In Defense of St. Louis

If you wonder why anyone would need to write a blog post defending St Louis, there are two reasons.

1. St. Louis needs all the defense it can get, what with its recent award of the Most Dangerous City in the United States for 2010.

2. Have you ever met anyone whose dream was to live in St. Louis?  Besides my husband, that is.  Have you ever even met anyone who had always hoped for a chance to visit St. Louis?

So now I shall begin my not necessarily all that complete or all that compelling, but nonetheless heartfelt defense of St. Louis.

To understand this, you must understand I moved from Seattle. (“Seattle?!  What a beautiful city!”  “Seattle, I’d love to live there.”  “I love Seattle.  I miss it all the time.”  “Ah Seattle, is it really as beautiful as I imagine it being?”)   The wonderful thing about St. Louis is that no one ever builds it up to be much of anything. Especially not the people who live here.  In Seattle, there is a certain happy smugness–everyone knows they live in one of the best cities on the planet.  In St. Louis, well… you needn’t worry about too much smugness.  Embarrassment and disdain, at times, but not smugness.  Never have I heard anyone, resident or not, rave about the scenery.  Or the weather.  Which is so refreshing in its own little way–no one ever builds up St. Louis to be much of anything.  And so everything that delights in St. Louis is like a marvelous present–it’s a surprise you never saw coming. 

And there are many such surprises.  For instance, today we took our first zoo trip of the year.  If we’d done that in Seattle, we’d have spent around $30 to get in ($60 because we had friends with us), plus $5 or more if we wanted to park in the parking lot.  Today we spend exactly $0 dollars on parking and zoo combined, and had ourselves a glorious time trying to find animals that didn’t mind the St. Louis winter.

Speaking of, no one raves about the weather here, but somehow no one complains much about it either.  St. Louisites know how to be content with hot steamy summers, bitterly cold winters, and about a week in between those two on either side.  In Seattle, they complain about the rain, and should the sun come out they complain it’s too hot, it’s too bright, it’s too dry.  In good old St. Louis no one really expects it to be good weather, ever, and so there doesn’t seem to be much complaining about it.  It’s sort of like that sweet sort of affection you have for an old tired ailing pet.  You know it’s a mess but you love it, and you don’t complain about it’s failings because it really can’t help it.

And for whatever reason, St. Louis did earn itself that inglorious ranking as Most Dangerous City last year, but I’ll be not the first to say it doesn’t feel like it.  That said, it kind of made me think that maybe St. Louis “won” just because the city was so not into itself it didn’t fudge any statistics the way other cities with a better self-esteem may have done.  Who really knows.  I only got mugged twice last week, so it doesn’t seem like it’s that unsafe.  (kidding I’ve actually never been mugged or mildly threatened)  I suppose if it’s true that St. Louis is MOST DANGEROUS, that makes me feel good about the current state of affairs in Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City.

If you should happen to feel brave enough to venture to the under-celebrated and humble land of St. Louis, there are a few things you should know.

1) Don’t say hi to people in coffeeshops unless you’ve got 10-20 extra minutes to talk.  Unlike in Seattle, where people give you dark looks for saying anything longer than “grande triple nonfat with extra foam”, you could be in for the long haul if you send out signals of receptivity to other human beings.  And while it may seem odd at first if you come from a much more hip city, you may just find it’s nice for humans to interact with each other.

2) Keep a little flexibility in your plans when you go to the grocery story.  Maybe you will actually just sit down and relax and enjoy your food, and not think so hard about what’s in it that you ruin it.  And maybe you can go without that organic free-range grain-fed vegan pork-like soy-based gluten-free product, because you’ll definitely never find it.

3) Pay attention while you drive.  I think that actually thanks to the St. Louis public school system someone counted some traffic incidents as violet crimes, which could explain the Most Dangerous ranking.  You’ll see things on the road you may only have ever seen in the third world.  The upside is that you won’t feel embarrassed if your car gets a few dents–everybody’s car has a few dents.  You don’t need to spend a lot of money and stress to get a fancy car that’s just going to get dented, and age at three times the normal rate as it gets melted in the summer and salted and snowed in the winter.  So save money and have some fun instead!

4) In St. Louis, you’re encouraged to break that caffeine addition, stop working so hard, have some fun, or take a nap.  Partly because it’s quite difficult to find a good cup of coffee (or any cup of coffee), and partly because, well, why stress yourself out.  We try not to do that here.  Lie down a while.  Eat some ice cream (oh , the good options!), watch some TV, go play with the kids at the zoo or  Science Center.  If culture is your thing, try the world-class art museum, Shakespeare in the Park, or the Botanical Gardens.  For history, there’s the Missouri History Museum or the Westward Expansion Museum.  All of this of course free or at least free at certain times.  Watch a ball game at the park.  Which is not free, but with the crazy way people love the Cards (2nd most world series wins of all time) it doesn’t seem to matter much.  What they save on museums they spend on Cardinals paraphernalia!

5) Assume everyone you walk by on the sidewalk is your friend, could be your friend, wants to be your friend, or at least used to be your friend. Don’t get scared when they smile or say hi.  They’re not stalking you, they’re just being nice–that’s what people are supposed to do on the sidewalk. In St. Louis people may not have a lot of money, trendy clothes, fancy cars, or hip music, but they’ve got a lot of heart, and they still know about friends.  It’s easy to make friends, run into friends, keep friends, and on lonely days, just feel like you have friends.

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4 Responses to In Defense of St. Louis

  1. Marc Fulmer says:

    Sounds like Mae and I will get use to travelling to St Louis in years to come 🙂 I look forward to falling for it as well. Marc

  2. Grandma Bushby says:

    That’s the best St Louis report I have read. Thank you. Having been raised in the mid-west I relate to a lot of what you say.

  3. Elisabeth says:

    I am pleased you wrote this post. I have been thinking about St. Louis often as of late. I’m reading a book called “Team of Rivals” that mainly about Lincoln, but also gives details on his attorney general, Edward Bates, one of the founding fathers of St. Louis and a prominent politician there.

    Here’s an excerpt I particularly liked from the book describing Bates experience there in the 1830-40s:

    “Every year on April 29, he [Bates] marked the anniversary of his first arrival in the town. As the years passed he witnessed ‘mighty changes in population, locomotion, commerce and the arts’, which made St. Louis the jewel of the great Mississippi Valley and would, he predicted, eventually make it ‘the ruling city of the continent.’ His entries proudly record the first gas illumination of the streets, the transmission of the first telegraph between St. Louis and the eastern cities, and the first day that a railroad train moved west of the Mississippi.”

    Then it goes on to say there was an awful fire that happened in 1849, but we won’t go on about that.

    If I were there I would go visit Bates’ mansion. He had 19 children with the same wife. I’d like to see how big his house had to be for that. Apparently he had beautiful gardens, too.

    All these things, and the fact that the Vikeslands are there, creates a special place in my heart for St. Louis!

  4. stephenny says:

    Love this post! Are you sure you’re a chemist and not an anthropologist? 😉

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