and Keith, and some of the others by name or sight. It was an exquisitely warm March day. I remember standing in short sleeves and drinking beer outside underneath the nascent MonstroCity. There were children running, loud bands playing, belly dancers walking the catwalks above. People brought their dogs and food was on the grill. Hundreds of people stood outside, and there was an electricty in the air. Here were all these artists and writers and bar/restaurant owners duking it out. Here were people who trained, and wrestled with themselves and got to that ring. Watching, as I looked around, it was the first time I saw STL reflected back at me as I had always wished to see it. I saw a city of disparate people-- different races, classes, styles, interests. I saw people with kids and dogs, hipsters, and teens on skateboards. I saw musicians and school teachers and accontants. And everyone was just there, in one place, celebrating this strange spectacle. All those disparate forces that collided that day (including the punches I saw thrown) demonstrated a certain energy to me, a certain possibility.

That day was the reason I stayed. I saw St. Louis our way. Our city. Not the one written about in history books. Not the one that people simply drive through without stopping, or the city that barely gets mentioned on the coasts. Not the city that is mediocre or racist or conservative or Catholic or old-fashioned. I saw a thriving, breathing city that day. And I saw people cheering, late into the night, even when it got cold and jackets were pulled on... No one went home. No one moved other than to scream in support or disappointment. Everyone stayed there, and for that night, I felt a part of the moment.

That night, I knew what St. Louis could be, because I'd just seen it played out, acted out round after round. I knew I'd probably never be in the ring, but I also knew something else. If I wanted my life to be as I envisioned it, I would have to begin fighting. I'm still waiting for the crowd to come watch, but I haven't been knocked out yet.

Thanks, sweet science. And STL, thanks for the ride.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The 7 Series, Part III

[Continuing the list...]

Okay, there are some who say how great Forest Park is. Over and over and over. "Forest Park, Forest Park, Forest Park". And I'll grant you, it is cool. It's huge-- gi-normous even. And it does have those great free museums. And I love the fountain. And it's good people watching. But other than the museums, to be honest, I don't really do much IN Forest Park. It is a strange labrynth to me, and it is the park that I always look at and think, "That's for other people." Don't ask me why. Sometimes these things are not logical.

Now, Tower Grove Park, on the other hand, that's my park, and not just because of proximity. TG is big enough to be a PARK, yet not so mammoth that you get lost or need to take a GPS to navigate off the trails on foot. And people really use TG-- everyday. It may not be a destination park like Forest Park, but check out TG on the weekends, or right when people get off of work-- even in the winter, that place gets used.

In honor of the sevens, I am going to make a quick list of the 7 things I like most about Tower Grove, listed in no certain order.

1. the Victorian pavilions-- beautiful architecture. It makes me feel like I am in an old movie.
2. the pond at the old ruins-- ditto
3. the fountain, west of Circle Drive-- In the summer, the fountain is packed out with kids running through it, laughing, dogs barking, parents chatting on the side. It is the life of the park on a hot day, and I love that it gets so used.
4. in every storm, at least half the trees fall down in the park, yet there are still tons of trees. It's like a Weeble myster to me. I don't quite get it, because so many fall (see the piles of mulch that are the trees from The Big One in July)-- but there are still so many beautiful trees.
5. Kickball. League Kickball. I don't play, but 'nuff said.
6. Surprisingly, if you take the southernmost road along the east side of the park (which is closed to traffic), it's great for rollerblading. Only about 1/2 mile long, I just do it several times. you can go fast, and there's hills, and it's wide (so if like me, you flail, there's lots o' space to fall without killing someone or being killed).
7. Tower Grove Market. Tower Grove Movie Nights. Festivals in Tower Grove.

Basically, I just love the park, and everyday when i drive by, or walk in it, or see others running or grilling, it makes me happy. We use it, and it is truly our park. Forest Park belongs to everyone, but TG is in the heart of all South Siders. Yay.

#1... You know you want to know what was the kicker that made me think this city could be mine. What was the one thing that made me think, I want to live here, to fall in love with this city everyday, to make my life here? It might surprise you.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The 7 Series, Part II

Continuing My List...

#4. THE CITY MUSEUM. There are very few cities that even understand the value of repurposing materials, or the inherent beauty of found objects. We are lucky to have the City Museum, and luckier still that Cassily continues to build it and to offer the museum up for events and projects downtown. I mean, come on people... There are tunnels and fish, treehouses and gigantic slides. There is art to be made and art to be seen, a circus, Beatnik Bob's. There's a bus on the roof, which incidentally was being put on the roof when I first moved to town, and was my first image of the City Museum. And then there are the planes out front, that whole Monstrocity that makes me think of Indiana Jones every time I see it. There is not another place like the City Museum, and we have it. It was enough to convince me that vision and ingenuity were alive and well, and supported, in this city.

#3. The 48 HOUR FILM PROJECT. Yep, I know other cities have this. I know it has expanded to include competitions around the world. Big whoop (although actually, I do like that)... Point being, folks, that St. Louis has been in it to win it. The first year they were expecting ten or eleven teams. They got 26. The next year 36, and this past year 48. For a town where no one thought film was going on, boy were they wrong. And the great thing is, the 48 Hour Film Project seems to just spur on more people to make films. It doesn't have to be a full-time job. It dosn't even have to be serious. The point is to tell a story, any story, to use your head and be creative. St. Louis is becomig a thriving film city. Now we just have to figure out how to continually support and nurture that talent and interest. And all this, in my opinion, thanks to Doug Whyte at KDHX. Talk about a reason to love this city, we encourage our own from within.

Tomorrow...the countdown of my 7 favorite things/reasons to live in STL continues...

Monday, August 21, 2006

The 7 Series, Part I

Seven years ago, I moved to STL-- without a job, and without a friend. I simply came here and gave myself one year to figure it all out. And when I say I came here, it's more like I crashed here. Some other force propelled me to St. Louis. Having just finished school, I knew I needed to leave, but any one place seemed as good as the next. I was awaiting an epiphany, and as usual, the epiphany never came until i did something about it.

I had made a deal with myself. After a month in England, I would have a plan. But when my plane was descending to Chicago on the way back, and I had twenty minutes until I landed and nowhere to go, I got creative. I wrote down nine cities as that plane swooped down towards Lake Michigan. I played eenie-meenie-miney-mo.

St. Louis won, and the rest is history.

When I first moved here, I found myself on the S. Side, near 44 and Grand. In fact, the first time I saw Grand, I knew this was neighborhood. I roamed the city during the day when I was off of work-- visiting museums, getting lost in neighborhoods and finding great things, playing tourist. I wrote letters at night to friends, old professors, cranking out the words on my typewriter to feel the noise of my decision. At that time, this, for me, was a river city of brick and dreams. There was something, it just took me a little while to put my finger on it.

Unlike the majority of people I know, I did not grow up in STL. In fact, I've lived all over the country and also spent a few years in the UK. So when i say I am in love with St. Louis, it is not an affair. It is long-haul, fighting until I tear my fingernails out, crying in frustration but unable to leave: love. It is the love of a place I found, of a place I came to (and stayed in) by choice. It is a love of place, and place is my big thing. And St. Louis has that sense of place; it still retains its own character and its own personality, especially within the city.

Over the next few days, in honor of my seven years here, I will be making lists of my love. These are the images I have collected over the years, the things I first found, and the things that give me continued hope. With any luck at all, you'll see what I see, and maybe something new.


#7. BASEBALL. For anyone who grew up here, this is a no-brainer. For someone like me who had only lived in one city (out of a dozen) that previously had a baseball team, it was like a revelation. I have always referred to St. Louis as a "beer and shorts" kind of town. And it is. That first summer I lived here, I took my mom to a baseball game. She is a longstanding fan, and as we sat in the old Busch Stadium, the sun beginning to set, the Arch in the background, that sea of red, the Anthem playing... I knew I was home. It was a coming together of a city like I had never seen before. I had spent many days at football matches in England, the crowd chanting and cheering, but the sense of fellowship in STL over baseball was different. It was sweeter. It had a meaning, and there was a continuity to it-- parents with small babies in Cards gear, teenagers in groups watching intently, senior citizens out in decorated hats. Baseball ties this town to a certain kind of democratization-- where everyone watching is the same, and equal, and each fan understands each other in one way, at least for a few hours.

That, and I loved that the whole city was about beer and shorts. In St. Louis, in the late nineties, I couldn't find an ounce of pretension if I tried.

#6. BELLERIVE PARK. Located down on S. Broadway-- way down... I stumbled upon Bellerive this spring and was angry-- irate, even-- that no one had ever told me about this park. I love the river. True, I've lived in other river cities, but there is something about the Mississippi, bisecting the country. When I was 11, we were moving across the country and we passed through St. Louis on 70, my mom waking us up to look at the Mississippi and the Arch, to tell us that we had just crossed into the West. I remember not caring, and wondering what the big deal was. It was just a river.

But then there was the Flood of '93, and that idea of just a river changed for me forever. That river was mightly, was dangerous, was powerful. I think of all the towns alongside of it. I think of Lewis and Clark. I think of Huck Finn. There is a history to it, and one which we can bear witness to.

I sit at Bellerive Park a lot in the mornings, reading, watching the river. The barges which move so slowly beneath. It's like the world slows down for a bit, and I am seeing the same thing that so many others have seen over time. It's a beautiful view-- unparalleled in St. Louis. And even though most people who live here don't hold a lot of stock in the river, I love it. And I love that park.

#5. The NORTH SIDE. When I first moved here, people warned me of the N. Side. "Way worse than East St. Louis," they said: gangs, carjackings, drugs, prostitutes. When I was looking at apartments, I had taken 70 west instead of 44 and got off on N. Grand instead of S. Grand. Everything was boarded up, derelict, and I cried as i drove thinking that was all I could afford, thinking that was what I had just gotten myself into.

These days, I take N. Grand by choice, though St. Louis Avenue is my favorite street in the whole city. I like to take it from 70 straight west out of the city and into Pine Lawn. On the eastern part of STL Ave., there are grand old homes, beautiful, reminding us of what the N. Side once was. There are small businesses with hand-painted signs, residents sitting out on their porches, kids riding their bikes in the streets (usually with another kid on the handlebars). Sure, there are all those things I was warned about, but I see those things in my neighborhood as well.

And the North Side gives me many things my neighborhood doesn't: Crown Candy, The Goody Goody Diner, the Skate King, Gino's Lounge, Red Bones Den, the big column in the circle, Fairgrounds Park, and beautiful, beautiful grafitti.

I teach on the N. Side, and I love each day as I drive into school. I love it for what it was, and for the possibility I see within it again. I love it for the folks who live there and for the things they try to do to make it better. And I love its raw quality.


These things help create the place I love, the way I used to see this town and what I now see everyday. In this city, it's not the big stuff, but the patch within that you carve for yourself. This is my St. Louis.

Coming soon, Numbers 4-1 on the countdown...

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Insert the hero

There's a saying for those of us who are familiar with working in restaurants: being "in the weeds". I think of that sometimes, of us like tiny insects or small animals, trying desperately to get some perspective, poking our little antennae or our heads up into the world. But we can't see, we're in the weeds.

A seasoned pro of the industry doesn't often get in the weeds. We know the steps to take; we know how to stay on track. We know the cycles of a restaurant, its rhythms and cadences, its crescendos, and we mentally steal ourselves towards those possibilities. That being said, sometimes, it all falls grandly apart, or you are short on staff, or everything breaks at once-- or, for me, these might all happen at the same time. But a veteran will say it out loud, knowing the only way to get out of the weeds is to admit you are in them, to ask for help in getting out. Even if it's just a simple statement, "Gimme a minute, I'm in the weeds." An experienced industry-ite knows that sometimes just acknowledging your situation gets you out. Someone with experience knows that the great thing about being in the weeds is that if you keep moving along at a steady pace, it's bound to clear in just a few minutes. The weeds don't last long, but they sure can rattle you if you don't understand what's on the other side or that soon you'll emerge to see it.

But when you're stuck, when everything is going fantastically wrong around you-- for whatever reason-- and when you know that people are relying on you, that people might be angry at you, that people might not understand, it becomes even more difficult to extend your neck up and hold your head high and find some damn perspective.

Every time I think I conquer this phenomenom, my circumstances push me just a little farther until being in the weeds has a whole new meaning. And it takes a while each time to realize that this too, shall pass. I've decided these days, to do my best to just clearcut through the underbelly of the problem. It might be a bit unorthodox, but perspective comes with time.

In terms of the restaurant-world weeds, sometimes you get an unexpected hero in the story, someone who just inserts themselves into the field with you. And for the person who helped us the other night, here's your haiku... Thank you.

Thursday, It Came Quickly; Weeds Haiku Renga #26

The frenzy comes fast
As glasses start piling up:
I prepare more drinks.

I move through the room
Gliding quickly past tables
Almost out of breath.

Insert the hero
Who smiles, sweeping in to
Help us get it done.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

the brilliance of an old home

All I can say today is that when my house settles at night, it sounds like small firecrackers exploding in the walls. And somehow, crickets have made their way inside my home. Now, I like crickets and all, but I sleep inside for a reason. And the fact that they are trying to mate to my smoke detector as it beeps, is particularly disconcerting. I realize old homes have their charm, but if they could be a little quieter on the nights I need to sleep, I'd be very greatful.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Warehouse, STL

I comb the internet, most days, for hours. I research little things I heard about. I look for funding for projects I'm working on. I read blogs. I'm obsessed with flikr. I write... You know how it is.

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across something about The Warehouse, and suddenly I no longer felt as in-the-know as I usually do. So, I looked at their fledgling website.

The wesbite was short on info., but the images of the space, an old warehouse north of downtown seemed promising. I emailed the Warehouse crew. I received the following reply:


Thanks for your interest in The Warehouse. We are a group of designers in
Saint Louis Missouri that developed an old
warehouse space... turning it into a working studio and gallery. Pioneering
the movement towards the North side of
Downtown near the Historic Landing. The area is full of desolate beautiful
architecture, making this a perfect place for
the "Rebirth of Creativity." We are usually there in the evenings and
weekends having shows once a month. The website
should be updated this week showing images from our opening. The next show
will focus on the artwork, whereas the
previous was more about the introduction of our space.

Once again, thanks for your interest, and if you have any more questions,
feel free to call or email us!

Charlie Smith


As promised, the folks at The Warehouse have updated their site, though it is still woefully short on text, explanation of their shows, or where they came from or want to go. The images are quite gorgeous. They worked hard on that space. And I love that they are trying to propel "the rebirth of creativity". I can't wait to see what they do, and I have my eyes peeled on their sight. I think we'll be hearing more from Charlie and the Warehouse. I'm just happy to see what they have begun.

Friday, August 11, 2006

What your mother tells you isn't always true...

My mom used to always say that imitation was the highest form of flattery. She'd say this, mind you, while my brother was mocking me or my dad was pretending to whine like I did. And later, when I'd come home and complain that I had done something first and then everyone else had started, my mom would remind me of her wisdom-- and say that I should be proud that others wanted to be like me, think like me, do what I did.

Well, I wasn't proud. I was just annoyed.

When my students complain, "she's copying me" or literally start crying (hey, they're ten)because someone had adopted their idea or claimed it as their own, I remember that imitation is not necessarily flattery. Most of the time it's laziness or a downright lack of self-confidence.

So yesterday, when I was reading the paper and went on a tirade about my exasperation of people not having original ideas, I thought back to the idea of imitation and flattery. In business, it's a compliment when people steal your ideas. And that's good because people take them all the time, especially in this town. We get mocked for things we are doing until we find a modicum of success, and then suddenly everyone's on the bandwagon. So, there are times when imitation means you're doing it right. There are times when you're the cool kid everyone wants to be.

But then I thought back to those cries of copying, and I thought about once or twice having to fail my college students for plagiarism. The thing about that is, it's just plain lazy. Most of the time, for less effort 9and with the aid of some self-confidence), one can usually use an idea as a starting point and come up with something way better. When we are young, we get upset when people copy us, or when people use our answers. It seems as we get older, cheating becomes cool; doing what others do is the norm. It's follow or flounder oftentimes. And then, by the time we are adults, some of us have forgotten what it's like to be excited by ideas, to think creatively, to trust our own judgment and experiences to make decisions.

And then there are leaders. I usually think STL is a city of innovation and leadership. It might be underground, but I see creativity and originality everyday, and I see it organically and beautifully. Sadly, in the past week, I've seen more of the other side: followers, cheaters, copiers, facsimiles, criers. Well, here's what i have to say: if you fall into that latter group, you're found out. I expect more, and I am demanding more of this city. As consumers, as citizens, and as leaders, we also need to demand more.

So I'm calling out the copycats. They know who they are.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ghost Town

Growing up, I thought ghost towns were the stuff of legend. I understood that they might have existed once, but I thought somehow that they were places specifically populated by ghosts, places where bad things had happened. I didn't understand why everyone would just leave a town, unless it was scary.

When I was a bit older (12?), my parents and I went to Buena Vista , Colorado for a weekend. We four-wheeled over a ridiculously high pass that was one-lane. We sat in hot springs. We went to a real ghost town up in the mountains. A saloon, a store, a couple of houses. No one lived there. No tourist-y stuff, just a place that you stumble upon, one that the locals talked about. My dad wouldn't let me look in the buildings because he didn't know if the structures were safe, so we left seemingly as quickly as we'd arrived. But, later that same day, headed back to the ranch where we were staying with friends, I asked about an old two-story house near the ranch gates, some mile off from the main house. The ranch owners said we could go in there, so my dad and I walked down after a storm had passed.

It was there, in that house, that I understood the meaning of ghosts. Not the phantasmic kind, but of the ghosts of lives which we leave behind. The house was easily turn of the century, a rarity in the mountains. The walls were falling down and daylight came screeching through the cracks. In one corner, I saw an old doll, and one that was surely expensive-- ceramic head, an eye cracked out, a ragdoll body with tattered clothes. I asked my dad why those people would leave, and if they left, why they would surely leave behind what had to have been one of the only toys they had. My dad didn't have an answer, but as we both thought about it, we decided to leave. I remember another storm coming in as we walked back, but maybe that just was what I was thinking in my head.

I've seen similar things in St. Louis. Old toys and pictures tucked up in attic rooms in Soulard, stuff burned in fireplaces and then left as the walls were closed up. Strange things that I don't understand. But those are ghosts to me, the evidence of lives we will not understand.

I felt the same last week reading this month's National Geographic. The issue was about hurricanes, and there was a beautiful essay and haunting photography from New Orleans. The pictures were taken in a way that they looked like miniatures at a circus, the color surreal like a dream, fuzzy around the edges. All the things that were left behind, all the lives stopped in mid-motion. The author, David Burnett, wrote about community, and repeatedly stated New Orleans would come back. The question he asked, however, was would it be his New Orleans? Would it be the New Orleans that so many had called home before, or would it be lost to the very people who had once given it life. "...I imagine stories of loss, and I wonder," he wrote.

New Orleans has become a modern ghost city, a place of longing, a place of debris, detritus of past memories. And for others, New Orleans has become a project. How do we plan to give a city life? We can build a community of structures and infrastructures, but how do we truly build, or re-build a community? How do we infuse places with character, with laughter, with dreams, with a rich history? No doubt Katrina will be a part of New Orleans, but how do we move away from the ghosts? Cleaning up is one thing. But how do we truly move on when the ghosts are always in our heads?

Monday, August 07, 2006

How to Make a Criminal

Sadly, we are all so very afraid of possibility.

I lived, for a time, in an area outside of Miami-- the same area where Adam Walsh was abducted and killed. In the early eighties, it was an anomoly to be fingerprinted every year at school and have weekly safety lectures, but that was my life. There were codewords, passwords, and always, the suspicion of strangers. Overnight, I was no longer allowed to play outside, and my neighborhood became scary, my home a veritable fortress.

When I was growing up, we were taught to be afraid of adults. Now, somehow in the city, we have learned to be afraid of children.

Sure, for those of us who choose to live in the city, we acknowledge that it can be less than safe, and we submit to the law of averages which states that we are likely to be the victim of crime. Last week, on my block, after the block party no less, there was an assault. My car has been shot. Friends' cars have been stolen (one unfortunate soul had hers stolen three times in one year). A few blocks away, a friend was mugged and beaten. My house was broken into while I was home and the lights were on. Yeah, I understand that there's crime. Sure, it's a dangerous world, but is it as dangerous as we make it out to be? How at risk are we? And what do we choose to do about it? Do we give up our homes and move to the suburbs? Do we stop going out at night, stop exploring new haunts? Do we trade in the neighborhoods and lives that we have created for something that is simply safe, despite it not being what we want? Do we change our behaviour, or do we change the way we think about crime?

I've heard some people in the neighborhood comment that they don't like people walking on the sidewalks because they could be casing their homes. They have alarms on their homes and clubs on their cars. They've created veritable fortresses in every way, isolating themselves from where they live. I wonder if they are any safer than I am. I wonder if by isolating themselves from the possibility of crime, if they have also separated themselves from the place in which they have chosen to live.

Yesterday, I was in a business on S. Grand-- a chain business, it should be stated. Usually the customer service is great, the staff diverse, the building clean. As I walked down the street yesterday, I noticed a group of three or four kids--teenagers-- walking the opposite direction. One came into the building where I was, and I thought, disappeared towards the restroom. As I was leaving, the manager came out from the back and told the kid to leave. At first, I thought perhaps there had been some previous problem this kid had created-- and maybe there was, but the kid looked confused. He did not look disobedient; he looked confused. The manager raised his voice, creating a scene, and told the kid not to come back. That boy stood there, maybe 12 years old, baggy pants, long shirt, shuffling his feet, looking more at the ground than at the man looming over him. The manager grabbed him to start marching him towards the door, and the kid wriggled free, much as I might if someone issued a demand and then touched me. As I was walking out, the manager was yelling that he would call the cops.

That was it. No statement of previous wrong-doing. No statement of reason or explanation. No, "I've told you this before," or "You're bothering the customers." In fact, there were maybe six people in there, none of whoms seemed to be in the path the kid had taken.

Now, I don't know the back-story. Maybe this kid had caused trouble before. Maybe he hadn't. Maybe he's just a kid. Maybe it's incidental that he was black and on this day the whole staff was white. Maybe it had nothing to do with age or race. Maybe it was somehow about safety or the customer experience.


What I saw was a kid, probably "loitering" a bit, but on his way out the door anyway. I saw a grown man, who had easily 25 years, a foot and a half, and probably a hundred pounds on the boy, hulking down over the kid. I saw a manager--someone who runs a business-- lose control and yell at a kid, causing more of a disturbance, more of a scene. And I wondered, how can that be good for the customers' experience? How's that for being a part of a neighborhood or community?

Now, so you get where I am coming from, I also help run a business where we have to occasionally kick people out. They're drunk, or panhandling, they yell the "N" word, or we know they have caused trouble before. Never once have I had to ask twice, or raise my voice, or threaten to call the police. Not even as a woman dealing with a large drunk man. Never once have I had to assert myself in any way other than a firm request. Where I work, kids are up and down the street all the time, hanging out in the alley, loitering on the corner or down the block. Know what we do? We walk around and talk to them. We offer them jobs, see if they want something to do for a while. Are they the best workers? Not usually, but it produces a mutually beneficial result for everyone, and the neighborhood.

We don't offer kids much to do in our neighborhoods. We treat them with contempt or indifference, or as I saw yesterday, fear masked by power and anger. I teach kids about the same age as that boy I saw yesterday. When I look at my kids, I see the good they can do, not the crimes they might commit. I see their possibility as potential; others see them as potential threats. That's not how we protect ourselves. That, folks, is how we manufacture criminals.

I guarantee you that when an adult treats you that way that you don't forget it. And sadly, those negative experiences far outlive the times of praise we receive as we are growing up. Crime teaches us to fear the unknwon. What a shame that crime doesn't teach us to look more closely at ourselves. What a shame it doesn't make us want to help our communities rather than seal ourselves off from them.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


After work last night, I had this long discussion with one of the Stein kids-- well, the oldest-- who is not really a kid at all, but rather 22. We were talking about education, medicine, language, culture, race-- you know, all the usual things one talks about at 3am on a Friday night. Everything seemed to come back to power-- taking power from people who abuse it, helping others find their power, working collectively. And then Justin began talking about privilege and the fine line between it and power. He is headed down to New Orleans in a week to help work at a clinic.

There's an interesting thing about service in this country. We're getting better, but it's not ingrained in us. We are not told that we have to be of service, that it is our duty, or indeed, that it is our responsibility. Now, I understand that many families do teach their children the importance of service, as do many schools and churches-- but in our culture, especially in popular culture, what do we see of service?

There are moments where we band together after a crisis-- 9/11, Katrina, and on a much smaller scale, in STL after the storms. I should only hope that we can continue to be so human as to do at least that much. But on a day to day scale, what do we really do to be of service? And better yet, how do we show everyone that they have something to give?

I don't know the answer, but it got me thinking. Power, privilege, AND responsibility. Perhaps the only question is, how do we decide whom we are responsible to?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Stella Blues

Okay, folks, the wait is over. Stella Blues, on the corner of Fyler and Morganford is open. In fact, they just opened today and I just got back from lunch there.

The inside is gorgeous: beautiful tin ceiling, warm beige walls, blue lights, wood furniture. The bar is gorgeous-- like all the other great SS wood bars, long and lean with blue lights in the art deco back part. The best part though-- they spent some money on the bar itself. Not only is it reconditioned, but it has beautiful rock work, as does the area around the front door-- a nice detail.

There were some people in, which pleased me. Service was excellent, by the very comepetent Stephanie, who introduced herself to everyone and offered up info about the joint without me having to ask. And if you're curious-- good beer selection, including Stella (maybe 7 on draft and about 15 bottles). There are Happy Hour specials M-F from 4-6, leaving everything at roughly around $2, so I was told. Also, late night specials from 10-12 M-W, with beers going about the same- $2.

The place is still a little stark, waiting I'm sure to find themselves and add some character and flair-- but I had a nice time. For me, the true sign of whether a place will remain on my list or not is if I can read comfortably and not feel out of place or in the way, and I was very happy at Stella with the ceiling fans whirring and the baseball game flickering peripherally from the 4 plasma TV's. Stella Blues is not your typical Morganford haunt-- clean and modern, but definitely with a neighborhood vibe. This is one to watch. And I'll definitely be back.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Snapshots of a Former Life

I am a woman given to words. I like them, but I know enough not to rely solely upon them. Words are strange. We all learn when we are little to think before we speak, because some things cannot be taken back. Words seem like forever, but I am finding a new freedom in images lately. When writing poetry, I have always been given over to the image. And images often exist in my head as words-- like how I think of luxury or longing (both images from England).

The last few weeks, I have become obsessed with my camera. I bring it with me everywhere and annoy people constantly by taking photos and telling them to keep doing what they were doing. I scour the neighborhood looking at things, details and abstracts. I was thinking as I walked the other night about the difference between a photograph, a picture, and a snapshot. Photographs are old-world-y, or professional. We don't take photos anymore; we don't even use film. We take pictures-- a snippet of a moment, a small slice of something we want to remember. For me, though, the funny thing is, I usually don't remember the moment of the photos, but I remember everything before and after with amazing clarity. Some faiths believe that photos take their soul; I wonder sometimes if it doesn't take our memory rather that restore or subsidize it.

And then there's snapshots-- the least professional of the bunch. Snapshots get a bad rap. They're quick, irreverant, and far too often posed. But there is something about the quickness for me, something about grabbing onto a piece of the everyday. Snapshots never seem representative; we always explain how "that's not a good picture, but..." Snapshots lead us to words; they work as illustrations for what we could not say otherwise.

Lately though-- and I prefer the word "pictures"-- I have been thinking about how a picture gives me a story. It makes me think about everything that is going on around what I see. Photographs question, or perhaps direct my thinking. A snapshot often leaves me without much room to think. But a picture... it just exists quietly, allowing us to put whatever meaning onto it we want.

I've taken some random pictures lately, but they have me thinking. Perhaps, despite my dependence on words, an image gives me more freedom, or at least adds to the sense that everything isn't always set in stone. Pictures show us, over and over again, that nothing lasts forever.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


All right, people, we all know this town is all about reputations. It's the whole, "Where did you go to high school?" thing that I have never quite gotten, making it obvious that I did not grow up here. I guess high school gives you the shorthand for where people came from and how far away that might be from who you are. But in our thirties, it's an assinine question. That's where we've been. What about where we're going?

I'm more interested to see where people live now. I must admit my preference is the South Side, but there are some other parts of the city that have stoked my fire for this city and kept it going. And that has me thinking: all these different places, all these unique neighborhoods, each with their own character, each with their own longings.

Reading my regular round of blogs today, I stumbled across two entries:

1. www.
On Steve Smith's blog, he wrote an entry about hitting DC a few weeks ago and hanging out with STL ex-pats, and how they all wanted to talk about St. Louis. Being an outsider, it has long been a strange obsession of mine that most everyone seems to leave town, yet many of them come back-- after college, after a job, to raise a family. They come back. How many other cities have people leave and return like that? No where I've ever lived. These conversations about place, we have to have them. It's what sustains us and creates us, and sometimes it takes that distance to figure out what our problems are, or to see our assets. So I get the talk, and it makes me happy.

2. Reading the 52nd City blog today-- I looked at a post by Thomas Crone. He quoted the new owner of Off Broadway, Steve Pohlman, as he talked about the South Side. "If it's happening in St. Louis, it's happening down here. People here aren't watching from a safe distance."

I love that. We all see it everyday. And then I am reminded of why I like, no love, the South Side so much. We are not singular or monolithic. It's this beautiful part of the city, as wide and diverse as the land that the Mississippi passes. And there are so many neighborhoods that I love, each distinct in its own way.

So I've been thinking about our reputation. This is it, folks; it's starting. I can feel the word of mouth churning-- the buzz, hot and sweaty. This is not some Washington Ave. fad kind of thing. People are paying attention, and it's coming up-- that talk. We are beginning to see who we are, and we are showing others who we want to be.

My take: watch out. There are three neighborhoods where I think it's going to happen.

Gravois, just S. of Grand. Little Bosnia is going to light this city up with a European sense of aesthetic and tradition, culture, and savvy. My friend Jamie recently stated that was going to be the new S. Grand, and I think he's on to something.

South Morganford, as in South of Chippewa. We were driving through this neighborhood tonight, and ensconced in all the rows of neatly-kempt houses, there were lights, and businesses, and even people-- all at midnight on a Monday. I think as people his the South Side and get priced out of the blocks near Grand, they are heading South and West, and with that, the beginnings of a more thriving small neighborhood nightlife-- young, hip, and sustainable.

Cherokee. Not the anqtique crap; we're all over that and done with it. But the west side-- the side with the taquerias and tiendas, the side with Fort Gondo and Tension Head and all the retail going in.

That's the thing, too. In the last few decades when a minority or immigrant or ethnic mix has dominated a neighborhood, you see people moving out-- everyone sticking with their own. In St. Louis, we are flocking towards that, people wanting that richness, that diversity. Funny that we still can't talk about race, but at least we can celebrate the character of all these organic and spontaneous enclaves.

All I know today is that as I was driving home from S. Broadway, the streets were alive, the thickness of summer steaming off the streets. And people were out. It's only a matter of time until the word follows, and with that, a reputation. Hopefully our rap is the one that we want.