Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Giving Thanks

I had a customer the other night who was considering a permanent move to STL. I said I loved it here and he asked why. Over the course of the evening, I gave him my quick list of reasons. In the spirit of the holidays, I thought perhaps I'd recount what I am thankful for in this city. After all, it's why I stayed.

I'm thankful for:

- free museums, and museums worth going to
- the quality of the 2 museum-type places I have to pay for-- the City Museum and the Botanical Gardens.
- the fact that this city is one of the least pretentious places I have ever been. I casually refer to STL as a "beer and shorts" kind of town. See and be seen, St. louis, thankfully, is not.
- I am rarely stuck in traffic and can almost always find a parking place (except in the West End, which is one of the reasons why I rarely go there. It makes me angry.)
- everyone here loves baseball and it's not a fair-weather love, but a love deep and pure
- there are many major US cities within a four hour drive
- cost of living is cheap
- people do cool stuff (as in art, and music, and we have great events...)
- the diversity-- I love that while in line at the bank or at the grocery store I might hear six different languages and no one bats an eye.
- St Louisans tip well. Period.
- There're great parks.
- There's a strange history that stops every twenty or thirty years and then we re-invent ourselves in some way, while always remaining true to our roots. Think Gaslight Square. I'm still amazed that happened here.
- We appreciate old buildings, architecture, and things that are truly uniqie and beautiful.
- It will often be in the seventies way past when it should be. Case in point, the last week.
- You can buy your Christmas tree while eating Ted Drewes. (I did that yesterday.)
- There are people willing to live here and make things happen. Good things.

I'm sure the list could go on, but as a short list, rambled off in a couple of minutes, I am not sure what else people need. Coasts be damned. Who needs an ocean when you live in the heart of it all?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

St. Louie Louie

After a weekend out of town, it's always good to be back. I love going out west to Colorado, but there's a general lack of diversity in almost every way-- at least every way that I am used to STL being diverse. It makes it that much nicer to come home.

Lately, I am loving the St. Louie Louie forum, started by Kopper. I have participated in discussions about education, bars, events, and neighborhoods. I found out that St. Louis has its own wiki page (, and there's chat on the forum about a Music Museum. The forum feels exactly like this town to me: comfortable, disparate, a lot of writing from innovative voices, sometimes irreverant, and there's also great news on what's going down and what's up in our heads. These are good things.And each day more people seem to be coming into the discussion, which can only make it better.

Check out the link to the right...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

George, the martians, and Sylvia Plath

Tonight, I braved the rain and the cold to go see the first performance of the Mad Art Radio Hour, and man, am I glad I did. All I can say is: go. And this isn't just some personal advertisement for them... The radio show tonight was the most fun I have had at an event in years. I laughed out loud. A lot. And if you know me, you know I have an often lacking sense of humour, but tonight, it was alive and well. And when I wasn't laughing, I would catch myself realizing I was smiling.

The set was fantastic, complete with APPLAUSE lights and and ON AIR light. The music rocked (Swing Set) and I still have some of the songs stuck in my head. The announcer and the voices were fantastic. George Malich might have been at his funniest, but then again, everyone cracked me up. The sound effects were perfect. Everything about it was enjoyable, and I felt transported back to some other time, so much attention was paid to details. It was creative and smart. I have a tough time listening to things, and I actually hate theatre even more, but this had me riveted. All I am going to say is the first play was about martians and art, and the second was about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (the intro song to that kicked ass). My absolute favorite though was the advertisements (Frazer's, Schlafly, the Royale).

Jaime Gartelos (one of the writers and the announcer) hit the mark on absolutely everything. If I weren't busy the next two performances, I would go again. It's hard for me to say how much fun I had. I'm just glad this is one of those things with more to come. Check it out; I promise it will be the best $5 you spend for a while (it was actually more fun than the batting cages, my $5 staple of fun comparison).

Mad Art Radio Hour at the Mad Art Gallery
Performances Thurs. 11/16 and Fri. 11/17, $5 (cash bar)

Note: the Friday performance will be taped and aired later on Brett Underwood's KDHX show, the No Show

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

STL Design Challenge

My first look at the Arch was as a kid, speeding along the interstate, crossing the river, en route to Colorado. My mom woke me up to see the Gateway to the West. I was 11, tired after driving from the east coast, and I just wanted to get to the west, less interested in the gateway there. For my mom, it was different. Her first trip to St. Louis was in the late sixties, right after the Arch was erected. To her, it was still a marvel. It would take me longer to think about it in any real terms.

When I moved to England, the only thing people knew about St. Louis was

1.) it was somewhere in the middle of the country, far from anything of worth or interest
2.) the movie "Meet Me in Saint Louie"
3.) the Arch

Upon returning, I began to think more about it. I have always loved architecture, but what I love consists of the character of old buildings, the brick and stories that built them... and the creative problem solving of new architecture. The genius of Samual Mockbee and the Rural School, Fallingwater which I saw for the first time at 8 years old after begging my parents to take me there, the crazy dream-like structure of Gehry's Experience Music Project, the stunning design of the Oklahoma City Memorial with all its chairs. Lately though, I think not just of buildings, but of design.

A couple of weeks ago, I had one of those days where everything centered around design. I had just read a long article in Fast Company about design-centered business thinking. I had gone to Target in the morning (the mecca of egalitarian design), read Sarah's blog about her frenzied trip to Seattle's IKEA store, and then ended up talking with Toby after a work function about possible design innovations in schools and prisons. In a time where design is everywhere these days, dotted along DIY cable shows and imbedded in all marketing campaigns, I began to wonder, where was design in St. Louis? There are, without a doubt, beautiful places-- parks, buildings, neighborhoods. But moreover, I wondered where is the transcendant design within our city? Where are the places that are made so thoughtfully as to make us think and feel differently? Where are the places that make us comfortable, that are designed for our ease of usage? Where is good design in this city, not just aesthetically, but functionally? Do we have enough of it, or are we missing the mark?

Here are my first contemplations for some STL Design Awards. I am completely open to, and in fact, want, your comments.

This is green space that seemed to be designed with everyone and every purpose in mind. It's beautiful and provocative, accessible to all, free, with plenty of fields for frisbee or picnicking or reading, as well as paths. Every time I go there, I think about that place and this city differently.

Now, here's a space designed with the user in mind. It is constantly evolving and changing. When you walk through it, it's as if moving through a dream where you encounter the things you feel or want intuitively, not necessarily expecting them to be there in reality. It's like a peek into all our secrets and our subconscious, mapped out and delivered.

Obvious, to some degree. But this place changes and flows, moving from one type of landscape to the next, almost seemlessly, from sun to shade, from inside to outside, from wide open spaces to small nooks of privacy. It can be packed, and you still feel amazed that you are in such a small corner of the city because it will take you so many hours to move through the grounds, with minimal disruption from other visitors.

For obvious reasons of proximity, I use TG Park more than FP, but I also think it is just big enough to contain what I need, while maintaining distinctive differences in its parts, and it's easily navigable by car or foot. After seven years living in this city, FP still confuses me and I get lost, no matter what I do.

BRENNAN"S Wine Bar and the Maryland House
This is my huge shout out to Kevin Brennan, who has a wicked sense of humour (despite my thinking he did not have one for years) and a keen sense of detail. Kevin puts a lot of thought into his space, thinking about beauty, comfort, design, product, and how his customers use the space. He thinks about how you want to feel and how you want to eat and drink so that you can just show up and enjoy yourself. When I started thinking about bars, his place immediately came into my mind. And the great thing: though he does put effort into it all, it's also intuitive to him. So his building seems natural and the experience there un-forced. He might have the most user-friendly establishment in STL, though I am sad that he took down the polaroids in the ground floor bathroom.

Obvious, yeah, yeah... But it looks different every single day, every time I walk by or drive past. It's reflective-- in every sense of the word, and that's why it's good design. Instead of taking a stance, it allows itself to be what the visitor sees and projects-- and that my friends, is good design. Oh yeah, and I guess it's some kind of architectural feat-- whatever...

SKIF International
Yep, I still always think of the Matrix when I think of their sweaters. But there is something fantastic about beautiful clothes that look so different from other things we can buy. And there's something great about the same sweater looking different on every person who wears it. Rather than giving you style, their products seem to blend into your own personal aesthetic in a fairly amazing way.

52nd CITY
It's pretty, people. And well-written. It's that simple.

So, I'm opening the floor. Where else do we have good design? What immediately comes to your mind? That's the stuff we need to talk about, and it's certainly something to celebrate.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Election De-Briefing

Tuesday night just about killed me, not because of the anticipation, but because of the sheer volume of democratic voters out in the City-- celebrating, waiting, discussing, and oh-so proud of themselves for voting. The swarms of voters, campaigners, and judges hit the Royale Tuesday night for $2 and $3 beer and drink specials, and the city certainly got their drink on, with almost all Schlafly products running dry by the end of the night. There was loud applause and cheers running through the building with each development, and from where I was standing, the crowd cheered with the same enthuasiasm and loudness as they had a couple of weeks ago during the World Series. Politics suddenly seemed very rock n' roll and very sexy.

I went out yesterday afternoon, on 2.5 hours of sleep, to de-brief with some folks from work, and the word of the day at Mangia while we were coffee-ing and iced-tea-ing was very much "voting". I saw old women on the street talking about celebrating. Kids in my classroom this morning asked me if I was happy about McCaskill. The city ward turnouts, according to numbers posted at the ACC, ranged from 32%-the high 60's, which I thought was pretty damn great. As I walked through the streets yesterday, I just kept seeing all the signs that said "2006 Vote Democratic Team", and something seemed to work. Instead of being bombarded with names or campaign signs, the voting signs were a pleasant repreive, and seemingly much more efficient. One way or the other, our country is still reeling. Personally, the best part for me, was seeing how proud everyone was of voting. Instead of the whispers of voting, their were roars, text messages, and voicemails going out person to person on Tuesday. All election day, I was tuned into the ACC, which had great coverage and photos from their staff which was roaming the city. Big media has nothing on the smaller outlets when it comes to writing about politics in the city, so kudos to PubDef and the Arch City Chronicle for keeping us on the front lines and giving us the info. we wanted. This whole election felt different, and for the first time in my life, it felt like what it should be.

Here's to hoping we keep that feeling.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

as the confetti flies

It's completely late, after 2 am on Election Night. I will get maybe three hours sleep before hitting work int he morning, and I just got home from work now. But something has to be said. Tonight was like little else I have experiencd before. Some said they were surprised (happily so), but I was not. All day, I could feel it. There was an energy and an excitement, and a strange innocence to the voting-- a giddiness like we were all doing it for the first time. And for the first time, I saw people afterwards and they felt like what they did mattered. I don't care how you vote or if you win or lose, but we should all feel like that, every election-- like we matter.

It's a good thing. As is sleep. More tomorrow on the crazy returns bash from tonight.

Ahhh, change... that renaissance, it's a comin'!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Their eyes were watching STL

So in recent weeks we have:

1.) won the World Series

2.) been "discovered" through somewhat fuzzy math to be the most dangerous city in the USA

3.) had a lot of national media attention because of the candidates and issues on our ballots

So, do me a favor. If you think all that hype about STL being the most dangerous city is crap, go vote. Here's how we show what dangerous can be: a city of informed voters barraging the polls because we are ready for change and tired of the status quo. Or here's how dangerous we might become: a city that is ignorant, lazy, and does nothing to improve its own fate.

You decide. Your vote counts. Make it matter.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Go Vote

Last night I went to the Claire McCaskill rally in Forest Park at the World's Fair Pavillion, but like most people I know, I went to see Barack Obama. In a nation so cynical about politics and so beaten down by recent policy, he seems like the one shining beacon we have urging us forward.

I. Waiting.
It seemed like a great afternoon to hit a rally, a Sunday in autumn, leaves on the ground. There was hot chocolate and coffee, kids running and climbing on things and dogs barking and being lead around. Black, white, young, old, students, hipsters, families-- it seemed somehow like America should look. People were in suits and Sunday best, in jeans; old women rode up on bikes in helmets and the volunteers wore their standard uniform of fleece jackets with khaki pants (why is that standard garb?). Democracy was the agenda, and there was a strange fashion to that as well. The "democracy for sale" camp was selling shirts and buttons (with a portion of the proceeds going to the campaigns, though it felt more like souvenirs from a football game to me). There were people in stars and stripes top hats, and an unfortunate array of fleece stars and stripes scarves. I just watched the crowd as I waited, alone in the cold, the rally starting an hour and a half late. It was a big group, well over a thousand, and given that we all stood there in the cold and into the darkness, the crowd seemed a good number, and in good spirits. There was an optimism, but also a strange determination that felt more like confidence. This did not seem like the pie-in-the-sky democrats gathering that I have seen in other election years. This seemed like a group of people who thought something new was about to happen. It wasn't about promises, it seemed, but about commitment.

II. I ran into several people whom I work with, all more or less by coincidence, but it seemed to lend some credence to our business being rather political and indeed, rather democrat-centered. Steve walked around, hat and overcoat on, trying to figure out who was spinning the records, and trying to figure out a better person to program the music. Katie asked me if I had ever been to a Republican rally, as she wondered what those looked like in terms of diversity. Listening to the terrible music and waiting, we discussed the invariable merits of Rock the Vote.

III. I Want Charlie Dooley To Be My New Best Friend
The rally got under way with an all-star list of Missouri dems-- Jean Carnahan, Russ Carnahan, Maida Coleman, Charley Dooley... Several spoke, but then Charlie Dooley blew me away. Listening to him is like listening to the gospel in church. I find myself somewhat spellbound. His words had a richness, a realness, and a passion to them. He was not giving a speech, he was speaking, and it seemed a stark contrast to so many political functions. Last night was the second time in a week I have heard Charlie Dooley speak. (A week ago, I heard him speak at the STILL dinner, and his message was that we need to help our children get an education so they can come back and bring that knowledge back to their communities, and so they can help create jobs to continually retain our talented young minds in our city... Hooray for that message!). Last night, as County Exec. Dooley spoke, he was funny and real, telling us what a great lookin' audience we were, and then... some not so great looking. He told us it was okay though because the ugly votes count as much as the pretty votes. It was in that joke that he seemed to shine through. In politics, we are all equal, and we all count. He urged us to be counted, and I loved listening to him. It was the first time I wanted to live in the County, just so he could represent me.

III. Barack Obama Can Tell a Story
Claire McCaskill spoke, and despite the rally point being to support her, last night was really about change. Obama got straight to the point with a great phrase, saying it was time we "vanquished" the politics of fear in our country. It seemed like a Jedi word, and I commented to Steve perhaps the Force would be with us; Steve commented Obama was the next JFK. There is always an energy to Obama, but an honesty. He told stories of being tired, and then told stories of people continuing onward and moving forward. He gave us the narrative of America, beginning with something like, "Our nation began with a ragtag group of thirteen colonies who wanted to beat down the most powerful country in the world." Such a simple statement struck me. We all know where we came from, but we forget at times what we have accomplished. He continued his American tale telling the audience how we set out with these ideas to create a completely new government, how we had a vision. It's that kind of talk, those images of a common history, those reminders of how we are the same, of how we are unified-- it's those things that make me excited about where we might go next, about what American might become again in my lifetime.

Obama talked about the blight of slavery as our "original sin", and I have to say, it was the most amazing thing to see a nationally prominent politician, one who is so dynamic and respected, and one who is not white, stand at that podium and talk about our future.

People were there to support McCaskill. And they were there to get information out about the issues. They were there to remind us how important Missouri is in this election. But I couldn't help thinking we were also all there to support this man whom we would so like to see become the next President of the United States. We were there to support his ideas and take them up as our own when we go out and vote on Tuesday.

IV. So go vote. It's that simple. Just go vote. And make everyone else you know vote. Drive someone to the polls. Cover their shift if they are late to work. Let someone out early. Go vote. Talk about politics. And then see how much a single vote counts. Over and over in the last few years, we have seen that each vote counts. This election is no different. We may not be voting for a president, but we are voting for the people who will fight for us everyday, for those who will shape and create the laws that govern us. We are voting for the people who will either give us freedoms and responsibilities, or we are voting for those who will take those things away. We are still that same nation Obama spoke of; don't let the government take that away. The erosion of America has happened long enough. Vote.

For more information on local STL elections, candidates and issues, check out the Arch City Chronicle and Pub Def. (link at right)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Day of the Dead Beats

No, not dead beats, as in people who don't pay child support. Day of the Dead Beats, Brett Underwood's brilliant tribute to the Beat writers, which just happens to occur around the Day of the Dead every year.

This year's event is Thursday, Nov. 2 at the Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood, beginning at 8pm. Doors open at 7, and the event is free, though donations are kindly accepted. Reading this year will be a slew of local (and talented) poets including K. Curtis Lyle, Anne Haubrich, and Mr. Underwood himself, who usually finishes with a raucous rendention of Bukowski.

Now, truth be told, I hate the Beats, dislike Bukowski even more, and really don't enjoy poetry readings (despite having attended hundreds in my life), but this event remains to be fun. Despite it all, it's well worth going to. And, like the Beats, you can sit and drink the whole time you are listening... just liek heaven.

So go and get your Howl on.

And don't forget, Friday, Nov. 3, check out Caroline Huth's show at Mad Art in Soulard.