Monday, September 29, 2008


Last year for Christmas, I got a Bedazzler. I crafted some lightning blots onto my aprons, but the biggest test came right before Super Tuesday, when I bedazzled the word "VOTE" in rhinestones across my chest. Unfortunately, the bar was so crowded that evening that several rhinestones escaped and I occasionally became tangled in others. But, the point is, we need to do whatever we can to get people to vote and raise awareness.

Last week, I was leaving a class in the Central West End when I met a man named Richard. He had been in the paper that morning, and he proudly showed me his picture and the caption that told about him registering voters. Richard is homeless and we talked for quite some time about why people don't vote. I taught community college for many years and we talked a lot about voter apathy in my classroom. I shared with Richard some of what I had heard back then from non-voters. He told me about some of the folks he'd encountered and why he thought it was so important. Richard said that he was 46 before he was registered to vote. His parents hadn't voted and no one ever told him how easy it could be. We talked about the importance of having a voice, even a dissenting voice that might not want to vote for anything or anyone on the ballot. No matter, cast it blank. But vote.

Missouri residents have one more week to register to vote. Registration will close on Wed., Oct. 8. You can find the form here, print it out and mail it in. I also know that they have been registering folks down at the Obama headquarters in the CWE. Or, drag yourself on down to the Royale for a pint of beer while you register (3132 S. Kingshighway). You can also head to any public library, DMV, or Social Services office to register. Ask everyone you know, and bring someone in to register if it's their first time. In recent elections, we see over and over that every vote does count. Cast your ballot. Make your thoughts matter; make your voice heard. Too many people once weren't able.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Dr. Kelvin Adams, Our New Superintendent

On Thursday night, the SAB named Dr. Kelvin Adams of New Orleans the new St Louis Public Schools Superintendent. I have been thinking of this ever since.

Here's what we know:

-He is second in charge of the Recovery School District in New Orleans (12,500 students; STL has 28,000).
-He is a former teacher and principal.
-He worked in STL (SLPS Human Resources) in 2006-07.
-He was slated to be successor of Valles (the NOLA superintendent).
-He was the only candidate of the final 3 to have any STL connection or experience, making one wonder if that was such important criteria why he was the only one in 3-- just sayin'.


-They say he has no experience. That being said, his professional career is almost entirely in education.
-Most people are weary, cynical, and pessimistic. He is #8 in 5 years. The district is unaccredited and run by the state. Not great odds for someone walking in.
-Many in NOLA seem to think he is running to an "easier" job before showing his ineptitude. Though I am not sure STL is easier (see above point).
-He supports charter schools. As does Mayor Slay. And charter schools are a hot topic. They take students out of public schools in big numbers, but the jury is still out on where they fit into the STl "solution". Personally, his affinity for charter schools makes me think this is a big part why he got the job... not so much to clean our schools up, as to possibly funnel kids through a separate system. But, I don't know the other candidates' stances.

Positives (Possibly):

-The STL teachers' union supported him (out of the 3, but still, it's a good start).
-He seems to have a following in NOLA. So, to hear a lot of folks say positive things and consider his departure a loss is positive for us.
-He has worked in a wrecked and ravaged school district. Starting from scratch in many ways and trying to stabilize communities. We are not recovering from a disaster, but our schools do not look much better, and our neighborhoods are suffering in many of the same ways (poverty, drugs, violence, extreme lack of community resources and programs for families).

I don't know where I am weighing in on this. Obviously, SLPS is near and dear to my heart. The school where I taught for many years was closed last year, and I have seen how badly we need strong leadership and change. My concern is that no one has stuck around long enough to give us direction, even though some might have had great ideas. Dr. Adams has a three year contract, and I am hoping he fulfills it, giving these kids a chance to see what education should be, and a new chance for their future. We'll see. We'll see.

To read more, check out this New Orleans site for a hometown view of what they are giving (up) to STL.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Notes on Fun

As a kid, I moved around a lot. Each time we hit a new city, my mom would pack us up for the day and make us go out and explore. We went to museums and neighborhoods, restaurants and shops (and always found the best libraries). On Sundays, we would get loaded into the car alongside picnic supplies and off we went on a day trip in some direction to see some thing somewhere. Point it, it never mattered what we saw, it was that we saw things, period.

There's something to be said for being a tourist in your own town. 9 years ago when I first moved to STL, I had Mondays off-- a sad day to explore when all the museums are closed. So... I hit the streets on foot. This weekend, I had an old friend in town and we set off on Fun.

Now, I have a lot of thoughts about the perfect weekend, and being a fan of the 80's children's book series Choose Your Own Adventure, I made a Flow Chart of Fun. Dependent on the weather, time of day, and the user's mood, I laid out the best STL has to offer. And hopefully in coming weeks, I'll share some of those selections. In the meantime, think of this like the Cliff Notes to Adventure.


The Light Project
Having just popped back into town after a summer chasing horses and avoiding bears out west, this Pulitzer Foundation Art Installation was off my radar. Catching up on local blogs, I caught pictures of the church on Spring and had to go see it. The piece is called Chorus and it's one of the most stunning things I have ever seen. Lights donated from St. Louisans re-create the roofline of a burned church. On Saturday night when I was there, I listened as the onlookers searched for their lights and talked about it with others. The Pulitzer has a Flickr site and pics of the lamp donors with their lamps are up.

Check out the installation in the 600 block of Spring, just north of Washington.
Lamps on Flickr

An 8 Story Slide
I've missed the City Museum. I've been there for events in recent years, but it's been a long time since I played. A few hours this weekend fixed that. The $12 admission was worth it for the slide alone. I know, I know... there are lots of slides. But I am talking about theslide. Spelunk through the dark of the caves (the newer set, not the old ones) and you'll end up in an atrium with a lot of staircases (and old slides for goods coming out of the warehouse). Get your workout by running up ten flights of stairs so you can wait at the top for your turn to twist down the 8 story slide that corkscrews back to the 2nd floor. (And a small tip: lean sideways from the waist, you'll go way faster.)

City Museum Caves

And When Hungry...
As usual, STL food did not disappoint. I ate 8 meals out over four days and it all made me happy. As usual, Crown Candy kept me happy. It was oldies but goodies for me. I hit up the Tap Room to check out their new menu which I'd heard about from some friends who work there. Pretty damn good. The service was good. I loved the lamb sandwich and the bangers. And though I didn't stay because I was tired, The Helium Tapes had their CD release party later that evening... Proving every time I have been to the Tap Room lately there has been a great band.

On my radar for me to try something new: The West End Pub and Grill at Boyle and Lindell. I just heard about this today from a KDHX employee who was asking about Thomas Crone's Gaslight Square book. I checked them out online and the menu looks pretty good. Nice pricing. The pear salad has me wanting at the moment.

Coming soon: The best neighborhoods to explore with guests

and... Why you should make sure county residents vote if you want to keep riding the bus

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Volunteer for KDHX

KDHX has its fall membership pledge drive coming up. You can volunteer to man the phones and help a great organization stay great. Volunteer slots run in two hour periods, and excellent food is donated four times a day from local area restaurants.

The pledge drive runs Oct. 2-12, volunteers needed from 5am-Midnight daily.

Contact Korinne at to volunteer, or call KDHX.

KDHX Online

Take a look at their website for their new show schedule, online video, a calendar of events, streaming audio, and more. Help out an organization that helps us. KDHX Community Media needs its community.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Oh TV, I've come home...

Now that I am back from the heart of the mountains-- land of bike rides that only go uphill, land of no cell phone reception and hundreds of miles without services or people-- I am left thinking about what it all means. The city. The frontier. As I drove south, the colors diluted from those deep Crayola colors, the sky a royal blue, to earthy pastels. The rain came and the humidity made me remember my hair really wants to be curly. There were billboards again, and then people, and then city hum, city noise. The city barking and wailing all through the night. It never quite seems totally dark, and I have to remember to lock my doors again. I have no schedule, but unlike in Montana, the pace here makes me think I must stay busy, and I struggle to assign myself things to think about, things to do.

The truth is, I only want to watch TV.

But somehow in my absence this summer, Highway 40 seems no further along and everything in my house seems to have broken. Stuck in modern times with no modern conveniences is not the way to get reacquainted with the hustle. No TV, no DVD player, no dishwasher, a dripping sink and faucet that continually runs. But, I do have a new computer, and with that, have finally entered the 2000’s.

I can watch TV online. Oh, technology, I do love you. (Secretly.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about popular culture lately, and it seems increasingly obvious to me that popular culture these days is not just entertainment, but rather entertainment technology. MySpace and YouTube are not just a part of the zeitgeist anymore, they are verbs, passtimes, careers, obsessions. It’s about the iPhone’s and iPod’s and Wi’s and other small things that fit in our pockets or make us think that we are more than mere humans.

It’s taken years for me to even want to keep my cell phone turned on. Maybe in a few more, I will actually answer the damn thing. I do enjoy the texting. It feels less intrusive and can happen on my own timeframe. I no longer email for fun-- only to impart information. And for communication, I have turned back to real letters. (Yep, they still deliver mail-- real physical pieces of paper with words meant for you to read.) A funny symptom of no longer working in bars, I actually have evenings free and have begun to want to say yes when people invite me out. Just like in the old days, I started catching up with friends in person, without the limitations of a conversation lasting the length of time it takes me to make their drink.

But all these things aside, and negating the fact that I just started (and we’ll see how it goes) Twitter-ing, I still love technology. I get sad when I don’t have the internet. I am a Look-It-Up-aholic, addicted to Google, researching things that simply catch my fancy. And now... watching TV whenever I want-- even without a TV or cable. It’s like my own personal pop culture servant, my own free Tivo. If only I could watch True Blood online... Damn you, HBO.

So, in my aggressive TV Online Watching, I have discovered a few things about the state of our current popular culture. I thought I’d share.

1. In the past decade we have accepted gays and lesbians on our television. Now, we have moved even farther. Transgender reality stars abound! And I am super excited. Hurrah for the CW’s America’s Next Top Model and VH1’s I Want To Work For Diddy.

The fashion world has long accepted and loved the gays and transgendered, but we are not just living in the world of RuPaul anymore. The transgender lifestyle is not just about showmanship or ostentation. It is not a lark, but a serious decision which many people face. On ANTM, we are not seeing a transgender on the sidelines, but as a contestant in the spotlight, and in the first episode, a contender. This is obviously challenging many of the other wannabe models’ prejudices and attitudes, but it also serves to challenge America’s notions of beauty, of femininity, and of gender constructs in the first place. So many models are employed for their thin androgynous beauty, this seems to push the same envelope and tease out the relationships between sex and gender, appearance and fact, “understood” beauty and beauty articulated.

On I Want to Work For Diddy, we see a show transgressing again-- this time a transgender in the business world. Women suffered for many years to gain footing in the business world, and we know that too often it is not about performance or professionalism, but it is about staying with the safe and staid, reinforcing a status quo. We are judged not for what we can do, but for who others think we might be. In business, if you do not fit the mold, you are immediately suspect and must work twice as hard to even be considered. It’s interesting watching this play out on television, but the fact that two mainstream icons (Tyra Banks and Diddy) and mainstream network TV are taking on the subject means there is progress. I think it’s telling that it happens to be two successful black people who are willing to challenge America’s notions of beauty and success. I’m sure both Banks and Combs dealt with Otherness and marginalization enough to write volumes, and I love that they are giving these new recruits a shot.

2. My mother and I have gotten into MTV’s From G’s to Gents (and I am not ashamed). When dissecting the attitudes of these gentlemen, I was telling my mom I like the show because I see so many people I know within it. I taught community college for years and I saw so many young men who were trying to educate themselves and create better circumstances for themselves and their families. So often, we get bogged down in circumstance, and again, public expectation doesn’t allow us to move forward, regardless of our own capability. In every G, there is a gent. Sometimes it’s just buried. I have always loved the grills and the braids, the badassness and the drive. If there’s one thing a G knows, it’s how to keep going, how to drive forward-- even though sometimes that forward momentum and direction creates more problems. I once knew a man who changed his name legally to Pretty Tony New Millenium. I’ve known former (and probably current) crack dealers, a murderer, felons, men with eight kids by six moms, men who con-- and every one of them, once I knew them long enough and they let their guard down, showed me a wonderful person underneath. Makes you think sometimes we’re all facades... Some people just need to cling to theirs more for survival than others. Anyway, I’m diggin’ the show, and I am totally rooting for Shotta and Creepa, but I think Shotta has it in the bag.

3. And then there’s LC. Not having had cable for the past 12 years, I have been able to avoid the past several years of Lauren Conrad Mania-- to a point. I certainly follow the zeitgeist enough to know who she is, but I filed her with Paris Hilton and other celeb-u-nots whom do not deserve the airtime or idolatry they get. But, a rainy day in Montana and a fall off my bike had me temporarily sidelined and drinking beer during a Laguna Beach Marathon. (Curses, MTV, for these strategically timed marathons on rainy weekends!!) In a particular episode when Lo was left out of a camping trip to Catalina because there would be boys there overnight, I thought, “Wow, these kids actually have parents who parent.” Not what I expected. I mean, there was the usual sex and drinking (though it all seemed a bit implied), but still, they seemed like real kids-- aside from the sun and beach and slightly larger incomes. I was in. Crap.

And so, then came The Hills. And while it is certainly more trumped up, and I still ignore Heidi and Spencer much as I did before (though now I leave the room when they are onscreen), there are still elements of real life. Of love and friendship, of navigating people and fame and rumors, of dealing with betrayal and gossip. I realize my own life has been a little more dramatic than I’d like in recent months, but I felt like what I was seeing was as totally foreign as I had expected. It’s kind of a guilty pleasure, but wowzers, I do love it, so help me.

Due to the writer’s strike last year, there is very little new TV to look forward to, though I am eagerly awaiting Joss Whedon’s new show, Dollhouse. (Meanwhile, I have been loving Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog on for the rec.) And Fox’s Fringe was pretty great the other night, even though I was worried about an X Files redux.

So that’s it, it seems we are living in a world of (sur)reality TV and sci-fi. And it’s interesting, because I don’t know which one is more far-fetched anymore, or what’s farther from real reality. But trying to decipher those boundaries feels a little bit like the distance between myself in the mountains and myself in the city. The truth is out there. Hopefully people will tune in and watch.