Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Shhhhh... it's a secret.

I am so excited. I just got tickets to go see the Post Secret vs. Found Magazine Charity tour, which is hitting Mad Art in Soulard next week. I have never been to a Found event, though I have always heard that they are pretty cool. And I have high hopes, but mostly, I am super excited to see Frank and hear him speak.

Postsecret.com is a Sunday ritual for me. I usually wake up and check the secrets before I even pee, shower, or make tea. If you don't know what Post Secret is, just go check out the site. And then after you have, buy tickets for the event (buying online tics at SmartTix for this event was the easiest thing I have ever done online-- about time). Yay!!! Now I want to do a little dance.

Look at the secrets.

Post Secret/Found Tour
Mad Art Gallery
12th St in Soulard (right across from AB)
8pm, Tues. Nov. 13
Tickets are $15 ($16.50 online)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Rest In Peace

Last week, a good man, and someone whom I particularly admired, lost his fight to cancer. Dr. Tom Amlung, a retired veterinarian and former college professor, passed away on Monday, October 22. As I kept thinking of him over the weekend, I remembered that years ago I had written an essay about Tom and his wife, Carol-- it was dated 2003. Perhaps if you read it, you'll recognize the character of Tom Amlung. Simply put, he was honest and kind, and he'd call it like he saw it.

Rest in Peace

Obituary of Dr. Tom Amlung


It is Thursday night, one of the only times I look forward to going to work. It is not because I have only four more shifts until a day off, though that does occur to me. Rather, it is because of the Amlungs.

When people ask me if I like my job, the answer varies by the day, dependent on how tired I am, how many problems I have recently encountered, and how organized the restaurant is running. But if people ask me why I like my job, the answer is always the same: the customers. Of course, this is also why so many people hate it.

But there are those ones, those regulars whom you think of even years after you have quit. they are the ones who have not only let you into their lives, but made you a part of their lives. And with each, the reason varies.

The first job I ever worked was at a Steak n’ Shake in Bloomington, Illinois. There, it was a man named Ralph. He came in each night at five, sat at table 1-1 by the door and ordered the same thing, what we called a “Ralph Special”: a steakburger with no bun, a plate of tomatoes sliced, and cottage cheese. Ralph was older, his family grown and gone, his wife dead for five years when I met him. He had little money, could not drive, and few hobbies. He was a little grumpy and complained each day of whatever he might be reading about in the newspaper. He tipped somewhat appallingly, but when he liked you, he really liked you. And Ralph learned to like me, something that happened at the exact same time I had to stop asking him what he wanted to eat. He would walk in, and I would order his food, and in the few minutes I saved, I would sit with him and we would talk. It was never much-- how I was doing in school, an atrocity that had befallen him that week, how the university football team was doing. It was never much, but it became important to me.

Being a waitress means being anonymous. It is like when someone commits a crime and everyone present identifies them differently, each description bearing no commonalities. Being a waitress is like that: no one see you, and no one hears you. You mostly move unnoticed, and usually speak with little consequence. If asked, few people would even remember you being there at all.

But sometimes in restaurants, like in life, there are those people who see you. And not only do they see you, but they are hooked; they’re fascinated; they’re in. And you come alive. You become a person when before you were just a job. You are no longer performing or simply reacting, but you are participating. And it’s wonderful.

They need you for different reasons. Some, like Ralph, need you because they have no one else, because they need to speak to someone in order to remember that they are still present, that they still have something to say. Some need you to be their confidante, the people who give them advice, perspective, or hold their secrets. And some need you to be their friend, or their family, and treat you accordingly: baking you cookies occasionally, bringing you their extra tickets for the baseball game, giving you a card at Christmas, asking you how your vacation was, or offering help with your resume.

And you need them to remember that you are more than a fast-moving robot, more than a job description, a complaint or a good tip. You need them to remember that you have thoughts and feelings, and things to say. You need them to remember that you are interesting and passionate and motivated. You need them to remember that you have something to offer, something other than another glass of beer.

And that’s why Thursday nights, I wait for five o’clock. I wait for Mr. and Mrs. Amlung to open the door and walk in. Mr. Amlung, a retired veterinarian who now teaches, ambles in, all of his weight supported by his cane. Mrs. Amlung follows behind, smiling, her new haircut making her look younger, young enough that I can imagine what she might have looked like when they met. They see me and smile, and then wave as they walk to their table. They, like a waitress, are also creatures of habit, and their Thursday night ritual is somewhat routine. They come regardless of weather-- six inches of snow, an ice storm, wind or heat. She has a Harp while he drinks a Bass (two to her one), and then they order. They are not interested in specials and usually pick within the same two or three items, though he always asks for extra raw onion, chopped and put on top of anything he has. When she has her second beer, he has a Beamish, and then they sit and talk. Often, between my visits, they make lists and speak earnestly, planning for different things.

We speak of my parents, and over time, they have come to be like a second set, though in a less intimate manner. And we speak of their children, Mrs. Amlung often smiling and saying she hopes her kids speak of her as I speak of my mother (which I imagine they must). They ask me about my endeavors, and I ask about their conferences, vacations, their politics, their hopes.

And then we say good night at 6:45, and I am left waiting for another week to feel so alive. But when people ask me why I do it, why I keep waiting tables, even though I could do other things, I think of them, and all the others I have gathered throughout the years. I think, in other jobs, I would not know the Amlungs, and even if it’s just for a brief period of one shift, in other jobs, I would not feel this alive.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Down By The River

We should all be so lucky that when we go, we are remembered fondly. What’s more is not to just be remembered fondly, but to have carved a place in our community, our state’s rich history, and the memory of all those whom we have touched. I did not know Bob Dyer, a “songteller” from Boonville, MO who passed away last spring, but as I sat at Duff’s earlier this week, listening to his friends and family sing his songs, read his poems, and tell stories about him—I felt as if he were surely breathing that same air in the room where I sat. Rarely have I ever seen so much life as people remember someone who has passed. It was touching, genuine, and it opened my eyes to what great impact we are all capable of.

As I sat there listening to the folk ballads—the stories of Missouri’s pioneers and native inhabitants, tales of river boatin’ and adventure—my foot tapping along with the music, the catchy chorus of each song getting stuck in my head, I thought “this is life”. It seemed to me that the point of it all is as much about what we do and how we live as it is about what we leave behind. Those were songs to hold onto and poems to sink into, and it felt like a part of Missouri’s rich tapestry that I had never really felt interested in or tapped into, and all of a sudden, it was making my foot move.

I didn’t know Bob Dyer before that night. I had never met him, and to be honest, I didn’t know too much about him. But I left there feeling like I had missed out; I wished I had known him. It seems to me his version of the Renaissance Man is dying out, and it’s a breed that I want to see last. His blending of folklore, history, song, and music—it was fantastical and larger than life. It was exciting and real in a very dimensional way, and it is something that I think we are beginning to lose. As the world changes and places continue to be erased, I wonder if we will still have people like Bob Dyer—champions of the story. We need it. It’s wonderful to hear a version of your state and feel like you are somehow a part of a story that’s bigger than just what you see.

As I sat at Duff’;s during the tribute, a lot of thoughts were running through my head. The one that repeated over and over? When I die, I should be so lucky if this many people care about what I lived for.

To learn more about Bob Dyer, take a look at his short biography posted on the website of his record company, Big Canoe.

Big Canoe Records

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

cinema verite, rain, and the Famous Bar

The rain is still coming down and the wind is alternately whining and screaming through the gangway at my house. I spent the afternoon at home napping, wrapped up in a blanket on the couch, watching the big drops fold sideways into the screen on my windows. And I read a book. It seemed like luxury, and after meetings and work all morning, it was all I wanted to do. As I was lying there, thinking, I was trying to put into words why I like the rain so much.

As people, we fall into two categories: those who like the grey and the rain, and those who only want sunshine. Naturally, I am suspicious of the sunshine variety and wonder mostly why it is that they cannot cope with the ups and downs and spontaneity of life. Of course, perhaps I just like the rain because it begs you to slow down, to turn off the television and be alone and quiet. Maybe I just like it because somehow every time it rains, it seems exactly like the rain somewhere else at some other time, and I am whipped back through a memory, to a place. And then, the obvious-- I spent six years living in Central Illinois and 2 in England with nary a spot of sunshine except in the strictest confines of August heat. For a good quarter of my life, I had to learn to love the weather or completely miss the day. I learned to love the weather.

I’d get all cozied up in warm clothes, a coat, and boots, grab the umbrella (mine has a poem handwritten in the top-- a gift from an old friend), and out I’d go. In Illinois, I’d drive or run; In England, I’d walk through the muck of the fields, in the fog... or swap my boots for heels and window shop in the city centre, the smell of roasting chestnuts permeating the damp air. Sometimes there would be a movie, and usually I’d make a big pot of soup at the end of the day, but always I’d go to the pub.

Here, I have never established much of a rainy routine. The skies open up less often and I am usually content to take the day as a hint that I should slow down, rest, take stock of the world, or maybe just watch it a little more closely than usual. This morning, I was in U. City for a meeting, and I planned on window shopping the grey noon away, strolling up the street to Subterranean Books (my favorite), and then visiting some folks in the Loop. But the rain angrily switched to a downpour, and I found myself in the dimly lit interior of a restaurant eating lunch on the South Side and laughing with friends.

Very rarely these days do I leave the comfort of my warm house when it’s raining and I have an afternoon free--- which is rare unto itself-- but as I sat there reading, I kept thinking of the Famous Bar. The same thought I always have when it rains and I think of slinking into pubs for a quick cuppa or a Guinness in the cold of my younger days, and then the Famous pushes itself right behind my eyes until I cannot ignore it. Perhaps it’s because it’s just there, like a little pocket on Chippewa which everything else continues to happen around. The cars still splash in the water outside, people still walk the street. But there’s more to it. The Famous is anything but a dive. It impresses me as classy without pretention, mature without being matronly, comfortable without being dowdy. It is a place to be seen and to be quiet, one where people are as likely read the paper in the afternoon as they are to play an almost rowdy game of pool. It is not a sad bar, but it is my favorite place to go for an afternoon nip. Just enough of the sky peeks through so you know what time it is, but not enough to make you think you need to be doing something else. The drinks are well priced and range from my beer moods to the tasty Manhattans of my more cosmopolitan days. The bartenders are friendly, and moreover, know when to let you have a rainy day and when you need a bit of sunshine.

I didn’t go to the Famous Bar today, but I did think about it all afternoon, as I often do. I don’t know what it is about that place; I am nowhere even close to being a regular, but it pulls and works at me. I think part of it is when it rains, life begins to feel very cinematic. I watch myself as if I am narrating my own close-up. And in my movie, the Famous Bar is always where my character goes when it rains. That’s how the scene opens, a shot of an inauspicious bar on Chippewa, barely recognizable as a watering hole except for a couple of Schlafly neon signs, the cars whizzing by, whipping up water in a fantail, and then the woman at the bar, watching the rain and thinking. She knows, somehow, something new will come next, but even as she waits, you can tell she’s someone who would still jump in a puddle just because it’s there. Even at thirty, sometimes the rain’s there to make you have fun.

The Famous Bar
5213 Chippewa St, St Louis - (314) 832-2211
(opens at 3pm each day; open Sundays now, too-- yay!)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

weekends are for...

There have been changes in my world.

1.) I decided I didn't have much of a life anymore, so...
2.) I am trying to learn to knit (and do origami, but my head works better towards knitting).
3.) I decided I have worked weekends my entire professional life and cannot do it anymore.
4.) I have been running, biking, or rollerblading (more than usual, at least).
5.) and I have been doing a lot of things I always tell others to do, but never have the time myself.
(This list includes going to BBQ's, seeing the stockcar races in Peveley, looking at the balloons a few
weeks ago, going to crafts fairs and art shows, and having drinks in the afternoons. I even clipped
my hedges. Hmmm, the things one can do with a day off.)
6.) Oh, and I took a new PT position working on a really cool arts/culture program the city schools.

In that spirit, I am going to give you a round-up of time-sensitive and great things going down this weekend (most of which I will even be attending).

SAT., Oct. 13

Metropolis STL presents the Art Walks. The East Architecture Walk leaves the Old Courthouse at 10am and returns at Noon. These walks have a great reputation, and they're free. Led by people who know what they're talking about, you can enjoy some sun on a nice autumn day, as well as get some exercise. Then have some crepes or hit the market in Soulard.

Later... Saturday night

From 7-11pm, the PHD Gallery on Cherokee hosts the opening of "Hand to Hand", an exhibition of collage work. Here's the thing, the two artists have been mailing work back and forth to one another for three years, from coast to coast and have never met. Earlier this week, I met the owner of the gallery who invited me and got me all excited about this, so I looked up his place online. Cherokee has long been a really cool area. Lately, more and more artists and arts endeavors are taking root in the neighborhood, which can either be great or signal the end of the area's organic period. My vote, however, is the more diversity and the more different types of businesses, the better the neighborhood. Should be an interesting show for a relatively new gallery. Worth checking out, for sure.

And on SUNDAY, Oct. 14

Join Chef Clara Moore and a bunch of cool foodies for the Southside Iron Chef, to be held at the corner of Lemp and Crittendon, beginning at Noon and going until 6pm. There are three bouts (12:30, 2:30, and 4:30). The first bout pitches young chefs Mary Eden and Mike S. from the Royale (on S. Kingshighway) against one another. Mary and Mike are both known around the Royale for their fresh and inventive specials, so I am really excited to see what they do. Chef Clara Moore herself will be up for a title in the final bout at 4:30. VIP tics are available for closer seats, and the money entitles you to some tasty portions of what the chefs cook up. All proceeds to benefit the STL Food Bank.

So, there you go. All events free and open to the public, and I can almost guarantee how cool each will be. Also, for you craft-ys, the artist deadline for inclusion in the Rock n' Roll Craftshow is Oct. 21. Check their website for more details.

For more info.:

PHD Gallery
2300 Cherokee
regular hours Thursday-Sun. from Noon-4pm


Southside Iron Chef
Sunday, Oct. 14
3000 Lemp
call 497-1661 for more info.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Denial Ain't Just a River in Africa

Let's start with a three-parter:

1.) How many countries are in Africa?
2.) Can you name more than four?
3.) How many languages are spoken there?

Africa is a continent large and diverse, and most of us know absolutely nothing about it. There is, of course, the recent celebrity-driven tendency to go there and support charitable causes (or perhaps have your baby... or adopt a baby). There is Bono and other celebrity-driven charities to highlight the continent's struggle with HIV and AIDS, amongst other diseases. There is famine and war, and diamonds. There is a long river and pyramids and a huge, hot dessert. There are safaris and big waterfalls in Zambia, apartheid, and Oprah. We know only the soundbites of Africa, quick images and headlines. few of us consider it in the ways that we should. Many would settle for us consiering it at all.

Now you can.

This weekend, join UMSL's Center For International Studies at the Africa World Documentary Film Festival at the Tivoli. There are three days of great documentaries about Africa-- about its people and its struggles, its heroes and its triumphs, its wars and its religions, its languages and cultures. Africa is not one place, but this film festival is a great place for us all to start to understand.

Tickets are $10 for a session (most are three hours and include 4 films), or $35 all day.

MY PICK: Friday, Oct. 5, 2:00-5:00pm
Highlights of this session include "As Old As My Tongue", which challenges our expectations and perceptions of stardom, age, and Muslim women. Also included, "The Professor", about the once-President of Liberia who now lives in NYC.

Film Festival Schedule and Info

Oh, and there are 46 countries (more if you count the island nations) and as many as 2000 languages (many rapidly disappearing).

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

See For Yourself

I always think about the renaissance of St. Louis, and somewhere along the way, I forgot about my own. I don’t think it’s one of those things you can plan-- a renaissance. We never know the exact moment something new will occur or be born. Revival is a process, a continuation like our lives, an evolution like our city. Renaissance makes us think of a rebirth, and though I think we know when things need to change, most of us realize it late, after some kind of change has already begun.

That’s what happened with me.

Last January, on New Year’s Day, sitting at my dining table surrounded by friends, I gave up struggle, and I tried to rid myself of my need for recognition. Struggle, which I had once mistakenly found poetic, and which I took almost as part of my work ethic, seemed easy enough to give up. For me, it was an attempt to rid myself of my own martyrdom, of which I wasn’t the least bit proud, but found myself continually aware. The need for recognition went hand in hand with that sense of martyrdom, like my own odd way of being Superwoman.

Recognition is just validation. And I’d spent years seeking it, and for years watched it go to everyone around me, which, frankly, only increased that terrible sense of being lost. I thought later of when I’d had the most successes in my life, and how those successes always seemed undeserved, almost too easy or irrelevant in some way-- obsolete. Then, I couldn’t have cared less. If recognition is not the goal, then it is hardly an end. There was a time when I did things because they felt necessary, when my decisions and my thoughts and my actions came from a place of passion and urgency. The things I did, and did well, had their own intrinsic rewards, and I had always done them first and foremost for myself; others be damned.

And I began thinking of that, and then of leadership and service. I try to give my students the tools and the opportunities to be leaders in their lives. We focus on these ideas, a big part of that being to follow your own compass, to be motivated from your own core, to silence out all the misdirections and mistakes that are screaming at you. What I didn’t realize for a long time was that my need for recognition had become akin to my need for others. approval. And my hopes for getting St. Louis noticed was more a desire of validation-- like, “Hey, look at me! I’m a part of something great!” Obviously, this is not a good thing. It was not who I wanted to be or what I wanted to work for anymore.

The truth is, we see cities the way we see ourselves. The streets, the buildings, the brick and the muddy river; the people we encounter, the ideas we applaud, the failures we cry over-- they’re all just parables, ways to see ourselves. We project and magnify and create and reflect ourselves onto this living, breathing body of a city. That’s why we love some places and why others leave us empty and flat. Places we love make us see new things in ourselves, like waking up to something new over and over. We understand and identify. We feel these places, literally. We feel them in our heart; we allow them to wash over us and move into us and fill us up.

This is how I feel about St. Louis; this is how I love it. There are days when I have my doubts, much like there are days I doubt myself. There are times when I think we will not recover, times when I am embarrassed by our decisions and actions and speak defensively. There are times when I want to send everyone in the country a letter telling them I know the secret, and the secret is this city. For better or worse, this is my city. It is where I feel alive, and where I chose to live. Every day I still choose it.

I spent the summer thinking about what comes next, but I realized what that really means is, what comes next for me. I can only make this city better by making it feel right for me. It’s like education: I cannot teach something if I don’t know what the desired outcome is. I cannot change something if I can’t name what I want to change. Surprisingly, I’ve come to this decision: screw St. Louis. This isn’t about a city, it’s about me. I don’t care if other people love or hate this place; I care only that it continues to be a place where I want to be. It’s about living and doing the things I love, which hopefully are aligned with creating a better city, but it can’t only be about that. I don’t know what that outcome is, nor do I know how to achieve it alone. But I do know how to do the things I love. So I’ll do what I am good at.

From now on, I’m going back to how I got here-- following my gut, pissing off some folks along the way, being outspoken, and burning the bridges that are about to fall down regardless. This city will be what it is, and it will likely be that way with or without me. Maybe I can affect some kind of change in my little pocket of brick and trees, but I can’t do anything if I’m not doing it for the right reason. I don’t know how this city can reflect growth in my eyes if I can’t even grow myself. So, for now, I’m done worrying about St. Louis’ renaissance. It will come or it won’t (and truthfully, I think it’s long been here anyway). I’m just going to keep working on seeing the city I love, and hopefully along the way I’ll remember to keep looking at myself. The good things usually find us-- all we have to do is recognize them when they appear.

Look for new posts about great things and great people each Wednesday night. See the city for what it is, and the city will begin to see you.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

In My Own Revolution

Yeah... I'm waiting too. Trying to figure out my next role in the revolution. I have some ideas, but need a little more time, then I'll be back.

Until then, I'd suggest staying tuned to LoFi St. Louis. I think it might be my new answer to waking up each day.

Find it here.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Route 19, along the roadside, and the Skyview

Isn't it always the case that just when you're in a hurry, somehow you end up missing where you're supposed to go. I realized about twenty minutes too late I had turned onto the wrong road. In my haste and hurry to escape traffic and road construction, I had simply turned left, thinking I was one place, when in reality, I was in another.

Random mistake or luck of the draw-- either way, I ended up driving one of the most beautiful, uninterrupted stretched of highway I have seen in years: Route 19, just N. of 44. Straight as a rail running north and south, the road fell and rose, dipping and ascending its hills of green, green farmland. Pastures and fields. Farmhouses worn with years of love and usage, rather than neglected and forgotten. The clouds were th3e perfect shade of grey and deep blue-- dark colours, like a teenager's anger rising and then receding, forgotten and faded.

Just when I thought I was through marvelling at my mistake, just before I turned off onto 44 at Cuba, there it was: a drive-in. Still in use, an old lady with grey hair mowing the lawn that surrounded it. A little research showed me that theatre opened in 1954, and it's still running. So my haphazard waylay meant I got to put a new theatre on my list.

I am a movie theatre junkie who oddly, doesn't like movie theatres. I find going to the movies to be a deeply personaly experience, and highly intimate. Most of the time, these days, movies aren't worth the trouble. But when one is good, it's tough to have those lights go up and get jolted back into the harsh light of day with a bunch of strangers picking popcorn off of their laps and kids running up the aisles. That's why when I go, I go alone, but mostly I just don't go.

And yet, there's a magic to movie theatrea: a hocus pocus and a razzle dazzle. There's charm and a certain sincerity about the important of fantasty and escape in our everyday lives. I spent much of college researching movie theatres and writing papers tracing the economic and cultural development of towns and cities based on their theatres. But it wasn't until I was 25 that I got to go to a drive-in.

There were once over 4000 drive-ins in the US; now they number in the low hundreds, and many are no longer functioning. Missouri still sports 13 drive-ins, but even closer than any of those is the Skyview Drive-in. Located just across the river in Belleville, the Skyview is open and raring to go. At $8.50 a person, the Skyview shows to double-features a night, and is currently open Fri-Sun.

It's one of those things that will make you feel the magic of America. Those times when you used to sit outside, maybe the hum of a radio or music far off in the distance, the sweat rolling down your legs in the sticky heat of summer, kids laughing and running. The drive-in might still be one of those things that is roughly the same as it was when our parents were growing up. Sure there are changes, but I bet it still makes you feel the same...

And these days, anything that can slow time down-- in fact, anything that seems timeless-- is worth all the money in the world. The Skyview costs less than a ten.

SkyView Drive-In

Monday, April 30, 2007

The Toilet Doesn't Flush The Way You Think It Does

So, there's that old myth about the toilets flushing counter-clockwise in the southern hemisphere. The Aussies don't call it counter-clockwise though, they refer to things that move opposite the way a clock does as "anti-clockwise", and regardless, it's not true anyhow. I thought of this myth one day after I'd been there for about a week. I'd noticed plenty of things in the land Down Under, but I hadn't paid attention to the way the water moved down the pipes. What I did notice was that everywhere I went, all over Australia-- from big cities to small towns of 30 people, from rest areas with no doors to public toilets in city centres, from big fancy hotels to the hostels I stayed in, every single toilet I encountered (save one, in Hobart) had two buttons to flush. One flushed with full water; the other was a half-flush. Suction, in general, also seemed much better. I was stunned though. Such a simple thing to conserve water-- something Aussies are very passionate about-- and it was everywhere, wholesale, proving to me how easy to is to enact change. And for the record, when I did my duty the next time and did watch how the toilet flushed, it looked exactly the same as it does at home in the States (except of course, I used the half-flush button).

Australia seems the earth-mother hippie cool kid that everyone respects enough to obey its taunts, and actually be shamed if they don't conform. And it will taunt you for many things which the average American never even flinches at, nonetheless thinks about with any real sense of environmental responsibility. For one, Most stores will not give you a plastic carrier bag. Larger chains might even charge you if you ask for one to hold your groceries. The majority of people buy green (literally, they're colored green) canvas bags for between $1-2AU and use them for everything. The totes were so stylish and used for so many things, I was actually quite sad I didn't get one while I was there (I usually used my backpack for purchases, much as I had done when I used to live in the UK).

Australia has been suffering a severe draught-- not just in the Outback and more remote regions, but in big cities to the South as well. In Melbourne, you could only water certain types of plants, and only certain days of the week for certain hours (though there was some grace time allowed the elderly, which seemed oddly sweet, despite it putting them out in terrible heat). I know many places enact watering restrictions (my parents used to live in the desert), but I have never known of an American city that had special units driving around to fine people they found watering when they were not supposed to.

There were commercials on TV about taking shorter showers and recycling products. Public transportation and bikes were everywhere. Without being obnoxious, signs or facts about the environment were everywhere. In Tasmania, where I spent a considerable amount of time, locals were most concerned about sustainable agriculture and keeping habitats intact for native species. Everywhere the message is the same: conserve, choose wisely, think about the consequences of your actions. And these messages are so engrained in Aussie culture that I was astounded. Simple things.

Simple things, and yet we never seem to do them. It just made me think how possible change is, and how easily we can become a city that cares about the environment and emonstrates that without being holier-than-thou and shoving granola down others' throats (although incidentally, the Tasmanian yoghurt and granola I had was very good)...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Down Under Odyssey, Part I

When one travels for three weeks,it's easy to forget things, and coming home this past week has been a long series of remembering. I returned to some changes at work, a slightly dirty house, not being able to find where I had stashed files when I "cleaned" before I left, and consistently losing my keys. I had three huge stacks of mail, over 1200 emails, and a pile of messages on my phones. There was a large stack of magazines waiting for me to love them, and then over easter, my dad brought me about thirty more.

Reading US News and World Reports from last week, "Making America Better"-- which, by the way, was a great issue to read coming off of travels where I did nothing but compare America to other nations-- I read an article about campaign financing, and the remembered again... I had completely forgot. Gone was the American election and the early cowardice and the mud-slinging and the eight thousand candidates vying for press and acknowledgement. Poof. I did think about local STL elections, but not that. There were other things too. I read and read and was amazed at what I had completely forgotten. I felt lighter and it was great. Like that desire I get sometimes to move because it seems the only way my house will get organized or the only way I will ever finish things enough or not feel too guilty to just move on.

And yet, all I did, the whole time I was gone was think about America... and about my place within it. It's funny the conversations you have and where they take place. The most enlightening discussion I had was when I shared a taxi with an Australian in Melbourne. We discussed taxes, development of the arts, and voting. We discussed lessons in school, civics, and how we are socialized into government. There were questions flying about civic duty.

Or perhaps more telling, when someone heard me speak, and it seemed to be usually a quiet old gentleman wearing a sun hat and leaning on his walking stick, I would be asked where I was from. Funny thing, most assumed I was Canadian. Ten or twelve people, which made me laugh. When I lived in England in the late nineties and 2000, I often told people I was Canadian because it was easier than dealing with the political embarassment my country was thrusting upon me during Clinton's impeachment hearings and then later during the 2000 election. But this time, the Australians thought me to be Canadian for two overwhelming reasons: men thought so because I was undemanding, quiet, and polite. Apparently they deal with brash Americans who feel entitlement a bit too often. Women and people my age thought I was Canadian because very few Americans travel alone, especially women as it turns out.

One way or the other, there's nothing like getting lost in another country to find yourself and figure out a thing or two about where you live. There will be more postings on my great Down Under Odyssey, but for now, I have three things to say:

1.) If you ever get the chance to go to Tasmania, do so. I don't care who you are or how much you've traveled or what you like, you will feel at home there, and you will love it.

2.) The outback, specifically Coober Pedy, an opal mining town, is both crazy and wonderful. Being there was like living in a sci-fi movie, and yet the town is ingenius and provocative, and in many ways a model for better quality of life.

3.) I took over 700 pictures,so it's taking a while to post them. They're not going up chronologically, but my four days in the Outback (around 100 photos) are posted on my flickr account. More to follow within the next week or so.

And lastly, if you haven't traveled in a while, do it. Just go. Stop making excuses. Even if you just get in yolur car\for the afternoon or take the bus somewhere without a destination. In my favorite poem, there's a line I had always neglected until this year, "Your adventures are like safe houses." I got tired of being so safe. Maybe you are too.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Down Under

So... as you've noticed, there has been a hiatus, though no such stoppage of the renaissance. I will continue (I promise) regular posting in April.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Go see The Help

Sick of Mardi Gras... Check out what I'm doing Saturday night on my Down, Out, and Hip site. Link to the right.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Coming soon...

I have not abandoned writing... Work is simply kicking my ass right now. Shortly (as in, hopefully tomorrow), I will post. I have writings forthcoming on:

- STL superheroes
- teaching kids to write
- Arts update
- and new posts to Down, Out and Hip about the MoBar, El Maguey, Riley's, and playing pool on the cheap

Stay tuned... and sorry for the lax posting.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

30 in the year of thirty

I know it's been a while, but in honor of my recent ascent into a new decade, I decided to make a list of 30 things I want to make sure I do this year in St. Louis. Somehow, the normal STL things seem to always escape me, creep up on me, or I just take them for granted and pass on them, assuming they will always be around. But no more! So, I made a list.

The following list appears in no certain order. Many of the things are things that I have done, and some surprisingly are things I've never managed (like Mardi Gras or St. Pat's... I used to work in Soulard). Regardless, I'm hoping to hit all 30.

1. Drive go-karts at the I-70 indoor speedway
(note: I went to do this last weekend and found it slightly disappointing. For go-karts that can go so fast, they gave you a track with curves where, seemingly, they can't. I wanted speed and it was not what I was looking for.)
2. visit Luckett's Lounge
3. take a tour of the Fox Theatre
4. see the Mardi Gras parade
5. go to the St. Pat's Parade in Dogtown
6. be downtown for the opening day of the Cards (or for Cards/Cubs if working opening day)
7. climb around MonstroCity at the City Museum
8. eat at the Blue Owl in Kimmswick (ok, technically not in STL, but my mom really wants to go there, so it made the list)
9. spend a whole day at Dapper Dan's
10. drink at the Geyer Inn
11. ride the Metrolink all day
12. find the greatest nachos in town
13. see Chuck Berry live (it just seems like I should)
14. rent a boat in Forest Park (ditto-- I have no desire, but it seems almost requisite for a resident)
15. go iceskating in Forest Park
16. skate at the Skate King again
17. drink beers by the river
18. ride the whole Riverfront Trail
19. run a 5K race in STL
20. have a bratzel at Gus' Pretzels
21. go to the Muny (yep, never been... Why do they start the season so late? It's sooooo hot then.)
22. have a picnic during Shakespeare in the Park (one of my favorite nights, though I usually daydream instead)
23. watch Pridefest (the fire trucks with the big American flag spanned between them is, oddly, my favorite)
24. eat food at the stands during the Festival of Nations
25. go to hip-hop night at the Halo and eat hot dogs out front (done, last weekend)
26. visit Shady Jack's
27. watch the sunrise over the river
28. be at Soulard Market at sunrise to watch the bustle
29. go to the Gypsy Caravan (despite heat or rain)
30. finish taking photos of all the STL neighborhoods

Contenders in surrounding areas:

-return to the Peveley dirt stockcar races
-go to Cahokia
-go to Gateway
-visit the dogtrack
-return to Pere Marquette and the River Road in October

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Handwritten Fears (in the 20th Ward)

All signs were seen at the flowershop on the corner of Cherokee and Compton in the 20th Ward, home of the aldermanic race between Galen Gandolfi and Craig Schmid.

For those of you in the Gandolfi camp, check out his fundraiser held this Friday evening (Jan. 12) at the Typo Cafe/Tin Ceiling (also on the corner of Compton and Cherokee--across the street from these signs).

Gandolfi 2007 Fundraiser
Bands of the 20th banding together:

Walkie Talkie USA
The Adversary Workers
Bad Folk
The Beating
Bravo Company

Friday, January 12 at Typo/Tin Ceiling

Doors at 7:00
Bands at 8:00

And check out the Typo; I hear Tim Rakel's done a fine, fine job.

Friday, January 05, 2007

South Grand: Check Out the Red and Black

South Grand seems to be ringing in 2007 with a much higher profile, and I, for one, am ecstatic. This afternoon, on my way home from lunch at Mangia, I saw a red and black jacket ahead of me on the sidewalk. "South Grand Guides". I ran to catch up with the poor guy because I was so excited.

Apparently this week marked the beginning of the South Grand Guides, which will be patrolling the South Grand area as an offshoot of the CID Guides downtown. These friendly folks are there to answer questions, give recommendations, act as secondary public safety officers ( escorting S. Grand patrons and workers, reporting problems, etc.). The man I spoke with today is also a CID Guide downtown, so he's used to the drill, and even better, he himself lives on S. Grand.

I don't know of any other neighborhoods that have rolled out these guides, but again, if S. Grand just got them, perhaps this is part of a larger city initiative. One way or the other, in my eyes, those red and black jackets make S. Grand officially a destination for people who don't live around here, and they sure as heck make it a little safer and more pleasant for those of us who do.

If you see one (and you will), stop and say hi. They like to talk and like to help. I am pretty damn excited.