Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Craft Brew versus the (old) Home Brew: Local Beer Debates at the Maryland House

Schlafly or Anheuser-Busch? This is a question many people debate. They debate it on the holiest of all beer holidays (in my book), Memorial Day, when deciding what to buy and bring to their awesome friend's BBQ. (For the record, we always end up with way more Schlafly than AB.) People debate this, sometimes in a very aggressive manner, when they walk into your bar and you don't carry AB (the Royale, the Bleeding Deacon). And the debate continues as people drink.

For me, I'm not sure there's much left to say. The case was closed a long time ago, and the nails were slammed into the coffin when InBev bought AB. But if you're still unsure which side of the fence to get drunk on, then maybe you should step out to the Maryland House in the CWE tonight. As part of owner, Kevin Brennan's, crazy world order, the first Wednesday of each month is a verbal smackdown. Sometimes arguing the inane, and often cheering the local, these short debates go round and round with the audience deciding the winner. On tap tonight: Schlafly vs. AB.

There will be Schlafly samples outside in the CWE beginning at 7pm. It's rumoured that Tom Schlafly himself is showing up to do the honors of argument. One way or the other, whether you have a preference or just love beer, this is one not to miss. (And if you don't know the Maryland House, don't go looking for a sign. It's the red door just past Brennan's on Maryland in the CWE.)

Debate to kick off between 9-9:15. I'd suggest heading up there earlier. These things have a tendency to get crowded and more than a little rowdy. And hey, one way or the other, no matter what you like to drink, just make sure it's local as often as it's not. Keep the beer jobs here, St. Louis.

NO COVER-- Just buy a good beer.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Music, music, music: Morgan Ford in Motion, Big Muddy Records, and Maid Rite

Festival overload continues into October with a bevy of events rolling out this weekend. Just checking my inbox seems to ensure that there is a festival for every last person in the city this weekend. My bet, however, is the Morgan Ford in Motion festival. This baby's popping out on Saturday, October 3, with music beginning at Noon and going until 8:30 PM. (location: Morgan Ford and Juniata)

The Funky Butt Brass Band will be there, so will Steve Ewing and local favorite Javier Mendoza. And if you've never heard the Funky Butt Brass Band, go do it. They're on at 2:30, which is the perfect time. Fit in some lunch beforehand at Local Harvest, listen to some music, and then grab a beer at the Amsterdam.

Morgan Ford in Motion will have local artists and booths with local organizations. SCOSAG has some fun crafts and events for the family (or the budding artist contained within you). The entertainment's free, but there will be food and beer if you need more sustenance. (I heard no coolers allowed, so I'm passing that on.)

If you need more fun in your weekend and want something to do tonight (Friday), hit up the last of the Schlafly Cask IPA at the Good Pie (6pm) on Olive. Reportedly, it's pretty damn delicious. After some slices, head on over to the Jefferson Underground Rooftop Party (across from the Way Out) sponsored by local label Big Muddy Records. For $10 (BYOB), starting at 8 PM, you get to hear some great music from 6 bands, including 7 Shot Screamers, Pokey LaFarge, the Monads, and Alley Ghost. Or, if the chill outside isn't your thing, laze on over to the Tap Room to catch Maid Rite at 9 PM (FREE).

It's a good weekend to be in the 'Lou.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Dear St. Louis, This Week Your Media Rocks!

Some times you just have to say thank you. In recent years, I have been a constant complainer about STL media and a big advocate of our smaller and more independent media channels. Today is no exception, and so I feel it necessary to give a shout out to a few of my favorites this week.

Matt Thenhaus' beer blog for the RFT

I am fortunate enough to know a lot of beer geeks, but none with the sheer depth of knowledge or charm of Matt Thenhaus... and the boy can write. I first met Matt years ago when he was my customer, and I learned then to always offer him a glass with his beer. Over the years, I have served Matt, worked with him, written with him, and I have certainly shared many beers with him. Beer is like pure joy for him, and he simply wants to share it. I've been wanting Matt to have a more public forum for his geekdom for the past several years. A talent like his can't be held down, but must be shared for the greater good. So, thank you RFT, for making that happen. Now, every Wednesday you can read Matt's beer column on the RFT Gut Check blog. He'll tell you about things he likes, things he doesn't, what you should know, and what you might like to drink. Undoubtedly, along the way you'll learn things you didn't know, get excited about beers you've never heard of, and re-think those you might have passed up. Matt is the quintessential professional and the go-to guy for a lot of this town's beer questions. Now you get to enjoy him too.

(Also check out his sometimes-updated beer musings here.)

I HEART Thomas Crone's Silver Tray on KDHX

Each week I find myself in the car around lunchtime on Friday, shuffling between two things, feeling rushed... and then I turn on the radio and Thomas Crone makes it all okay. I have been looking for a reason to gush about Silver Tray for the last few weeks (not that I need a reason, it just didn't fit into my other blog love letters). There's something about Thomas' radio show on KDHX that just makes me happy. It's like it's permanently 1992, and not in the Kurt Cobain-grunge-I-want-to-kill-myself way that I can't stand, but in a glorious way that's evocative of my youth. The music he plays (which is not all from 1992) makes me think of when I first discovered music on MTV's 120 Minutes or by listening to college radio stations when I was down in Denver. Back then (in 1992), I lived in the mountains, far from the maddening crowd, and record stores did not happen. I felt lucky to have radio. But I would write down the tunes I liked and my brother would come home from college and ferry me to the record store for my fix. Back then, music meant something to me. It was like fuel, helping me decide who I wanted to be, and often pushing me faster as I learned sick tricks and stunts on my snowboard. It was when Sonic Youth and the Pixies ruled my heart (and they kinda still do). But listening to Thomas' show is like that. It's like he plays whatever I need and my mood just melts into the song. It's my kind of show, and it makes me happy.

Congrats also to Cat Pick, whose KDHX show Emotional Rescue was just voted the Best Rock Radio show in STL by the RFT Reader's Choice. Check out Cat's show on Monday mornings on 88.1 FM or online at For Thomas, tune in on Fridays from Noon-2pm (and then stay for Bob's Scratchy Records right after). KDHX also streams all their shows for two full weeks after the original air date, so listen online.

And finally, thank you St. Louis American for writing about news that matters AND makes me happy.

I rolled onto the STL American website this morning to see what was happening in the world, and I was so happy to see this story about a local fourth grader publishing her third book. So often, we only see the failures of city schools and not the great things that also happen. A student at Oak Hill Elementary School on the south side, this girl learned to read early and then began writing. her quotes illustrate how intelligent and talented she is. Having taught in SLPS for many years, I love hearing about the kids who get it right, because so many of them do and are constantly overshadowed by the negative press the schools get. If you need a book for a child you love, check out what she's written. How much cooler to buy a book for a child that another local kid has written. And if you have a child, take a cue from this young girl and encourage your own kids to write their own books.

It's a good day in local media, and for that, I must give thanks.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Route 66 Festival on Saturday, Oct. 3

There are two things I LOVE: Autumn and roadside America. Toss these two together and add in a great bike ride, and it's pretty much my idea of a perfect weekend. This Saturday, Oct. 3 is the Route 66 Festival on the Chain of Rocks bridge. The festival has events happening on both sides of the bridge, with music going on all day in Missouri, and a beer garden in Illinois. In between, on the Chain of Rocks bridge, there will be a classic car showcase.

I don't know what it is about the roadside, but I feel very much like I grew up in a car, stopping at roadside fish shacks and custard stands. Many of my earliest memories were gathered while looking through a car window, watching the highway lines zip by. And it's still in me. I love the wanderlust, the joy and sense of fun and abandon with which we take to the road. And i've always love Route 66. It's a unifying facet of America, quite literally. The imagery harkens back to a quieter time-- when it was all about using the road to connect us to each other, instead of escaping.

I think that's why this festival sounds so fun. Music, food, classic cars and beer. The mother road, the river, families, and stories. And it all happens where a great bike path happens to intersect the whole thing. There is limited parking if you want to be one of those people and drive. But why not hop on your bike downtown at the Arch and ride up the Riverfront Trail to the Chain of Rocks. Or start on the North side and ride a little ways down to the bridge. You'll get scenery and exercise, and it'll give you license to drink all that beer.

Route 66 Festival- Saturday Oct. 3, 11 AM- 6 PM
at the Chain of Rocks Bridge (FREE)

Chain of Rocks Bridge Historical Info.

Riverfront Trail info (with links to maps, parking, etc.)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Mamacita's Music Fest

Just got this in my inbox and thought I'd pass it on.
For more info on the tasty vittles at Mamacita's, check out this St Louis Magazine article.

Local Chefs + Creativity + Competition = South City Iron Chef

If you want to check out some of the more interesting characters in the STL culinary arts scene, go to the South City Iron Chef event this weekend. In its third installment, wunderkind chef Clara Moore (formerly of Mangia Italiano, now of Local Harvest) has helped organize a killer event, with a slightly different take on the original South City battles.

This year, chefs will compete with layman partners in teams of two, battling it out round after round. Included in the line-up are chef Chris Bork and local rocker Sunyatta Marshall for the laymen.

The event is for charity, with all proceeds going to local bi-state small farms, including Prairie Grass Farms and Biver Farms. The event goes from Noon-6pm on Sunday, Sept. 27 with three rounds of slicing, dicing, and cooking going on in Dick Pointer's backyard at 3333 Demenil (directly across the street from the historic and haunted Lemp Mansion).

VIP tickets are available ranging from $30-$50, allowing you to sit front and center at the judge's table and eat what the judge's eat (yum!). Rounds include everything from canned food to local and mystery ingredient challenges. DJ's will be on the scene to keep the atmosphere hoppin' and local food and drinks will be on sale. There's also a homebrew competition where you can sample local homebrews and vote for your favorite.

I went to the first South City Iron Chef a couple years back and it was one of the more interesting and fun days I've spent on the South side. This one is sure to deliver with its line-up of pros and amateurs, music and food-- and there's always an interesting crowd gathered to support the local food movement and celebrate the artistry of the South side. Come with an empty stomach and a willingness to try great local food.

For more info, email

Sunday, Sept. 27 from Noon-6PM (3 rounds with DJ's, food, and drink; all proceeds go to charity)
3333 DeMenil (in the backyard; directly across from historic Lemp Mansion)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

FREE screening of Daniel Bowers' film GUS at the History Museum Thursday Night

Nothing to do tonight? Check out Gus, filmmaker Dan Bowers 2003 documentary about Gus Torresgrossa, a local business owner in Washington Avenue's Garment District. Gus is a character in every way, and Bowers' film serves not only to illuminate its characters, but to tell the story of St Louis as Washington Street changed from a business district to a neighborhood of upscale lofts and clubs.

You might know Dan Bowers' other film, A. (Anonymous), a pretty hilarious mockumentary about an addict support group. Gus shares that same love of individual quirks and an eye for the everyday turned into a story.

This is what the RFT had to say about the film when it first premiered in 2003,
"Take one ageless, earthy, generous-to-a-fault Italian-American owner; one diminutive, chain-smoking, costume-wearing roughneck employee (that would be Jimmy Doyle); and the neighborhood kids and young rappers who buy their gear (and occasionally perform) at Gus's Washington Avenue location, and you get a unique subject."

The film runs 23 minutes and admission is free. Stop by the History Museum and learn a little something about your city.

FREE Gus screening at the Missouri History Museum
7pm Thurs, Sept 24, Lee Auditorium

McKee Plans for the Northside Explained

No doubt you've heard talk of the McKee development plans for North Saint Louis. Last night, the St Louis TIF Committee voted unanimously to approve McKee's TIF request and send the plan to the Board of Aldermen for negotiation. There's a lot at stake in this deal. On the one side, there's McKee promising jobs, housing, and a revitalization of the North Side. On there other side, there is doubt that McKee will deliver on promises, concerns over eminent domain, and questions about how McKee's plans will affect the almost 9000 residents who currently live in the proposed area of the North Side.

To learn more about McKee's proposal and hear concerns of the neighborhood, check out St Louis Public Radio's coverage. They explain what a TIF is, how it works in this deal, give a history of the neighborhood, and speak to several area residents and business owners about how this plan might affect the North Side. There's audio, video, and photos as well.

To get a more historical and architectural perspective on how this will affect the city, check out local preservationist Michael Allen's blog the Ecology of Absence. Michael's also got an Op-Ed in the Saint Louis American, critiquing McKee's development plan.

What do you think? Is this going to help Saint Louis or sink us further?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Never Be Mean

On a blue sky day, the first of autumn, I’ve just returned from a funeral honoring a man I did not know. The funeral was for my friend’s father. And despite my never having met the deceased, I feel like I learned a lot about him today. It seems he had a lot to teach.

Richard Miller, a police officer who served the City for 30 years and was a decorated war veteran, died at 81 with his family by his side. Listening to the stories that his son, Tony, told-- Richard Miller was definitely a man with a lot of wisdom, a lot of experience, and a lot of lessons to share-- assuming we’re all smart enough to listen.

As Tony eulogized his father, he spoke of certain tattoos that his dad had-- one with his own name, Richard, on his arm; another of a skull and crossbones on his hand. The latter tattoo was one he and his buddy got together when they were teenagers, 15 or 16, just before going off to fight in the war. Tony spoke of his father’s service-- as a veteran, as a police officer. And when Tony followed in his footsteps and decided to become an officer himself, he told us he asked his dad for advice. Richard Miller’s answer was simply, “Never be mean to people.”

When you think of a lifetime of public service, of having seen war abroad and hard times at home, of living through hate and change, and a million different forces colliding together, you expect that advice might be about how to be safe, how to stay safe. But Richard Miller’s advice was not about safety, it was about how to keep peace. And it was about how to help build a better world, one where ultimately we don’t have some of the dangers, the hatred, and the violence we now see so regularly.

Today I sat there in that funeral parlor, listening as Tony spoke about his father, and I kept thinking about that simple sentence of advice, “Never be mean to people.”

Judging by the stories today and the outpouring of love, I assume Richard Miller was a man who followed his own advice and was never mean to people. It was clear that he had a rich life filled with the admiration and respect of those who knew him.

But this is what I do know: so often the true mark of a man is not what he does, but what he encourages others to do. I did not know Richard Miller personally, but I do know his son, Tony. Whenever I think about all the terrible things that happen in this city-- about crime and violence and murders-- I think of Tony. I picture him working the case and it makes me feel better. I’ve never seen him lose his cool or change his voice, or be anything less than attentive. There’s a sense that he really cares, not because it’s his job, but because people matter to him. It seems to me that’s what a life of service really means-- not just fixing the problems, but listening to how they started, and helping the people involved. So while I don’t know the effect of Richard Miller’s actions on the rest of the world, I certainly see them in his son, and as a city, we’re lucky to have benefitted from their service.

Such a simple idea, Never be mean. But what a difference it could make. And as I sat there, I thought of all the other people who serve us daily, whom we also never get to meet. I might not get the chance to thank them all in person, but I can try to heed Richard Miller’s advice to his son all those years ago. Despite not knowing Richard Miller when I walked in today, I left feeling the loss of this man, and felt privileged to have experienced his impact.

Rest in peace.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Saint Louis, why are we hiding?

What does it take to retain and attract creative individuals in our fair city?

This is the topic of a panel discussion Wednesday 9/23 at Left Bank Books (downtown location, 7pm). The discussion, moderated by the Saint Louis American’s Chris King, includes panelists from Trailnet, Metropolis, and Wash U, as well as local community organizer Galen Gandolfi and STL alderman Antonio French. That’s a pretty decent place to start for a question that keeps plaguing our city.

This is not a new discussion thread. Cities all over the country have been discussing this heavily in the past decade, especially since Richard Florida’s ideas of the creative class began to spread when his book was published in 2002. In many ways, the idea of retaining and attracting creatives is a city’s recipe for success, just as failure to do so seems to result in a city’s demise.

I wonder if it’s truly that simple. I love that we’re talking about it, and that we keep talking about it. I hear variations on this theme discussed in conference rooms at non-profits, in schools, in coffeeshops, and in bars late at night. How can we innovate, change, and provide inspiration for ourselves and others? How can we lead the way? These are wonderful questions, and they are questions we should keep examining.

As a Big Question though, does this miss the mark? It seems to me before we can retain or attract other creative individuals to STL, we need to better identify the creative individuals we already have.

Years ago, I remember having this conversation with several people late at night sitting around a table full of Guinness at Mangia. There were artists, musicians, writers, a police officer, and myself. We examined it the creative question from every angle. How do we compete with other cities? How do we demonstrate the value of we have to offer (and I don’t mean just financially)? How do we get others to recognize all the great things we have going on in Saint Louis? Around and around, we all spoke, citing examples of other cities we’d lived in, places we traveled, things we read. That night, and in many other night’s conversations since, it always seems to circle back to the same conclusion: we do awesome things in Saint Louis; we just don’t talk about it.

Whether it’s modesty or lack of self-confidence, a who-gives-a-shit attitude or just a superior work ethic, we all keep plugging away with seemingly little need to discuss our work and our ideas. Maybe it’s because everything happens in bars that we think it doesn’t deserve credit. (And, at times it’s because everything happens in bars and we forget it even happened.) Sometimes I think we are just all so used to the conversation that we forget that something special is happening.

Ask any creative type in Saint Louis to name a few players, say 5 people they think contribute to the creative landscape of this city. Regardless of age, occupation, race, class, or neighborhood, I guarantee you there will be a lot of overlap. Now, take those names you heard mentioned and go ask a policy maker, a newscaster, or a business person if they know the creatives mentioned. You might get a couple, but most likely, never the twain shall meet. Or, try the experiment a different way-- Google the names of the individuals who keep coming up. You might find reference to them here and there, but it’s unlikely that you’ll get a true sense of them, unless perhaps someone has a great website to promote professional endeavors.

My point is, we all know who the creatives are-- we know where to find them and how to use them, but no one else does. We all live somewhat underground, conducting our lives in similar circles and not really worrying too much about the outside world. It appears as if nothing worthy is occurring or as if we claim no room to initiate others into our ranks. And with that attitude, it might be tough to retain other creatives who’ve not yet found the circle, and equally tough to attract people from other cities who don’t even know Saint Louis has anything more than an arch and a now foreign-owned brewery.

So, I love that we’re asking this question, but I wish we’d also talk more about how to identify the wealth we already have.

And hey, Next American City, thanks for hosting the event, but I wish it was a bit cheaper. You’re shutting out some of the very people you want in this conversation. Times are hard; $15 is a lot, even for great ideas. Still, I’ve no doubt it’ll be a great conversation. (see post script at bottom)

WHAT: St. Louis Livable City: What it takes to retain and attract creative individuals
(a panel discussion moderated by Chris King)
WHEN: Wednesday, Sept. 23 at 7:00 PM
WHERE: DOWNTOWN Left Bank Books (301 N. 10th; at 10th/Locust)
PRICE: $15** (includes subscription to Next American City and food); free to Next American City subscribers

For more info:

**Post Script: Just saw a post from Chris King stating that no one would be turned away from the event for not having the $15. (Awesome and thank you.) Now, you have no excuse; go to the discussion.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thanks, Schlafly

Beer + Community = Schlafly (FUN!)
I'm fortunate enough to travel a lot. And I like beer. Every time I go somewhere, I'm struck by how fortunate we are in Saint Louis. Not only do we have a thriving beer culture and many small breweries, but we have one bigger brewery that also helps take care of its own. Nope, I'm not talking about AB. Thanks, Schlafly.

For years, I've worked in the bar industry and in local arts education. Seemingly, these seem like two different things entirely, yet every successful business knows that everything is connected more intimately than it might first appear. For years working in the bar business, I've seen Schlafly support all kinds of events-- from kicking in a case of beer for a small private fundraiser to providing sponsorship for events at local restaurants. Unlike many other craft breweries, Schlafly has always been larger than its walls. We find it not just in taverns and bars, but anywhere something important is happening in the community. The next time you're at a non-profit fundraiser, look around. You'll likely see some Schlafly banners. Or watch the Schlafly bike team zoom by and join as they promote healthier lifestyles, alternative commuting, and just plain fun. You'll catch Schlafly beer at Mad Art events, at other local galleries, and at trivia nights around the city. Hell, I'm surprised they don't sponsor garage sales. (--They don't, do they?) We even have Schlafly in our biggest pass time, baseball-- and I love drinking big, tall glasses of Pale Ale instead of a light carbonated lager.

It's not just outside events that Schlafly supports-- they consistently give their own space to the community. When I worked at KDHX, Schlafly helped us out a lot by providing sponsorship and support, but also by providing space for events like the 48 Hour Film Project and other educational series. At the Bottleworks, they show free movies and have awesome lecture series. There's even a Farmer's Market every Wednesday, another testament to their commitment to sustainable food (as if their B'worx garden wasn't cool enough). Lone ranger, Brett Underwood, arranges the best music acts locally and regionally to perform weekends at the Tap Room-- most of which are free (with the others maxing out at a few bucks). This past weekend the Bottleworks hosted Art Outside, a gorgeous little air fair with jewelry, textiles, artwork, and music.

Point is, in other cities, breweries are not doing this. Sure, you'd be hard-pressed to go into any sporting arena and not find some local brewery signage. Maybe some other microbreweries are supporting an odd event here or there (and for that, I applaud them and encourage them to continue), but I have yet to see another brewery the size of Schlafly support their home town on the scale that we experience.

Like New Belgium Brewery before them, Schlafly takes their core values of community, appreciation for the arts, education, and environmentalism and uses them to the advantage of our whole city. When I think back over the past decade, every cool event I've been at, Schlafly was there as a sponsor. And the great thing is, you don't always know it. It's not always about the banner and making themselves known-- they just do what they think is right. And thankfully, they make great beer in the process.

So, on the eve of Hop in the City, thanks Schlafly. And thanks also to all your great employees who help you make it possible.

HOP in the CITY, Saturday, Sept. 19
Noon-5 PM @ the Tap Room
Tickets $35 at the door
(entry entitles you to taste the over 40 varieties of Schlafly brewed in the past year, plus entertainment)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Back in the Saddle, Saint Louis

Where have I been, you ask. It's been months and months of me neglecting my blogging duties. I know, I know...


I have been busy-- this could be an excuse, or it could be true. I was busy teaching podcasting and video to SLPS students. I was busy working for KDHX Community Media. I was busy helping loads of laid-off Saint Louisans prepare resumes. And then when I wasn't busy anymore, I skipped town.

And even now, I'm writing from Asheville. But, an important date has come and gone this past month during my Eastern American adventures. It's been ten years since I first moved to Saint Louis. And the whole thing has me thinking. Always being a fan of lists, I thought perhaps I'd thrown down some STL lists to mark the occasion, starting with my all-time favorite places in STL (even though some have also departed the streets of our fair city).

Even though we were only able to cohabitate for few months, the Parkmoor has always been one of my favorite STL places. I used to go there with friends whenever I visited Saint Louis, long before I moved here. It was the feeling I loved-- that timeless feeling of dark wood and plants, of looking out as the rest of the world passed. There is something about a good diner or cafe that makes me feel like millions of small important moments have happened where I sit, and this is something that I love. I always feel like I am being let in on some kind of secret, even if I am not entirely able to articulate it all. The world seems slower, invariably a waitress will call you "hon", you eat some food-- probably the wrong kind of meal for the time of day-- and you move slowly back out into the world.

Every time I see that Walgreen's on the corner, I'm bitter. But at least I knew the Parkmoor and we had the chance to be friends.

Anyone who reads this blog or who knows me might be aware of the fact that the City Museum came to me as an epiphany one day early in the decade. I loved Saint Louis, but had never really found my kin here. Still searching for what I would do and where I would belong, I felt like it wasn't going to happen-- even after 2 or 3 years of trying to live here. And then I met Bradley and the path of my life seemed to change, at least personally. I began to make friends and find the conversations I'd been seeking. Professionally, however, it still wasn't clicking. I felt stuck and at a constant loss. But one little day at the City Museum changed all that.

I'd been there before several times, but the day Steve Smith brought backyard boxing to the City Museum on a sunny March day, I knew I was home. Here were my people-- not just the people I knew, but my vision of the city I wanted to live in. There were bands and belly dancers, fire eaters and ring girls. People drinking, kids running, dogs lazily stretching skyward. Schlafly a-flowin' as the city's most interesting writers and small business owners came out to battle each other in the ring. Bradley fought our friend Keith Savage that day in a relatively bloody fight, but as I continued to watch the fights and listen to the spectators, I knew STL was where I wanted to be, and I've been here ever since.

These days, the 8 story spiral slide isn't bad either, and is often enough reason for me to hit up the City Museum.
I know what you're thinking, "How the hell did this make it onto her list?" Little fact about me: I spent 6 years working at McGurks. I lived at Russell and Compton when I first moved to STL, and one week later, I got a job working 2 miles down the street at the corner of Russell and 12th, John D. McGurks Irish Pub. It was different back then-- still crowded and full of drunken college students on the weekends, but the weeknights belonged to the band, the regulars, and the staff. I spent several years sitting at that front bar or one of the high tops, listening to musicians who were flown in from Ireland play their tunes. I learned their names, learned the songs, and learned a lot about Ireland in the process. I also made a lot of friends. On a Tuesday or Wednesday night, just past 11pm, that front room would empty out leaving only those who actually cared about the music. The drink would flow, and sometimes the conversations. Going back, even now, it always has the power to feel like going home. It amazes me that in such a large place as McGurks that there are still moments of authenticity, and I have no doubt there always will be. Sometimes you just have to look a little harder, or go out a little past your bedtime.

Hoffman Lachance Fine Art
Few people remember HL Fine Art before it moved to Maplewood, but in my head it will always be in that little two story white brick building on Forsyth, down the street from the Barbizon Modeling Agency. I had just met the HL crew right before they opened-- back in the day when good things could still happen for me at Mangia after midnight. As pints of Guinness made their way around the table and the Good Griefs played, several of us sat around smoking cigarettes and talking about art in Saint Louis, where we though this city was headed, where we hoped it could go. Those first few shows at HL were exciting to me. Always a fan of art, I have never been a fan of art galleries. I find them closed off from the public, unapproachable, and to be honest, a bit snooty and pretentious. Maybe it's just because I like to look when it's quiet, think about it, and then discuss it all later when I have a better feel for what remains. HL was different though. From the beginning they were looking for emerging artists-- people who were exciting and provocative, people who were skilled technically as well as conceptually. They mixed up classical painters with pop art, mixed media and sculpture, art student drawings with regional masters. I loved the air of the whole thing. I loved going there. And I loved the conversations we'd all have out on that small front porch as we spilled outside into the heat and lighters were exchanged for cigarettes. I met great people those years HL was in Clayton. I still go to a show every now and then, but in my heart, it feels different. That gallery on Forsyth felt like the beginning of something and, empirically, it seems it was the beginning. Maybe I'm the one who changed, but when I think of my favorite places in STL, invariably I think of possibility, and the old HL always comes to mind. It's right behind my eyes like those late-night conversations as we all envisioned STL, resting but not too far from reality.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why all the fuss with MGT's proposal to close 29 SLPS facilities?

Over the past couple of weeks, if you've been listening hard enough or in the right places, you've likely heard a lot of angry whispers or confused discussions about MGT's proposal to close over 29 St Louis Public School facilities and move several other schools. I've attended both the public forums, and greatly appreciated the chance to speak to the Special Appointed Board before a decision gets made. You can too. Public comments, proposals and recommendations are still being accepted online until the end of the day on Thursday, Feb. 12.

SLPS website
The public comment section and a PDF summary and copy of the report on the left side of the page.

I've spent a lot of time breaking this down to others over the past week and I thought I'd do the same here. Whether you have children in SLPS schools or not, this is still an issue that concerns everyone living in St Louis City. The fact is that SLPS has to cut millions of dollars from their budget from years of mismanagement and poor funding. And enrollment is down for several reasons-- charter schools, people sends their kids to private schools, parents moving families from the city for better schools, lack of accreditation and funding. But, the schools we are talking about-- over 29 being closed and several others moved-- those schools are in your neighborhood. This decision will be made and it will affect all city residents, so you should know what's on the line and then make your voice heard.

Why does this matter if I don't have kids in SLPS?
The decision to close these schools will affect whole neighborhoods and areas. The presumption is that SLPS enrollment will continue to decline based on some of the above reasons. This presents two issues for us to think about:

One, as proposed whole neighborhoods will not have schools. For example, there is an entire ward on the north side (the 4th) that will no longer have schools within it (2 have closed, 4 are slated). What does this signal to members of that community? New houses are being built there, but the children who move into those homes will have to go to school in another neighborhood. This poses many problems, not the least of which is it says that there is no future for children in that neighborhood. They must go somewhere else. Residents will also go somewhere else eventually, as will businesses, etc. Schools have long been the anchor of any community; without one, what does that say. Furthermore, we end up with empty, derelict buildings. If an area is already depressed, do we want more huge empty buildings? Our neighborhoods will soon have them, it seems.

Two, the report by the consulting firm MGT assumes that SLPS enrollment will continue to decline. Rather than close buildings and sink money into assuming we can't do a better job and running away with our tail between our legs, why don't we do as we ask of our students and think more critically and creatively? $625,000 was spent on this report by MGT. The report only talks about the suitability of buildings, not about the schools, their academic merits, or the needs of the students within each school. Why don't we spend the same amount of money (or why didn't we spend our money that way in the first place) to see what schools could withstand a move, or which ones are not performing due to facility constraints? And then, let's spend our energy thinking about how to build better schools and raise enrollment. Better schools doesn't have to mean new buildings. Yes, facilities need to be updated and safe, but building better schools is about the students, not just the space.

Many people want to send their kids to SLPS and will, if we can fix the problem. If we build it, they will come. We need to focus our energy in the right direction. Yes, some schools will close, but we need to be careful about which ones. This study includes no information on community impact.

What are some of the problems with the report itself?
Other people spoke more eloquently than I about the inaccuracies and problems within MGT's report. I'll highlight some of those for you.

Building Capacities: Many current schools were quoted as having much higher capacities than they do. So, it was proposed that the populations of some schools be moved to another building that can only serve half as many students. This came up time and time again. It is not clear where all the students will go, because as proposed, there simply would not be enough room for the many thousands of students SLPS does have.

Comparable Facilities Not Offered: In the case of several magnet schools, comparable facilities were not offered and not all the moves included renovations to the proposed buildings to accommodate the magnet programs. This is the case with Gateway IT, which would be moved to a new facility that would not be able to house its aviation program (Yes, SLPS has one!), nor offer the same amount of science or tech classrooms needed to support its award winning programs and students (a Gateway student was named a National Merit scholar this week). Also, there is a move proposed for McKinley Classical which does not take into account the school enrollment numbers, nor the types of facilities needed. The school would be moving to a smaller auditorium, a school without dance classrooms, and less space available for other academic needs. 4 eMints schools are also being closed.

This proposal cuts special needs day programs.
Gallaudet School on Grand would be closed, with those students moving to another school. Gallaudet is a school for hearing disabled students and it is one of the only public institutions available for deaf students. This means that current students would be moved to a facility that is not devoted to the teaching of deaf students, which would sorely impact their education. Moreover, if parents still wanted a comparable education for their kids, they must send them to a private institution, which is not an option for many parents.

Nottingham, a school that teaches special needs students workforce readiness is to be combined with students at Southwest, where Central VPA currently is. This plan will close the only high school for special needs students and essentially mandate that all are mainstreamed. This is an issue for several reasons, not the least of which is the physical and emotional safety of those students. The proposed replacement location also only has one elevator, making it difficult for students to access their classes. All of these students also have IEP's, which would require a person to assist them in school, likely making the cost higher in the long run.

Missing the Big Picture
Under this plan, all three Big Picture schools would be closed, with no replacement program available. The Big Picture schools are part of a national movement to provide individualized learning at alternative schools. What does that mean? In the case of the Big Picture High School at Kottmeyer, it means students come there who are kicked out of the other schools. They come there going downhill fast. But individualized attention, internship programs, and self-directed learning turns these students around. These are kids who often do not have to be in school. They could drop out, but they don't. They come to school, and they get it together, and it seems to be working. There are some who would say that these kids don't matter, and I'd argue that these kids do. They are the ones will be resilient enough to keep looking for solutions, to keep working when everyone shuts the door on them. And we're doing it to by closing this school. It's their last chance, and we're not giving them anywhere else to go.

In other words, the case for ESOL
What's ESOL? A fancy way of saying English Language Learners, ESOL students are concentrated on the south side at the moment. This plan calls for the closing of several south side elementary schools and one new facility being built. At one of the schools to be closed, 23 languages are spoken by students. Many barely speak English. When these kids are moved to a school that has many other students and not as many specialists, how will that affect their education? When their parents are asked to leave the neighborhood and go into other places that might not understand their needs, how will that affect education?

In short, there's some problems.
The SAB has been awesome about listening to the public. Last week, 2 public forums were held, one at Roosevelt High School and one at Vashon. At both, over 100 people spoke on record. The SAB listened to each comment and welcomed as many people to speak as wanted to. They stressed that a decision has not been made. They will have to close schools, but I don't think that number has to be 29.

My chief concern about MGT's report is that it's a report on buildings, not on schools. We cannot make decisions that will affect whole communities-- communities of learners, neighborhoods, special interest schools, special needs students, and those that we might be able to attract again in the future without looking very carefully at the consequences of these closings and school moves. Yes, it would get the budget where it needs to go, but not the students. We are here to serve these kids, to offer a future, and to provide learned citizens for our city. We need to do better.

There are many problems with this report-- in its accuracy, in its assumptions, and in its mission. I have provided a sampling of some of the big issues, but not enough of an understanding. But this matters. Your opinion matters. Please look at the information and leave a comment.

Possible solutions

-Enrollment is low in grade schools. By bulking up early childhood education, we can begin to provide a strong foundation academically for children, and we can offer an education that is comparable in quality to private schools and other districts.

-Do not mess with schools that work. Many of the magnet and special needs schools were out in force-- students, parents, teachers, principals. If a school is at capacity and has a waiting list and students' academics are excellent and needs are being met, why would we want to change that? So many things don't work, let's leave the things that do alone.

-Make sure that neighborhoods can educate their own. Many of these schools slated for closure or a move have special populations that can not simply be moved or re-created. This is the case for magnet schools, and for some neighborhood schools, like Mann on the south side. Also, this plan will leave only one high school on the south side, Roosevelt, which is slated to add hundreds of students and will already be overcrowded. As new people move to the city, where will their kids go? Allow for growth?

-Close some schools strategically, and allow for un-used floors of other schools to be used on community development. Many non-profits deliver services to the students and families of these schools. Many SLPS schools have been turned very successfully into CEC's or Community Education Centers, and now the strength of those schools helps back the community and its residents. Great examples of this are Jefferson (just north of downtown) and Hamilton (CWE). Allowing non-profit service providers to rent space in un-used parts of schools makes delivery of social and educational programs, after-school programs, and adult evening education easier. It also provides incoming rent, strengthens community ties, and provides opportunities for whole-family learning and community exchange.

This might not fix everything, but there are things we can do. If this plan goes through as proposed, it's tantamount to the killing of whole communities and results in the slow death of our public school system if we assume saving these schools is a lost cause. I've taught in two schools that were closed, the last one for four years. If we think this doesn't affect the community negatively, then we have learned nothing from our past decisions.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Public Forums on SLPS School Closings

I just got back from the first public forum on MGT's recommendations for St Louis Public School's facility closings. I left 2 hours and 35 minutes in, after 53 speakers had been heard. Over thirty were still waiting to speak when I left. Students from 6th grade on up spoke, parents, teachers, community members, aldermen. This is important, folks. They are proposing closings or cancellation of programs to over 29 schools. I'll go through my notes and give the highlights of the comments, but Gateway, Big Picture, and McKinley turned out the crowds.

Many of the schools affected are magnet schools with great reputations. Many will be moved to schools that cannot offer the same programs, so it's not just that buildings are closing, it's that whole programs will be lost. We struggle so much with education, I don't see how we can afford to shut down the few programs that do work and that have proven successful. In other cases, it's special needs schools that will be lost-- or whole neighborhoods closed down. How is there even a neighborhood left if there is no school within the community? In the 4th ward, ALL the schools are on the list (and 2 were closed last year).

There's one more forum, and even if you don't have kids in SLPS, you still have a vested interest. This plan will change our city, and not in a good way. We will lose what few educational resources we have. Go to Vashon Saturday morning at 10am. Or submit a comment online to SLPS.

Two highlights of the night for me:

1.) The first student to speak was an eloquent eighth grader who stated, "We're not dollar signs; we're students striving for knwoledge."

2.) Later, a student from Big Picture (an alternative school selected for closure with no new facility offered) reading a poem about the second chance he got at Big Picture: the student, a 16 year old young man who just fathered a baby girl, broke down in the middle of reading.

These students, all of them, were eloquent as they powerfully advocated for their schools, their communities, and their right to a future in the schools they have grown to love. There are so many people who think the city doesn't produce intelligent kids, or that it's the exception and not the rule. After 6 years of working in SLPS schools, I see them succeed every day. It's a shame that with all they have to fight to be successful, they now also have to fight their schools closing.

Go to Vashon Saturday. I'll be there, standing in line, waiting to be heard.

SLPS to hear public comments about school closings

Tonight at Roosevelt High School (6pm) and Saturday morning at Vashon High School, there are forums for the public to comment on recent plans to close over 2 dozen schools within St Louis City.

SLPS info on forums

SLPS school management facilities report (on SLPS website)

The school where I taught for four years on the North side was closed in August. Several other schools where I currently work with kids are on this list. I'm headed to the meeting tonight. If you want to understand the choices being made, and if you have a vested interest in our community being educated, this is a good place to start.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Take that, Miami!

Remember when St. Louis was the fattest city? (We were also the most dangerous and the happiest, so figure that out.) A new study by Men's Health ranks Miami the fattest city, and St Louis as the #16 Fittest City. That's fit, as in healthy, not fat. Hurrah! So keep hitting the park and riding your bike to work. We're coming up in the world.

Read the list here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sunday, January 18, 2009

On the Road to the Inauguration

Check out Rob Thurman, Lori White, Steve Smith, and others from the St. Louis as they travel to DC for Obama's Inauguration. Videos of the trip out, commentary by the travelers, and lots of Tweets have been posted. To get the latest video-blogs by Smith and interviews of folks from St Louis in DC, check out the St Louis Beacon.

For other information on great events occurring in STL this week, check out the St Louis Activist Hub on Facebook (click here).

For MLK Day events and other political goings-on and celebrations this week, check out STL events list, week of Jan. 19.

Lots to celebrate, lots to learn. Talk to your neighbors and each other. See what this week means to those around you, and share your perceptions. I'm excited. It's going to be a great week.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Misc and Sundry...

1. I have been completely overwhelmed at work the last couple of weeks, and am starting to teach all my new media classes this week. So... it'll likely be another week before I can devote much time to good blogging. Bear with me.

2. [edited for irrelevance]

3. Birthday coming, so as usual, I have a list of all the fun things I want to do in STL this next year. Will be posting it soon. I'm also accepting suggestions for fun.

4. I'm returning to my old post (kind of) at the Royale for one day. I'm hosting the Inauguration Day Celebration on Tuesday. So, if you have the day off of work like we do, come on down and join us for some political poetry, an Obama Haiku competition (because it's me and I'm a nerd), some awesome music, $2.50 Missouri drafts, and lots of fun.

5. So I've been doing these resume seminars every other week in response to our crappy economy. The awesome thing is we've had great turnout. There aren't many places where someone can go for free advice. My email inboxes have also been flooded, and while it's difficult to respond to resumes over email, it's still better than nothing. Point is, most people have the same issues. I am considering a series of posts on resume writing. Is this helpful? If so, send me some questions and I'll pull it all together.

Sorry for the houskeeping-type list. Sometimes, it's how the brain works best.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tim's Chrome Bar

I was just thinking about where I should have my Monday night drink, and a connection struck in my head: Tim's Chrome Bar. For whatever reason, I have found myself talking about this southside oldie-but-goodie a few times in the past couple weeks. Today, as I devoured my burrito at El Burrito Loco, I mentioned it again and then drove home that way just to see it shining there, across from the Bevo.

Tim's Chrome Bar is not necessarily the place to go for a killer beer, but it is great if you like people. I first went in there a few years ago when I was reviewing it, and it's stayed on my list for a while. Located at Gravois and Morgan Ford, the Chrome Bar is in an awesome part of town. The clientele is diverse in every way. On the edge of Little Bosnia on the southside, the customers tend more towards middle age in and unassuming way. Despite the rhinestone studded martini glasses on the back bar, there aren't a lot of fancy martinis here. Some karaoke, some cover bands on the weekends, long hair and Miller Lites. There's a dance floor where people dance to Guns n' Roses and Toby Keith country.

Flanking the dance floor/ stage are mirrors and then lit glass covered in the silhouettes of voluptuous women, a la the mud flaps on the back of a truck. The bar staff has always been awesome and friendly. Rail drinks hover around a couple of bucks, making a double-fisted round of a bourbon, a beer, and a tip run about $6.

It's really just a great southside bar, and well worth it. And if you're lookin' for a little dinner on the way, hit up Primo on Morgan Ford, just north of Chippewa. Not a lot of English, but a whole lot of great food, excellent service, and very well priced. Exceptional food really-- choose your dish and then pick your meat, including brains and tongue, if memory serves-- always a sign of deliciousness.

Tim's Chrome Bar
4736 Gravois Ave
St Louis, MO 63116
(314) 353-8138

Primo Taqueria
3642 Morganford Rd
St. Louis, MO 63116

El Burrito Loco
3611 Bates St
St Louis, MO 63116
(314) 457-8600

(BTW, the Loco has $1.99 margs from 3-6pm on Monday and Tuesday. Go.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Resume Clinic at Royale Tuesday, Jan. 13 from 2-5pm

If you missed the Resume Clinic that Steve Smith and I ran at the Royale on Dec. 29, you still have another chance to come on down and get some free resume advice. Whether you have an old resume you want to update, or need a new one to attract better employment, bring it to the Royale with your questions. We had a great turn out last time, and from that we learned that we need to ask people to reserve a slot so we can get to everyone in a timely manner. Below is the invite as Steve wrote it, as well as a link to a video about the previous clinic. If you have questions or want to reserve a spot, call the Royale at 314.772.3600.

The Royale continues the Resume Clinic again this Tuesday the 13th of January from 2-5pm with Allison Trombley, who has helped over 200 people to build better resumes. If you currently have a resume, bring it along; if you don't, come with information about your previous employment. Clinic will contain general information as well as 15 minute one-on-one advice sessions. Start the new year with new prospects, and work on it all while drinking a beer and slurping some soup. Come and sign in for a consultation, or email back to reserve a time.

Everyone coming in for the resume clinic or joining in the topic of conversation will receive a free Missouri brewed beer- just see me when you get here. This week's topic at the bar will address to the layoffs in the news business. Just as the beer business, the news business is also dear to my heart. I worked for the Post-Dispatch for years as a street corner newsboy(check out the wall of Newsboy photos in the bar.) I am saddened to see the layoffs in the news departments that give NEWSpapers their name. The industry is changing, and those working in the business are trying to adjust, so the topic of discussion will be Saint Louis news gathering/analysis/investigation, and how this much needed profession can continue in this changing world.

KSDK story/ video on the last clinic. This was picked up on CNN, as well as local ABC affiliates all over the nation, and in a number of online sources.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

South Side Vs. CWE

It's a City Smackdown, and I plan on sitting front row. Wednesday, Jan. 7 Brennan's in the Central West End is hosting a debate: Which is Better? South City or the Central West End? In the end, the audience votes for the winner.

This is no ordinary debate. Despite having two very intelligent men arguing the finer points (Kevin Brennan for the CWE and Steve Smith for the South Side), I don't think we will be seeing Lincoln-Douglas style debate. (And if you know me, you understand my relief...) For several years, 1 Wednesday a month, Kevin Brennan has been running these debates where people ponder the virtues of Ketchup Vs. Mustard, and other age-old rivalries. The back-and-forth is clever, intelligent, always funny, and generally lively. I've known both Brennan and Smith for years, and I am not sure who has the edge on this one. I know the South Side rocks, but we'll have to see how it gets argued.

Hit up Brennan's on Wed. night to see all it all happens and use your voice to settle the argument: South Side or Central West End?

Brennan's (near Euclid and Maryland)
Wednesday Debate: 8pm Jan. 7, 2008
4659 Maryland Ave, St Louis - (314) 361-9444

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Dogtown Allstars, Books, Chess, Holgas, and Polka

I've been under a rock the last few weeks, so maybe I am the last to know about these two cool events. It's entirely possible. But were you to still be out in the cold, then this might interest you (or serve as a reminder of the coolness you don't want to miss).

Monday, Jan. 5, 7-8:30pm at the Central Library Branch (downtown)
Not So Quiet Concert Series Featuring the Dogtown Allstars

Ha-zizzle! I finally get to see these cats. I've been trying and missing the Dogtown Allstars their past few shows, but I shall put an end to that tomorrow. This event is free, and it's at the library, which is awesome on so many levels. And, since it's on a Monday, there are two bonuses: 1.) I get to go. 2.) The library also sponsors chess games on Monday nights. So, if you're a super geek like me who thinks chess is awesome, you can swing on down, hear some tunes and then play mind games. And you don't even have to play evil mind games-- just chess.

Friday, Jan. 9, 5:30-7:30 at RAC
(U City Loop, on Delmar east of Skinker)
Holga Polka Invitational

Here's the deal: 42 local artists (and some other folks, including local writers) were asked to take pictures with Holga cameras. I have become a big fan of these things since seeing some of the gorgeous work that is produced from such a simple machine. And I am always a sucker for images of our fair city, especially those captured by its inhabitants. And... there's polka. You may not know this about me, but in fifth grade when I played the clarinet, I loved playing polkas. It was the closest to feeling like a rock star that I ever came. So, between the photos and the polka that will be on display (and free) for your eyes and ears on Friday, I am feeling very excited. Should be good.

Holga Polka Info
SLPS Library Events
Dogtown Allstars

Friday, January 02, 2009

French to run for 21st Ward Alderman

Power to the people. I woke up this morning to check my Twitter updates and saw that Antonio French, Mr. PubDef himself, is running for 21st Ward Alderman. The 21st Ward is mostly north of Natural Bridge, west of Vandeventer, and east of Shreve up to 70. That includes the west side of Fairgrounds Park, the area around Red Bones Den, and lots of other neighborhoods. Having taught on the northside for several years, these are the wards that need great leadership-- not great politicians, but great people. I am excited to see Mr. French's dedication and hope we can all help get him elected.

Check out his announcement. And then while you're at it, stay and read a little on PubDef if you're not familiar. Some of the best local education coverage and politics. You'll see why I am so excited.