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.