Monday, November 06, 2006

Midwest Tour 2006 pt 3 (Return of The Lou)

I TOLD YOU THIS WAS COMING! This is part THREE of a the Midwest Trip. It took me forever to write - and you can see why. It's HUGE. Sorry about that - but you get a prize if you actually read the entire thing. Well, actually not really, but if I could give each and every one of your who reads this a prize (all three of you) then yeah, I would....

By the way, feel free to SKIM down and just look at the pictures. They tell the story pretty well without having to actually read everything I wrote.

I had called my mom once we were on the road, just to make sure that our house had electricity. This was a big concern of mine, as St. Louis had been under severe thunderstorms a week earlier, knocking out electricity for most of the city. My mom's house had been without electricity for about five days, and when I had called in Indiana, I had not been able to get ahold of my mom - as I later found out she was staying with a friend who had electricity. The idea of trying to stay with my parents in a house with no electricity or air conditioning in the heat of summer did not sound appealing. Luckily I was able to get ahold of her on the road trip there, and we were good to go - the electricity had been turned back on the night before.

On the road to St. Louis , just about the time that we came across another John Mellancamp song, we drove past a kid waving a sign for lemonade right near the state highway that we were on (the highway actually winds through some towns and small neighborhoods, it was all very rural). Though AJ said he comes across lemonade stands all the time when he's cycling up in Marin, I haven't seen a lemonade stand since I played the video game "Lemonade Stand" on my Apple II+ computer back in 1980. We stopped the SUV and backed up to purchase some refreshing lemonade.

The boys running the stand (the mom supervising the endeavor seemed absorbed in a novel so we didn't actually talk to her) seemed like they were in grade school, and we later found out that the main one who sold us the lemonade was actually going into 7th grade. We asked him why he was selling lemonade (band camp?) and it turned out that he was just trying to raise some money so that he and his best friend (who hovered in the background, a little more shy, going into fifth grade) could go to the movies. I was never that enterprising when I was his age. I just asked my mother if she would give me money. She usually said no.

Regardless, we bought six glasses of lemonade at 20 cents a cup and six strawberry cookies (thumb butter cookies with a dollop of strawberry jam in the middle) for 25 cents each. We ended up giving them $5 for everything though.

It was all very Stand By Me.

We did one more pitstop of notice, and that was to get shakes and fries from Steak 'N' Shake. The NON-midwest people on the trip seemed to determined to partake of any indigenous food that was available in the landlocked red states we were visiting. They apparently have never even heard of Steak 'N' Shake. I explained to them that it was a 50's style diner chain - open 24 hours. I had spent many a night hanging out there post bar. It was either Steak 'N' Shake or Denny's (though later as my friends and I became more sophisticated we hit the local St. Louis 24-hour diners of Uncle Bill's and South City Diner).

The gang seemed to enjoy the fries and the shakes (though Karen said she preferred the extra thick shakes from the McDonald's that we had gotten on the road trip from Chicago to Indiana. How could anyone pick a McDonald's prefab powder shake over a homemade shake from Steak 'N' Shake is beyond me.) I told them there were many frozen dairy concotions to come in St. Louis. They avoided the actually hamburgers (which at Steak 'N' Shake they don't call hamburgers, they call them "Steak Burgers" because it's made from ground steak) as several people on the trip (including AJ) are concerned about Mad Cow Disease.

Random Aside #1 - Personally I think Mad Cow is so 2004. Shouldn't we all be worried about Bird Flu now? AJ and I eat Turkey and Chicken with abandon, but AJ continues to avoid ground beef. Thank goodness for Ground Buffalo. There's a reason why it's called Mad Cow and not Mad Buffalo.

Random aside #2 - We recently found out the husband of a friend of ours works for Gilead. Gilead is the make of Tamiflu - the only official drug that combats the Bird Flu and that is no longer available to the general public as the government is stockpiling it. I learned this from my wacky dentist (who AJ recommended to me) who took a day long seminar on the Bird Flu and then typed out a three page report to give to all her patients. She told me (all the while chipping away at the tartar on my teeth and reprimanding me for not using the swish in your mouth fluoride rinse that I told her I would use more often) that she wanted ALL her patients to survive the Bird Flu, thus the workshop and handout. AND since Tamiflu is only available right now for George Bush and his pals, I figure AJ and I should buddy up with any connection possible to get Tamiflu. Anyway our friend with the husband at Gilead is so our new BFF (Best Friend Forever).

Random aside #3 - I love my dentist. She's the first dentist I've ever been to that has ACTUALLY been able to get me numb. Apparently I have some sort of freak nerve system in my jaw that does not allow me to get numb like everyone else. For 30 years of my life, I had to suffer through cavity drilling, getting a bridge put in, and a root canal, all the while having partial or full feeling in my teeth. But NO LONGER! My dentist told me that she would never drill on me unless I got fully numb. It took two - 2 hour visits (the first time she couldn't get me numb enough) to finally get me numb enough to fill my cavities. So if anyone needs a dentist in the bay area, just let me know, I'll give you her info.

Driving through Indiana and Illinois to get to St. Louis, we, had to go through the metro east area of St. Louis (Collinsville, Granite City, East St. Louis). Damon asked if any of those areas were worth touring through, and I had to explain to them that you probaby didn't want to go to East St. Louis. Ever. After all, the main street of East St. Louis is Martin Luther King Drive. You know the old Chris Rock routine about that....

Everyone seemed very excited to see the Arch (even I think is a cool piece of architecture) as we drove over the rickety Poplar Street Bridge of the Mississippi River. AJ referred to the river as "M-I-Crooked Letter-Crooked Letter-I-Crooked Letter-Crooked Letter-I-Humpback-Humpback-I" which I had never heard before. He seemed awfully pleased with that and continued to refer to it afterwards in this way. Ask him how to spell Mississippi and that's the response you'll get (even now).

Now seeing the "welcome to Missouri" sign , I have a confession. I was feeling performance anxiety about my hometown. Everyone had a great time in Indiana. A FANTASTIC time really. How in the world am I going to compare? Are there things to do in St. Louis worth doing, worth seeing? I had no plans and all five other people were relying on me for a good time. This is St. Louis - the midwest. Nothing is going to compare to either coast. I was feeling the pressure.

I relayed my fears to AJ and he sorted me out. It will all be fine. They'll love anything you take them to, because it's all new to them. And that's when I realized he was right. We'd have a great time anywhere we were, because it was us. It's like the ending of Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion. "I think you are, like, the most funnest person I know." "Me too. With you."

We are all the most funnest people I know.

We arrived at my parent's house around 10pm. I immediately ordered us Imo's St. Louis Style Pizza.

Uh Oh.

If you've had St. Louis Style Pizza you probably are groaning right now. If not, you're probably asking "What the heck is St. Louis style pizza? Is it anything like Chicago style pizza?"

That would be a big RESOUNDING NO! It's nothing like Chicago style pizza. I had to brace everyone earlier in the car for the pizza that was to come.

"Okay. So I am thinking of ordering everyone some St. Louis Style Pizza when we get in. But you might not like it. A lot of non-St. Louisans can't really appreciate it. Do you guys really want to partake of EVERY indigenious food?"

The answer was a firm yes (well a firm yes from Rita, I think it was a rather lukewarm response from everyone else) - though they definitely wanted to know what St. Louis Style Pizza was, so I described the pizza the best I could, hoping to give everyone low expectations. "Well. It's got a thin crust. Some would say it's almost cracker thin - but more tasteless like...cardboard. It's got a pretty thin slightly flavorless herbless slightly sweet tomato sauce, and the usual toppings like sausage or mushrooms, but nothing fancy like California pizza (no BBQ chicken or artichokes), but the really important thing about St. Louis Style Pizza is the cheese. It's a processed cheese that you can only get in St. Louis, called PROVEL. Provel is a mix of cheddar, swiss and provolone and is pretty melty, sort of stick to your teeth sort of cheese. I believe my friend Kate refers to it as 'welfare cheese'."

This description did not deter them.

Most of my friends in St. Louis love St. Louis Style Pizza. Most. But I have yet to really meet anyone outside of St. Louis that likes it. The gang seemed up for anything though, so I went ahead and ordered it along with a couple of orders of Toasted Ravioli (another St. Louis indigenious food). Toasted Ravioli is meat ravioli that has been breaded and deep fried. You dip it into marina sauce. It's hands down delicious - but then I like anything deep fried.

Well to my surprise, everyone seemed to like the pizza (that or they were extremely hungry/extremely polite). We polished off two large pizzas two salads and two orders of T-Rav's. Go us.

Side Note #1 - My friend Peter and Grant who went to school and lived in St. Louis for a chunk of time were horrified that we had St. Louis Style Pizza. I believe their immediately reaction on the matter was "Why would you order that? It's disgusting!" AJ came to it's defense and said it actually wasn't that bad, and that he like it. Perhaps my lowered expectations helped in the matter.

Side Note #2 - Apparently you can now get St. Louis Style Pizza delivered frozen anywhere in the country. So YOU TOO can partake in a slice of indigenious St. Louis food without traveling to a landlocked Red state that has now outlawed Gay Marriage. Ain't life grand?

Side Note #3 - For a long while, I never realized that you can not get certain things outside of St. Louis. You take certain things for granted like Toasted Ravioli and Gooey Butter Cake (both indigenious St. Louis foods). Most St. Louisans also take the food for granted, and if you mention to them that you can't find said foods anywhere outside of St. Louis, most will look at you like your crazy and say "Really? Are you sure? How strange." St. Louis is a very insular place. Because it's such a part of your everyday life in St. Louis, you really don't ever have a craving for the food, until it's taken away and you are told you can't get it anywhere BUT there. That said, I was pleased to discover that you can actually get Toasted Ravioli ANYWHERE in the country by just going to Olive Garden. Apparently it's on the menu in the appetizer section. Go figure. Of course, I never go to Olive Garden, but if I ever have a fixin' for T-Rav's I know where to head.

After late night dinner, we all headed to our respective rooms and slept a good long much deserved rest. The next day was going to be a long one.

We awoke late (well everyone except AJ who woke up early - headed out for coffee and got us all bagels at the St. Louis Bread Company). I decided that today was the day we were all going to head to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

Otherwise known as "The Gateway Arch" this is probably St. Louis claim to fame. It's pretty darn spectacular and was pretty much the first stop that everyone goes to when they visit St. Louis.

The Gateway Arch is the tallest memorial in the United States. Standing at 630 feet, made of stainless steel, the arch is meant to capture the spirit of western pioneer. It's a unique figure on the St. Louis landscape, and it pretty defines St. Louis as a city, much like the Empire State Building might define New York or the Golden Gate Bridge might define San Francisco. And no, it has nothing to do with the McDonald's Golden Arches.

The Arch is situated on the Mississippi riverfront. We drove downtown, parked and got in line to enter. I was concerned that there might be a huge wait and huge line for the elevator. Though there was a short line through security, my concerns were unfounded. We went directly to the ticket agent, got tickets and were on the elevator tram in under 15 minutes.

The elevator ride up is pretty interesting. You're enclosed in a pretty tight eggshaped capsule with five other people that has to ride up an arch - it's not a straight shot up. It's diagonal, and as such, the capsule itself tilts back and forth to go up. It was all built state of the art...back in 1963. It's over 40 years old, and let me tell you, I think of that everytime I go up there. At any moment, those elevators could stop working and we'd be trapped with our new best friends... and not enough room to stand up in. With the electrical issues that were plagueing St. Louis at the time as well, I was just a wee bit nervous, but I held my neurosis to myself.

The trip up went smoothly, and the view from the top of the Arch was quite nice. I have to admit it was cool to be up there with all six of us, showing them the site of the city from far above. I pointed out the casinoboats on the river, and tried to point out the McDonalds on a boat (the only floating McDonald's in the U.S.). Turns out that the McDonald's had closed four years ago. Damn. It's been a long time since I've been up there.

I did point out the St. Louis Old Courthouse which I thought might be a place of interest for Damon who was a lawyer. Yes, that's the place where the first two Dred Scott trials were held. Some how, Missouri is proud of that moment. The court case where it was decided that slaves were not people, but property. Is it no wonder that St. Louis has such a race problem?

After exiting the top of the Arch we wandered around the Museum of Western Expansion, where we marveled (and were slightly frightened of) the animatronic models, as well as the stuffed water buffalos and beavers. I had been there one too many times to find the displays about Sacajawea and Lewis and Clark all the novel, but everyone else seemed to find it interesting and educational. AJ seemed especially pleased to have found a stuffed bear, while I posed with the gay frontier man with the manbag. We later found ourselves at the gift shop where Rita bought herself a whistle shaped from a twig. She seemed delighted in tooting it as we left - in a very jaunty Huck Finn sort of way.

After a quick snack at a local dive chinese mall food place (where some of us had Crab Rangoon, a very midwest food that consists of a wonton wrapper stuff full of cream cheese and miniscule amounts of imitation crab meat, all deep fried) with a couple of Vess Soda drinks (an indigenious soft drink company) we took off for a quick tour driving tour of where I used to live with my ex-boyfriend.

Embedded Citation #1 - St. Louis is full of indigenious foods, as I have already mentioned. I made sure that everyone on the trip had a chance to eat as many indigenious foods as possible while in St. Louis. I am not quite sure why St. Louis cuisine is so regionally specific, but it is. Even the wikipedia entry of St. Louis has a specific category for St. Louis cuisine. I was pleased to see that we were able to eat all the major ones on the list (though we did skip the "fried brain sandwich" which is just as well)

Embedded Citation #2 - Vess Soda is example of what I call St. Louis Ersatz Companies. St. Louis, for whatever reason, has a number of local "off brand" substitute companies that replicate chain or big name companies - companies that actually have a presence in St. Louis as well. For example, St. Louis has several Chevy's restaurants, but they also have a local chain of restaurants called Casa Gallardo that is equivalent to Chevy's. St. Louis has Olive Gardens, but they also have a local chain restaurant called Pasta House that is pretty much the same thing. Vess Soda is only really available in St. Louis, but it is the equivalent to buying Shasta or Faygo or your local grocery store brand Soda. Vess comes in a variety of fruit flavors, like Lemon/Lime, Orange, Grape, Strawberry, and more, as well as the standard Cream and Cola Soda flavors. The Vess Cream Cola is a bright fluorescent highlighter pink, and for a long time, I didn't realize that there could be a different color to cream soda. It was only when I moved to San Francisco where I discovered that Cream Soda came in a more natural brown color. Oh and in St. Louis, we called effervescent soft drinks SODA, not POP.

On the side trip back from the Arch, I had the gang drive by my old apartment in South City. It was the apartment I lived in with my ex-boyfriend Bill. It was another time and another life when I was with Bill - only AJ and Ben had met Bill before. You can ask them what they thought of him. :) I also had everyone drive by my old art studio, and then the location of the museum that I worked at, and where the museum was now (they had built an a new building since I left), as well as the Central West End where I used hang out, as well as the bookstore that I used to work at (Left Banks Books). Everyone seemed strangely fascinated by my old life. I have to admit I felt a little nostalic as well.

Then it was back to my parents, where some of us showered/napped/changed and then we all piled back into the SUV to go to dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in St. Louis - Trattoria Marcella.

I had organized a dinner for 18 people at the restaurant - the six of us, my mom, my friends Hadley, Stephanie and her mom, Renee (who I've blogged about before) and her husband and their adorable baby boy Sam, Stephanie's friend (and my friend too) Mark and Walter (the other token gay couple), and Nikki, Stacy, and Kate (I actually didn't know Kate, but she seemed to fit right in, I wish I had a chance to talk to them more actually).

It was a blast seeing my St. Louis friends with my California friends. Some of them have actually talked to each other via email, but they had never met. I was pleased that they were able to finally meet face to face, and I was pleased that my mom finally met Stephanie's mom.

Stephanie's mom is amazing, I love her immensely. When I came out of the closet in college and told Stephanie, she immediately told her mom. I asked her why she would do that (slightly horrified that she would tell her mom something so personal), and Stephanie told me in a matter of fact manner, that she told her mom because she knew her mom would support me. I have never told Stephanie or her mom but this meant the world to me. The fact that there were parents out there that wouldn't freak out, who would unabashedly support someone coming out was so foreign to me. I can see why Stephanie turned out to be the fantastic fabulous person that she is. How can you not, with a mom like that?

But there was another, more important reason that I was glad to see Stephanie's mom and to have my mom meet her's. My mom was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer two and half years ago. When I found out, I had flown back home to hang out with her, and to help her through some of the chemo. Stephanie was there for me, and she personally understood how hard it was, as her dad had passed away from cancer 10 years ago, and her mom was a breast cancer survivor (remission 15 years - and after being diagnosed stage 4 with prognosis of six months to live!). I had made my mom call Stephanie's mom to talk about it all, as I felt it was important for my mom to talk to someone who had gone through it, and survived. My mom had talked to her over the phone, but they had never met face to face. I'm glad that they finally had that chance.

Dinner was super fantastic fun. I had ordered the St. Louis traditional Toasted Ravioli, along with Roasted Mushrooms with Fried Polenta, Whole Stuffed Artichokes, Bruschetta and their signature Fried Calamari with flashfried Spinach for appetizers. We had a couple of salads and a choice of entrees. One was the veal rolled with prosciutto, mozzarella, tomatoes, grileld with spinach and mushroom which AJ got and said it was delicious. The Straw and Hay (which was egg and spinach noodles with marscapone cream sauce and ham, mushrooms and peas) is a very popular St. Louis dish. I believe Damon got that, while (I think) Karen ordered the Chicken Agro Dolce (chicken with pearl onions, golden raisans, almonds and creamy polenta). Rita and I had both ordered the Lobster Risotto, a house specialty. Rita says she thought it was lovely, with large chunks of lobster.

I haven't a clue what Ben ordered, but I'm going to guess the Lobster Risotto.

During dinner I was handed a stack of CD's from Mark. Apparently I had made a mix CD of gay dance hits for Stephanie (and my friend Hadley) ages ago. Mark had come across it and was duly impressed with my selection of songs. He said he was going to make me a mix a couple of years ago and it never happened. He apparently made up for lost time! It's great that I have these CD's as I've been listening to the same indie rock block of music forever. It's time for me to get to my fun disco roots, and his CD's have me shaking my booty all over again.

Gratuitous aside #1 - I met Mark for the first time when we all went to see SPICE WORLD (the Spice Girl Movie) on opening weekend. Stephanie and I were absolutely positively excited to see it (both in irony, and without irony, if that is possible). We bonded over our love of Scary Spice and how Posh Spice may look slutty good in a little black dress, but she couldn't sing at all. There's a reason why she never gets a solo on any of the songs.

Gratuitious aside #2 - I still harbor a secret love of the Spice Girls. I occasionally look up the individual members to see what they are up to. Did you know that Mel B. (Scary Spice) played MIMI in the cast of Rent and released an album called L. A. State of Mind back in 2005? What you didn't? I'm not surprised, as the album only sold 5000 copies worldwide. It was pretty horrible (I found a copy floating around the internet and snagged it out of curiousity), about as equally horrible as her first album HOT (even with the single featuring Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez, and Missy Elliot producing a couple of the songs, her first album is terrible).

During dinner Stephanie told us to go to the Missouri Botanical Gardens, which had an exhibition featuring the glass artist Dale Chihuly. My mom had urged us to go when we first came in, but I wasn't 100% sold. I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to art, and Dale Chihuly's work is all show. But the Botanical Gardens were open until 11pm on Thursday, so I figured, let's do it.

We rushed home and dropped my mom off, and then headed back east to the Gardens. Once we got there it was already 10:15pm. The Botanical Gardens were going to close in 45 minutes!

We rushed to the gate and I accosted the sassy young black woman who was reading a magazine at the ticket counter. We were all hoping to have her let us in for free, as we really only had 45 minutes.

"Hi! How are you? I love you hair. How much are tickets?"

She looked up at me. Thanked me for the compliment, and then told us that they were sold out of tickets for the night.

"What!??! But we just got in from California, and we really wanted to see the show...everyone has been raving about it...."

I wasn't sure what to do. Had we busted ass, wasted precious St. Louis time, only to be turned away at the door - Complete denied?

"Look, we're completely out of tickets, but if you can find someone leaving the exhibition, just ask them for their wristbands - that's all you need to get in." said the sassy young black woman who was now my new best friend forever.

She handed me a pair of scissors.

Damon and I immediately leaped on a group of senior citizens and brandished the shears in their face.

"Hi. Are you guys leaving?" As I waved the sharpened metal object in their vincinity.

They looked at my warily. Luckily Damon was around to hold me back from cutting their wrists off.

We were able to procure six bands (from two different groups who look at us as if we were crazy) all the while hyperactively jumping up and down under the blue and white Dale Chihuly piece hanging in the entry foyer. As Damon and I entered the Gardens, nonchalantly walking past the people checking for wrist bands (yes, they were actually checking) we started to jump up and down (right behind the guards) yelling "We got in for FREE! The Midwest LOVES US!!!!"

Not the most subtle, but we were on a pasta carb high.

We rushed into the Botanical Gardens and headed for the Climatron where 75% of the Chihuly Glasswork was installed, though there were pieces floating around the grounds as well. It was pretty damn amazing.

The Climatron installation was fantastic. I take everything back about his artwork. The drama of the lighting on the glass and the installation of the glasswork in the tropical rainforest environment was magical. Every corner we turned, we were in awe at how magical and mystical it looked. Glass flowers, crystalize balloons, Neon like tubes, and flamingo shaped vessels were around every turn. It was like being in another world, a beautiful, gorgeous world.

Slightly Off Topic #1 - I once had to create a logo and identity for The Climatron at the Missouri Botanical Gardens for a class project in college. I spent many a days there at the Climatron researching it and trying to come up with the perfect logo and typeface. Did you know that the Climatron was the first geodesic domes used for a lighthouse? And that it won the 1961 Reynold's Award for architectural excellence in aluminum? Do you care? Probably not. The project stayed in my portfolio for a couple of years, until I brought it out and took a better look at it. I spent a half a semester trying to create the identity and in the end it sucked big time. *sigh* At least the other half of the project dealt with the environmental signage for the entry way, and it was decent (I still don't include it in my portfolio though, I have way better projects now). I hadn't thought about that project in years, until I was confronted with the geodesic dome that is the Climatron on this trip. Good times. Good. Times.

Slightly Off Topic #2 - I worked at a Craft art gallery once in St. Louis (during my summertime college days) where I learned that the same glass artwork can look totally unremarkable, or amazingly spectacular. It all depends on how you light it. If the glass artwork does not have the proper light, it will sit there, without a chance in hell of being bought. If it's lit properly, the sucker will move immediately. Just a little bit of retail advice if you ever are in the position to sell glass artwork. Oh yeah, and I was "let go" at the Craft art gallery, via a phone message on my answering machine, completely out of the blue. I was pissed. Chihuly's work, by the way, was lit perfectly.

As the park was closing, we tried to find the last Chihuly piece, the one that was a heart made of glass vessels hanging from a bridge in the Japanese Tea Garden, but the gardens were closing. We dodged security vehicles, and ran around in the dark, encountering sheep and security guards, but alas, we weren't able to find it. But we left the garden, one of the last people there, satisfied that we got our money's worth.

It was past 11pm, but the evening wasn't over yet! I directed everyone to a St. Louis tradition, Ted Drewes!

Ted Drewes is a place specific to St. Louis. It's a frozen custard stand, and they are amazing. This is one place that St. Louis is proud of, and in truth, lives up to the hype. Their signature a item is the "frozen custard concrete" which is a blended frozen custard shake similar to a Dairy Queen Blizzard but so thick that you can turn the cup upside down and nothing drips out. Often the kids working the stand will hand you the cup upside down to show that it really does not drop out.

The concretes come in a variety of flavors. Everything from the usual chocolate chip and oreo cookie, to the fruit flavors like strawberry or blueberry to the more unusual flavors like devil's food cake or my favorite APPLE PIE (where they blend in real slice of apple pie, crust and filling and everything) into the blizzard. Pure heaven. If there is one thing I really miss about St. Louis is a hot balmy day, and a Ted Drewes Concrete.

Oh and don't be fooled by the Concretes and frozen custards that you can get at the grocery stores in St. Louis. That's like buying some frozen White Castle in the freezer section of Safeway here in San Francisco - completely missing the point. You need to experience the Concrete fresh from the stand.

We pulled up and the stand was still open. They apparently have a sliding schedule as to when they close (I asked and the high school kid behind the counter said they just closed when the crowd thinned out). Damon asked me what their best flavor was and if there was something that they were known for. I told him to get a concrete, in whatever flavor he wanted (Ted Drewes actually has a bunch of other options like sundaes and banana splits, but I've never known anyone to get anything other than a concrete there). I can't remember what flavor he got (Rita got the oatmeal cookie) but I remember he was incredulous about turning the cup upside down. I goaded him to do it, and he was suitably impressed.

Everyone seemed to enjoy their concrete, and it seemed the perfect ending to the perfect day.

The following day I made everyone get up early. We packed ourselves into the car and headed out to Laumeier Sculpture Park.

Laumeier Park is a 98 acre park that has outdoor installation scultures placed out and about. They have some gorgeous works, and some rather not so interesting works. Their signature sculpture is a huge red sculpture that looks like it's made of crushed tubes. If you look closely, that's Karen at standing at the bottom of the sculpture in the picture. I had taken AJ to the park a couple of years ago, but I hadn't been back to it in the summer for ages. We had hoped to get there before it got too hot, but alas the midwest heat had already hit.

Nevertheless we wandered about and took photos and looked at the artwork all the while trying to figure out which ones we liked best. Some of the pieces looked truly grand and sculptural, while others blended into the environment so much, that we nearly missed them. It actually had us guessing as to which items installed in the park actually was artwork, and which ones were just random parts of the park. Was this cement barrier with the electrical box behind it, really just a cement barrier with an electrical box or was it art? We left confused but much more cultural (I think).

Since we were out in the suburbs already, I took us on a short detour of my childhood. We drove by my old house (not my idea mind you, but Rita really wanted to see it for whatever reason) in the West County of St. Louis (where I hopped out and had a photo of myself taken there) and then we drove over to my old high school (again not my idea) which has had many new additions since I attended. We actually parked our car and ran around the inside, where I showed them the art department (where I used to practically live in when I was in high school) along with most of the school.

The school itself was much smaller than I remember it (I think I thought it was huge when I was in high school), though they had added additions (including a huge new gym). Rita and Damon were fascinated (well Rita at least) with a midwest school. Apparently the whole "eating inside" thing always confused her as they went to school in Southern California - where everyone just ate outside. "I've always seen movies of high school students having dances inside schools but I never could figure out where it was when it wasn't in the gym." She thought it was strange that people actually ate inside during school. I think it is strange that people actually eat outside. High school is a completely enclosed environment for most of the midwest.

I think it's weird that Rita actually had seperate building that she had to go in between for high school to get to classes. Now that's weird. Coincidentally though, my high school was originally built like a Southern California school with different buildings to house different departments. They quickly learned that it wasn't very practical - kids just didn't want to be running outside and inside during the winter snow. So they had to build these long hallways between the departments, and that's why in some of the hallways there are all these leaks. During the winter and the rainy thunderstorm days, the hallways would be littered with buckets to catch all the leaks.

After the art department, I dragged them through the main part of the school, past the library (which Rita and Damon said looked big compared to their school) past the English Department and the History Department and toward the Science Department I eventually found my senior locker ( I couldn't quite remember which one it was, but I could show them the general bay of lockers that I was part of) and AJ took a photo of me with it.

Then the Fire Alarm went off.

We swear it wasn't us that caused it.

Either way, we worked our way out (which was hard, because all the fire doors had actually automatically closed) and it seemed that everyone there wasn't very nonchalant about the alarm. Apparently they were just testing it. Oh well.

We took off from West County and drove back into the city for some lunch. I made them go all the way over to South City where we went to a St. Louis institution Uncle Bill's Pancake House.

Here we gorged ourselves with comfort foods. I had the biscuits and gravy, something I miss dearly. San Francisco has decent biscuits and gravy (the Pork Store probably has the best I've been able to find in SF) but nothing compares to the midwest biscuits and gravy. Of course, I've never been to the South, where I'm sure the Biscuits and Gravy would just blow St. Louis away, but it's all relative.

From Uncle Bill's we headed to Forest Park, the largest park in St. Louis. Forest Park is actually larger than Central Park in New York and is the center of most of the cultural sites in St. Louis. It houses the Muni (the Municipal Theater where I contemplated taking everyone but we were all too exhausted to go there at night), the Zoo, the Art Musueum, the Missouri Historical Society, and countless other attractions. The best part of it all though is that ALL the attractions are free. Yep. There is NO admission fee to any of the major city owned and operated museums and parks. St. Louis rocks with the cheap thrills.

I still grumble internally everytime I have to pay a fee to enter a museum.

After driving around the park for awhile, where I pointed out different cultural landmarks (there's the Jewel Box, there's the World's Fair Pavilion) we ended up at the Missouri Historical Society, where we checked out exhibits about the World's Fair and Charles Lindbergh.

From there, we headed to the St. Louis Art Museum where we wandered about and looked at the modern and contemporary art. I called my friend Stephanie to see if she was there (she works in museum) but we kept on missing each other. We did end up paying to see a special exhibit called Remote Viewing (invented worlds in recent paintings and drawings). The recorded tour used iPods which were great, though my iPod was jacked up and kept on skipping to the middle of the artist interviews everytime I pressed play. I only figured this out three-quarters the way through the exhibit, but oh well. Some of the artwork was really amazing, and some of it was crap. But that's what you get when you see art. Some of great. Some of it makes me ask why I gave my doing art, as I obviously could create better work than this dreck.

Of course, I give props to anyone out there doing art. It's a hard life, and I don't really envy them. One of these days I might take it up, but I won't hold my breath. I have enough "side projects" to keep my occupied. I keep on coming up with more of them too. If only I had the time to do all of them.

From the Art Museum we went to my alma mater Washington University where we ran around the campus (but unfortunately couldn't get into any of the buildings as they were all locked). But I pointed out the quad that everyone hung out in, and the Art Department/Building (they are actually in the process of building a brand new Art School that will house the art school, the art history department, and the architecture school) and the English department where I had most of my classes. We even headed over to the bookstore to see if we could get some Wash U paraphenalia, but alas it was closed.

After the exhausting day, we headed back home to clean up and go to dinner. We picked up my mom and went to Momo's, a mediterrean tapas restaurant around the corner. Stephanie, who I finally was able to get ahold of, was going to bellydance in the restaurant that night, but it turns out that she had called in sick. So we saw her friend bellydance instead, and she was great...even did a little "Stephanie" move that totally reminded me of how Stephanie bellydances. AJ, of course, got up and danced with her much to the amusement of everyone in the restaurant. The food was great, and we headed back to my parent's house to chill out, play some board/card games and generally collapse from exhaustion.

The following day, we woke up late, packed up the car, said goodbye to my mom and drove over to the Washington University Campus Store where we ended up buying T-shirts and mugs and other random logo-fied crap as souvenirs of our visit to St. Louis. It was back to Chicago for the final weekend.

The trip back to Chicago was uneventful, though we did do a quick stop at a Dairy Queen. The DQ had a "love tester" where you could test how much loveable you were. AJ (of course) scored BURNING HOT!

Karen loves the DQ blizzards, and how could we skip out on it? I have a special fondness of the DQ after seeing Parker Posey in Waiting for Guffman. It's too bad there aren't any DQ's here in San Francisco, though it's just as well. I don't really need the additional calories.

We arrived in Chicago in time to shower up and meet up with a friend of Steve and Anjana's named Ricky. Ricky is Australian but had moved to Chicago awhile ago. When he first moved to Chicago he wanted to get to know the city a little better, so he became an architecture docent for the city. When all of us found out about this back at Memorial Day when we met him (at Steve and Anjana's wedding) we told him that we were going to make him give us a tour of the city.

And we did. He gave a shortened mix of both the classical and the modern architecture tour and we learned all about why we should appreciate Mies van der Rohe's minimal skyscrapers ("the God is in the details" and "less is more" are both quotes by him), what the Chicago School of Architecture is, and what the Armchair Profile is in buildings and why they are so prevalent in Chicago and major urban cities. Ricky rocked, and despite the fact that he hadn't given a tour in years, it was awesome.

We went to dinner afterwards at a fantastic Japanese Restaurant (that I can't remember the name of) that served delish sushi and japanese food. When I lived in the midwest I was always a little tentative about ordering sushi in a landlocked state. But the food was faboo. We treated Ricky for the tour and Anjana and Steve because they were just awesome hosts.

It was really wonderful to get to visit Steve and Anjana not just once but twice, bookending our midwest trip. If I haven't had a chance to say it before, Anjana and Steve were amazing. They live in West Town (near Wicker Park and River West) in an amazing condo. Steve has a music studio in his basement where he can record and produce his music and others. Check out his band Jigawatt Trio or become his friend over at myspace. They rock.

At the end of the trip we were all exhausted - but it was such a fantastic experience. It's true that I wasn't 100% sold on going to the midwest, especially in the middle of summer. Like most other people who ask me why ANYONE would want to go to the midwest in the crazy heat of midsummer, I thought Rita was crazy when she suggested it. But what I figured out in the end was that Rita didn't necessarily want to visit Chicago, St. Louis, and Indianapolis per se. She wanted to visit our hometowns. She wanted to see where we grew up, and how we grew up, and to see what formed us into who we are. She wanted to learn more about who we were and thus who we are now. In short she wanted to get to know everything about us.

And that's why we ended up in the midwest. In the middle of the summer. In the boiling heat driving around in a giant SUV that seated eight people (though it only fit the six of us and all our luggage). And that's what made me realize how amazing it is to have friends like Rita and Damon and Karen and Ben. These people were willing to take valuable vacation time, and spend money on the flight and expenses out there to learn more about AJ and I.

And in the end, I realized that I do love my hometown. For all the issues that I have with it politically, I realize that I am a product of my upbringing. It's so easy to dismiss the landlocked states when you live on the coast. But in the end I realized that St. Louis (and Indiana and Chicago) have so much to offer. The trip gave me a greater pride in both my hometown of St. Louis and who I am. But it gave me even greater pride in my friends. The fact that they wanted to do this trip, and even loved it made me so crazy happy afterwards.

I'll most likely never move back to St. Louis. There are things about it that I hate. But I'll always visit and I'll always think of it as home. But home is where your heart is, and my heart is here in California, with AJ and my friends. It's good to be home.

Endnotes: You read part one of the Midwest Trip here. Part two can be read here. And if you have the need to see more photos feel free to hit AJ's flickr account.


At 11:18 AM, Blogger Felisa said...


It sounds like a blast!

At 11:35 AM, Blogger The Minkz said...

I read the whole entry. I want a prize. I will share my TamiFlu with you and also Mt View has a Dairy Queen, tell Karen.
Your BFF

At 12:58 PM, Blogger jackhonky said...


MV has a DQ?

I'm so there.

At 2:53 PM, Blogger Felisa said...

Road trip to Mountain View!

At 9:08 PM, Anonymous Karen said...

That vacation was loads of fun! I had a terrific time going to the Midwest with you and reading about it - it was like going on the trip all over again. Hee!

The name of the sushi restaurant is Starfish, and Steve was so pleased that we liked it. Like you, he was nervous about taking us to a sushi restaurant in a landlocked state!

We SO need to make a trip down to Mt View for DQ!!! Thanks for the tip!

At 12:24 PM, Blogger Rita said...

So much to say. My friend, my friend.

These photos and your entry are awesome!!

1. We are so the most funnest people I know! (I love that you quoted Romy and Michelle for this. That's awesome!)

2. Hadley's reaction to our trying indigenous St. Louis foods was very different from Peter & Grant's. "I love it," he said about the pizza. Ditto crab rangoons--but he insisted LOBSTER rangoons were where it was really at now. And regarding gooey butter cake, just as Irvin had foretold, Hadley seemed mildly astonished you couldn't get it outside St. Louis. "Oh, but everyone should eat that."

3. ¡¡I just found out--after obsessing over the word for the last nearly ten years--that ersatz is actually pronounced AIR-zatz!! Can you believe it??

4. So what you're saying is Vess Soda, being like an ersatz Shasta or Faygo(??), is actually an ersatz, ersatz soda. Hm.

5. Damon somehow tuned me out all the times I mentioned we grew up right next to a DQ. So, a few weeks after the Midwest trip, we drove past it (in Cypress), and he was like, "HEY! There's a DAIRY QUEEN!!" Hello.

Man, this post was the funnest to read ever!!!!!!

Love and love,

(Now I am having a Ted Drewes withdrawal.)

6. The Chihuly exhibit rocked my world.

At 12:48 PM, Blogger jackhonky said...


Yes, as per #4 - VESS actually is an ersatz, ersatz soda. If you were to rank soda, it would be COKE and PEPSI as the top shelf, TAB and RC as the second tier, SHASTA and FAYGO as the third, and near the bottom would be VESS and supermarket brand soda as the bottom feeder.


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