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.