Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Heart Madison County Bike Trails

View from Horseshoe Lake into Downtown STL, the Arch in the distance
Horseshoe Lake is along the Schoolhouse Trail in Madison County, IL

View of the river, from Pere Marquette State Park
Vadalebene Bike Trail, Madison County, IL

Inspired by my drive up the Great River Road last week, I set out on Sunday afternoon for a little bike ride. (The operative word there was little.) For the last couple of weeks, I've had my head in books about the 19th century working on an essay. Once freed from Civil War life, I realized I was woefully in need of some exercise. Sunday was gorgeous and we set off only to be plagued by a bad tire on my bike (which was also in desperate need of a good tune-up and lube). My bike squeaked so loudly for hours that eventually I was told it sounded like crickets or crazy birds. I hadn't ridden in a few weeks, and so our initial thought of 15 or 20 miles sounded great. But as that ride stretched on and on into 35 miles, I was killing myself in the worst way. I have the stamina, but my hip was just angry, and eventually I think people might have been able to walk faster than I rode. There were other debacles along the way, and yet in the end, it was a great ride.

I usually hit trails in Missouri, so it was awesome to go five minutes across the river and have a huge network of trails available. Pretty much everything in Madison County connects. There are maps along the way, restrooms, water, and some gorgeous scenery (as well as some more bland parts that include the backs of houses). We parked at the south end of Horseshoe Lake and rode to the sound of gunshots, which we later connected to men in camouflage getting ready to take their boat out for the day. There were little black snakes, praying Mantis, and huge grasshoppers along the way. We passed the lake and cornfields, rode through some woods, and by parks. We took the Schoolhouse Trail, which is 16 miles one way, and connects to a bunch of other trails in Madison to form a big loop. But there again, everything connects.

Next up, when it's not a weekend, I am hitting the Vadalabene Bike Trail from Alton to Pere Marquette, or the North end of the Riverfront Trail over the Chain of Rocks. But next time, I'll make sure I'm in slightly better shape and my bike is happy.

Check out all the trails at Madison County Trail/Transit
There are links with distances, parking info., and maps with loops.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Baseball and Falling Leaves

I originally posted this in 2006, but I have been thinking of baseball all week in the back of my head, so here it is again. Only now, we're not in the Series, so we have to love the game from afar.

The Glory of the Game

Man, I love baseball. I don't love it in the wearing-red kind of way (which is obvious if you know me). I don't love it in the I-always-go-to-games way. I don't love it in the I-really-know-about-it way. I just love the game, pure and simple.

I love baseball because it reminds me of my mom. Growing up, my mom would sit in front of the TV-- I could see it flicker in the dark from the street when I came in from playing-- and she would watch the Pirates by herself, hooting and hollering at the TV. I love it because my mom used to take the train in Florida when she was a kid with my grandfather, travelling to see Spring Training. I love it because I never saw my first game until I was 22, and I was with my mom 2 weeks after I had moved to St. Louis, on a humid September night in the old Busch. The Arch was there and flags were waving, Mark McGuire still played, and when that anthem was played, it was like everyone in the stadium was suddenly the same-- all in one place, and it was amazing.

I love baseball because it seems American in the best possible way. I remember watching the first game that was played after 9/11, and thinking maybe it would all be okay.

I love baseball because it's egalitarian. You know the rules, and the rules are simple and fair. Generally, calls are straightforward. Everyone gets their chance to score and defend. You take turns. There's no contact, no pushing or shoving or manhandling of one player by another-- not like basketball or football. Baseball is a team sport made up of individuals, each having very specific jobs and territories-- but they need to work together, in rhythm.

I love the tradition of baseball. I love that kids play it all over, in different versions. A stick, a ball, some land. It's still meant for families, and there's none of the glamour or glitz or bling that some other professional sports have adopted.

I love baseball because it makes me wonder if life is really about talent, or if it's just about burying our nerves and having confidence. It's a series of decisions and a guessing game at the same time, almost like rocks-paper-scissors, where you are not so much thinking of what you want to do, but rather what your opponent might think. You have to out-think and then react, but still, you never know.

I love baseball because I am amazed at what can happen in the few short seconds between hitting the ball and running to the base. So much can change in that distance, and yet the runner must simply run, not worrying about where everyone else is. They must follow their own path once they set the field in motion. I love how everything can change in that quick flash as we barrel and careen towards our targets. And part of me loves the idea that you can steal bases, the thrill of having nerve and the fact that if you succeed, you are not punished.

Maybe I just like the metaphor. But if that's the case, I like it because it's a metaphor I know intuitively. It doesn't need to be overthought or even articulated. We all get it. We know it. And we understand. It's like knowing the secrets of death and then forgetting, but it doesn't matter because you are too busy living. Baseball might mean more, but ultimately, all that matters, is it's one hell of a game to watch. And we live in a great city right now to watch it.

I love October. Go Cards!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

U.S. Schools Closing on Election Day

I used to wear flags...

Election Day was like a holiday in my house growing up--something anticipated and treated with reverence. It was not, however, a day off of school. Voting and civic duty was a big part of my parents' lives as I grew up, but they never talked about what they believed or who they would vote for. So my brother and I grew up in this almost apolitical civic-minded household, which, in hindsight, is probably the best thing I could have asked for. Election months were a time charged with thought and research, but never with opinions, so that I grew up discussing politics and asking questions, but never being told what to believe as true or right. In those pre-internet days, we tended to live somewhere far in the distance of others: in the mountains, in cornfields, in towns of 300 people if we were lucky. And my parents would always pull all the newspaper articles for the weeks before the election, reading up on each of the candidates and issues. The night before the election, after dinner, my mom and dad would sit down with the sample ballot from the newspaper and discuss with one another whom they would vote for.

I loved election days at school, all those adults coming and going, looking furrowed and serious, popping into the booths and the swoosh of the curtain as they pulled the lever. In Colorado, even when the snow would come crashing down and school would let out early because of weather (I remember this in junior high, especially), people would still come in, dust the huge flakes off of their shoulders, and vote. It made me want to be an adult, and it made me realize how people come together. Even when they do not believe the same thing, they still come together to participate in the same act. I loved voting and would wear my flag pin on election day. I was a bit of a dork, but so was everyone else. When we studied voter apathy in junior high, no one in my class could understand why people wouldn't vote. This was in the time of Desert Storm and we all thought being heard was vital. Perhaps at 14, you better understand not having a voice, and you don't take the opportunity for granted.

In the last Presidential Election, I was teaching creative writing one day a week at a south side elementary school. It was an awesomely diverse school- a pretty even mixture of Bosnian, Vietnamese, black, and white kids. I came into the classroom at 8am just as the bell rang, the day after the election. Walking into that 5th grade classroom was to understand the depth of impact Bush's second term would have. As the students were looking at a big map filled with red and blue states on the projector, crayons out to color the map, they whispered amongst themselves. And then, there was crying. They, at 11, wanted anything but Bush. One student asked me, "Why doesn't Bush care about poor people?" Those kids took the election seriously. Many were first generation Americans, and they were mad they didn't get a chance to vote or be heard. Others seemed to understand the implication of the election in a more personal way; the results meant their lives would not become easier anytime soon. If you had asked those kids anything about the political process, they knew the answer. They were vested, and the election affected them.

In the NY Times this morning, there was an article about schools closing on election day due to safety concerns. I often work in city schools and am quite used to the several steps of safety precautions, from metal detectors to cameras and several ID checks-- all practices which I understand. The concern is that using schools as polling places puts kids in jeopardy, and so many schools are keeping kids at home this November 4. I have several problems with this.

1. I have been in many schools with good safety practices over the past several years. I have been there on polling days. Typically, voters poll in the gym or an ancillary area that is separate from the main building, leaving no admittance for kids in, or for adults into the rest of the school. These types of polling places are usually very well patrolled and monitored. So if the concern is abduction, or strangers being admitted, this has been addressed for many years.

2. If a district is concerned about polling safety and kids, move the polling location. I vote in a nursing home. In other communities, I have voted in community centers and fire stations. There are other options in location.

3. My real concern is that this is a racially charged issue. Though it's not being stated, I fear that people are not concerned about simple post-9/11 and Columbine safety as they say, but that they are concerned that schools might be targeted because of the racial implications of this election.

It makes me heartsick that so many kids will miss the chance to see adults turn up and vote. That on such an important day in history, many of our nation's kids will be sitting at home like it is a holiday, not paying attention to the events that will affect them. By keeping kids out of school on election day, we are missing one of our best chances to show our nation's youth how civic duty works, to discuss the rights and responsibilities of being an American citizen. Those kids will miss out, but as a nation, we will lose even more.

Here's the article in the NY Times Education- Sunday Section

Other articles: Times-Herald op-ed (GA), Palm Beach parent (FLA), Illinois article, and a slew of other articles on Google

Friday, October 17, 2008

Museum of Beer

Last weekend, after spending my afternoon on the sidewalks of Manchester and McCausland (not hookin' or hustling-- filming), I was hot and tired. James was with me, and he suggested a quick nosh somewhere. Enter Pat's Bar and Grill down on Oakland and Tamm. I was too tired to have a beer, but it was really nice to sit in a neighborhood bar in the middle of a Saturday afternoon and see a few patrons laughing over their beers at the bar and families gathered over chicken in booths. For some reason, it seemed like the perfect thing to do and the perfect place to be. (Monday-Friday from 4-6, they also have half-price appetizers if you're looking for something to do tonight.) Since I enjoyed it so, I now recommend it to those of you who find yourselves out on a fine fall Saturday afternoon. Yummy food, especially the chicken fingers and fries-- not greasy, super-tasty breading.

And before you head there, check out one of the current exhibits at the History Museum. Kettle to Kegis an exhibit chronicling the beer industry in our fair city, specifically from 1809-1909.

Heck, make a day out of it. Some people pick apples in the fall, others are more given to hops. After learning about the past, head on over to the Bottleworks to see about the present. Schlafly gives tours at the Bottleworks in Maplewood on Saturdays from Noon-6pm, every hour on the hour and on Sundays at Noon, 2pm, and 4pm. Have one of their Presidential Beers while you're at it. Schlafly online

Get outside, and then have a drink. That's what Fall's for.

It's Not Chrismakkah Yet

I'll be frank. I think this continual Christmas music thing on the radio in October in BS. It makes me angry for a variety of reasons, but mostly, it's a waste of everyone's time, and I am pretty sure just a big publicity gimmick so they get press. The radio station (which shall remain unnamed since I refuse to give them specific press-- just turn your dial, you'll find it all conspicuous and Christmas-y)-- anyway the station is changing formats after Christmas, so apparently, they're just ditching their audience now and expect us all to believe that there really is a market for All-Christmas-Music-All-The-Time in freaking mid-October. It was 85 degrees and sunny last weekend. I was sweating my ass off while I worked outside.

I'll end my rant here. It's not a station I listened to anyway, I'm just tired of reading about it everywhere (so yep, I'm making you read about it... I realize the irony.) The notion just makes me angry. I don't need any more commercialism in my life. Add to that: ploys, marketing manipulation, or gimmicks. Argggg...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Free Things To Do in the 'Lou

So, I don't know what's going on with me lately, but it's like I am reverting to a teenager again while at the same time feeling really old. I was aghast last night that I heard someone do the Pixies during karaoke (if you're wondering, the song was from Doolittle, which also seemed a bit obvious). I have been taking a class at KDHX in the CWE, and just like the nerd I used to be, I'm excited to do homework. I am writing an essay about a novel for a freelance gig, and I love doing that. I especially love the research, god help me. Last year I was obsessed with Jane Austen, this year might be the American Renaissance again (as it refers to literature, not the cultural period of the same name).

Anyway, apparently, I like learning and I like learning for free. So here are some cool opportunities I dug up.

FREE PRINTMAKING WORKSHOP with Evil Prints, Sat. Nov. 1, from 1-4pm
Having just found out about this, I looked up Evil Prints which has been operating since 1995. The owner, Tom Huck, is a pretty badass printmaker, a talent I totally admire. It's really cool to see a bunch of almost tattoo-inspired themes shine through in such an old-world medium. The shop also runs fee-based DIY Screenprinting classes and other multi-week courses. To register for this free workshop, you need to email evilbarker@rocketmail.com to reserve a spot. Check out more info here.
(And by the way, there are tons of Dia de los Muertos things going on around town on Sat., Nov. 1. Printmaking is a great way to connect the dots between different cultures and times on that day.)

The St. Louis Artists' Guild Photo Section will look at your work. Yep, for real. At these meetings, anyone can contact Jim Trotter beforehand (colorimage@hotmail.com) and they'll show your work at the beginning of the meeting. 10 photos or less. This is a great place to start if you are beginning photography and want some feedback and tips. For more info, click here. The Artists' Guild also has a lot of other free workshops (or some very cheap, just the cost of supplies)-- including a Fantasy Figure Drawing class ($5) where you can draw glorious females dressed like warriors and such, which sounds like a dream for some RPGers.

ST. LOUIS ART MUSEUM MYTH WORKSHOPS, Sunday, Oct. 19 (1-4pm, in the Sculpture Hall)
Got a family? Or just looking for some learning that's slightly more relaxed? The St. Louis Art Museum is presenting a family Understanding Myth series throughout the month of October. On the 26th, the topic will focus on Magic and Myth. Other weeks, themes will vary. Additionally, there is also a free 30 min. family tour of the art museum, which is a great first step if you haven't brought your kids in lately (or if you're babysitting a niece or nephew). There's also hands-on art activities that will center around myths. So if you don't remember the difference between Zeus and Artemis, or the significance of Persephone and Hades, then check it out. Slam.org

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fun Things I Might Miss This Weekend

So, as usual, there are about 8,ooo cool things going on this weekend. Something happens in October and this town just lights up with awesome possibilities. Last weekend, I was out of town and of course there were a lot of great things that I missed (like Bob Reuter and Sunyatta Marshall playing an Obama benefit at the Royale). So, despite my being super tired this weekend, here's a list of things I am contemplating... (You should, too.)

-Paint By the Numbers at Mad Art
Kids, adults, crazy kooks alike-- everyone loves Paint by the Numbers. Anyone can do it, skill or no skill, taste or no taste. You can even be subversive and paint outside the lines, or use crazy colors. I saw the canvases from last year and they were pretty cool. The best thing is, it benefits SCOSAG, which serves children (and adults) from all over St. Louis by providing studio space and art instruction. The event is 7-11pm, costs $10 ($5 for kids), and has a cash bar. 314.865.0060 for info.

-Walk a neighborhood. I have some footage I have to shoot in Franz Park (part of Dogtown if you don't know), where I am currently obsessed with the used car lots. My other location is the North part of the CWE, also a current obsession. I am particularly fond of Olive (between Boyle and Euclid)-- gorgeous buildings that I am planning on photographing this weekend.

-John Waters at Laumeier Sculpture Park, Opening Reception 6-8pm
Arguably amongst the best of cult filmmakers, John Waters is going to be in town. I have seen most of his films (Pink Flamingo is playing the midnight show at the Tivoli this weekend), but he is in town to promote his artwork. Laumeier is hosting an exhibit (on display thru Jan.) of his sculptures and photos. He'll be at the reception though... genius in our midsts, folks. And it's free.

-Rob Levy of KDHX's Juxtaposition (Wed. nights, 8pm on KDHX) spins at the Royale (10pm-close)- no cover
Okay, so I particularly heart Rob because he always plays me Pixies songs galore, and he's just really kind. If you want to hear some great Indie music (his sets feel like college to me, but it depends when you went to college), Rob's your man. The Royale's at 3132 S. Kingshighway and they've currently got the Schlafly HefeBIden and Baracktoberfest beers on draft, which is kind of fun.

This outdoor site-based art project has been absent for a couple of years, I think. It used to be held by the Riverfront trail, down by the river, a great industrial area for provocative and interesting art. This year, the event is rolling down on the Arch Grounds, by the river. Activities abound for kids, and Sunday holds a boat parade (of boats made by people-- Yay!). Free and open to the public.

-Coming Out Stories (Sat at 8pm, Sunday at 3pm- Missouri History Museum)
As part of National Coming Out Day, the Uppity Theatre Company presents "Coming Out Stories". Here's the idea: the audience tells their own "coming out" stories (of all kinds) and improv actors present a show on the spot. One, this seems like an awesome idea and something great for the community. Two, improv is very difficult and the folks who do it are super-good. (George Malich of "A: Anonymous" and other local films will be onstage, as well many other great local improv artists.) And Three, this is part of Newline Theatre's St. Louis Political Theatre Festival, which seems very-needed in terms of dialogue and thought provocation.

Friday, October 03, 2008

KDHX Pledge Drive

It's a beautiful autumn Friday afternoon and I just pledged to KDHX online. Right now, I'm listening to Bob's Scratchy Records, which is waking me up. KDHX is membership supported, and they only ask for money twice a year. Your membership will not only make you feel all warm and fuzzy, but it also keeps great, independentradio programming on the air. KDHX is one of very few true community radio stations left in the US. All volunteers; no commercials. And they need our help to stay alive.

Give 'em a call. Pledge some money. 314.664.3688 or pledge online at KDHX.org

In addition to awesome music (and there's all kind of music), you can also stream media online (2 weeks of each show avail. online), and are eligible to take free basic audio and basic video classes at KDHX. So, there you have it. Where else does $50 keep a great organization alive, contribute to cool people playing cooler music, and get you some great education (taught by exceedingly knowledgeable professionals. Even if you don't live in STL, you still have access to great media, made available by our community, and made possible by your donations.

Go, on. Pledge. You know you want to. Keep community media alive.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

VP Debates Tonight at Wash U

3100 journalists in town. The only Vice Presidential debates during this race. At a time when the VP nominee is arguably more critical than ever (though I'd argue that it's always critical).

Tonight at 8pm, Washington University hosts the VP debates.(Incidentally, Wash U has hosted more presidential debates than any other university in the country.) But, here we are. Palin. Biden. In town. I feel like we should get ready for a rumble. When I was lying in bed thinking about the debates this morning, I began wondering what kind of questions I would want to ask them both, if given the opportunity.

For me, when I think of the current state of our country, and how it is fixed-- it's not just about policy and execution, but it's about delivering the kind of leadership necessary to bring about a change in cultural values that will help guide policy and public support of that policy. For many years, most of my life even, I feel we have been politicking to symptoms. Quick fixes to prove we can do something in office. I'd rather see a strategic plan, something that takes time, but has direction and meaning. I'd like to rally behind my leaders again. I'd like to feel like I am being lead.

I think we've seen the beginning of the tipping point on some of this. The environment is a good example. We are by no means close to solving the issue, but a few years ago it was only on people's radar as an issue, not as a serious concern, or something intimate to their everyday lives. And then, that began to shift. I'm waiting for education to tip and become something that matters. And health care.

So, I guess, from the VP nominees, I'd like to know, not only what they plan on doing, but what cultural shifts they think are necessary for the public to understand what's at stake and support them. I would like to see that they have some understanding that the political system does not just exist in a vacuum.

My guess is they will speak in circular fashion, as we are so fond of these days, and little will be unearthed, and that no true dialogue will exist. But like all other things political, I'll watch, hoping I am proven wrong.

VP Debates, Live Tonight, 8pm CST