Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Travelblog, St. Louis

“You ain’t seen nothin’, ‘til you been in a motel, baby, like a Holiday Inn.”—E. John/B. Taupin, “Holiday Inn”, 1971

In all my years of traveling, I’ve always wanted to stay at a Holiday Inn, but for whatever reason, I never had until this past weekend.  I usually just Motel 6 it on my road trips, or occasionally upgrade to Red Roof Inn now and then.  My original plan was to stay at the Red Roof along I-44 in St. Louis near “The Hill” (more about that below) for $75 a night, but I waited a day before booking that rate, and during that time, the rate suddenly shot up $14 a night for the same freakin’ room!  That’s when I decided to give myself a late birthday present by splurging a little and booking the Holiday Inn right next door to Red Roof for $110 a night instead, and it was totally worth it because the accommodations were outstanding.  My room came with a terrific panoramic view from the balcony of the surrounding area to the north and east of I-44, including the former site of the old St. Louis Arena (which once dominated the horizon straight above the highway billboard sign in the foreground in this pic), and I merely needed to lean over the balcony and look to my right to see downtown and the Arch.  Meanwhile at Red Roof, I would’ve had an enthralling view of the Public Storage facility next door (and no balcony).  In addition, I got free Internet access in the lobby and two free breakfasts out of the deal, as well as a killer LG plasma TV in the room with 80 channels.  My only two real complaints were the elevators (too slow and not enough of them for a building that size) and the hotel bar—closing time @ 10PM on a Saturday?  Ditto goes for the Dirt Cheap liquor store just across the parking lot.  Seriously, people?!?  I bet even Amish bars are open later than that…

ARTY-FARTY!
On my way to those free breakfasts at HI, I passed by this wall just off the lobby, which is evidently someone’s ersatz tribute to Shredded Wheat!  A Lucky Charms display might have livened the place up a bit more…










“THIS USED TO BE A PLAYGROUND…”
And here be 5700 Oakland Avenue, the above-mentioned former site of St. Louis Arena, which I paid tribute to in a 2007 post here.  My friends and I spent several nights there doing Blues hockey and Steamers soccer games in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and it was my favorite old-school sports venue outside of K.C.  Located just across I-64/U.S. 40 from Forest Park, it now houses a semi-bland mixed-use complex comprised of office buildings, retail outlets, loft apartments and a Hampton Inn hotel.  The Arena used to sit in a bit of a hole, but they’ve since raised the ground level so it slopes up north toward Oakland Avenue, where I snapped the current photo.  I also didn’t realize it until I drove through the place that they actually built the whole development around the original footprint of The Arena itself, leaving a nice green common ground in the middle, thus you can walk your dog and let him/her poop right where center ice once was!  They’ve also placed a nice fountain dedicated to organ donors and transplant recipients approximately where the back wall of the old building was situated.  That’s all fine and dandy, but unless I missed something, there’s no plaque, no Blue Note, no historical marker, no nothing on the site to commemorate the “Old Barn”—and that’s just plain wrong!  The only hint of its existence anywhere nearby is the Arena Liquor store around the corner on Hampton Avenue.  Rather surprising too, considering how much the city of St. Louis usually reveres and honors its rich history. Let’s get on the ball (and/or puck, in this case), St. Lou!

CAN YOGI COME OUT AND PLAY?
Barely a mile south of The Arena is the locality in St. Louis known as “The Hill” (or “Dago Hill” before it became politically incorrect), an area heavily populated by those of Italian descent.  I’d heard of The Hill for many years, but never knew where it was located until recently, and I feel like a real dolt now, because for years I’ve driven up and down Hampton Avenue (the western boundary of The Hill) and never knew I’d been passing right by it all that time—there’s definitely A hill going up Hampton, but I never realized it was THE Hill!  Anyway, you’re looking at the boyhood home of one Lawrence Peter Berra, Hall of Fame catcher and King of the Malapropism.  It’s only natural that he and fellow catcher/character Joe Garagiola would become such lifelong close friends, because they literally lived right across Elizabeth Street from each other (I was standing in front of Joe's place when I snapped this photo).  Liz Street was also home to one other rather famous St. Louisan…

WHERE’S THAT JOE BUCK?!?
Down at the east end of that same block on Elizabeth Street resided one Jack Buck, legendary Cardinals play-by-play man, in this classy little brick abode.  I’m assuming this is the boyhood home of current Fox Sports announcer Joe Buck as well.  What’s so cool about The Hill is even though most of its homes are over 90 years old, not a one of them is run-down, and it’s a very clean and safe area for being in the inner-city.  That’s a whole different story north of downtown and east of the river, but the south central part of St. Louis is very quaint and fun to roam around in.  This little tour turned out to be a fun and educational gambit, and it didn’t cost me a freakin’ dime…

Meantime, I’m still doing my A-Z by song title thing on my iPod (which I started in March!) and I’m up to the W’s, so it was perfect timing that it tracked through all the “Walking” songs (“Walking In L.A.”, “Walking On Sunshine”, “Walking Down Your Street”, “Walking To New Orleans”, etc.) as I hoofed it through the streets of The Hill.  Synchronicity personified…

“I DON’T TRUST NOTHIN’ BUT THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER”
If you won’t come to this river, then by dingies, this river will come to YOU!  With all the recent heavy rains upstream along the Mighty Mississip, it’s overflowing just a skosh along the St. Louis riverfront.  It’s not an unusual occurrence for the road in front of the Gateway Arch to be under water, but the scary part for me is this ain’t nothing compared to 1993 when the water reached up to the steps leading to the Arch.  I would’ve been completely submerged in the spot where I stood to snap this pic at the foot of the famed Eads Bridge.  Meanwhile, as I took this photo, my ever-prescient iPod—with no assistance from me whatsoever—kicked in with Bob Dylan’s “Watching The River Flow.” I swear, friends, I’m NOT making that up!

YOU’LL FIND YOUR THRILL…
…or you’re bound to, anyway, at Blueberry Hill, a nifty bar/restaurant/nightclub in the Delmar Loop entertainment district in west central St. Louis, yet another St. Louis “Hill” I was blissfully unaware of until now.  It’s worth the visit just for their food alone, but the coolest part of BH is all the music and pop culture memorabilia they have on display throughout the place, which literally takes up its entire city block.  They have a little of everything—Beatles collectibles (stuffed dolls, lunch boxes, etc.), old-school Pez dispensers, “Simpsons”/“Scooby-Doo”/“Star Trek”/“Star Wars” figurines, sports stuff and a dandy tribute to St. Louis native Chuck Berry, who STILL performs there once a month.  Joe Edwards, the dude who runs the place, apparently knows all the stars, as well, and several walls at Blueberry Hill are covered with photos he had taken with them, everyone from Tina Turner to Barack Obama to Stan “The Man” Musial to Motorhead!

Mr. Edwards also took a page out of the Hollywood playbook by founding the St. Louis Walk Of Fame, which Blueberry Hill resides along.  Unlike the Hollywood WOF, which merely lists the name of the honoree, each sidewalk star in the St. Louie version is accompanied by a brief bio, as they honor numerous famous St. Louisans.  In addition to entertainers, people from other realms like sports, local history, architecture, the arts and culture are included as well.  This was also quite educational for me—for example, I wasn’t aware that actor Robert Duvall was from St. Louis until I saw his star on the Walk.  But just as with the Hollywood WOF, I have issues with some of the more questionable inductees, Cedric The Entertainer?!?  Riiiiiiight.  And there’s something warped about placing the likes of Nelly right next to Scott Joplin, but beyond that, the STLWOF is quite boffo, and Kansas City needs one of these—it would slot in perfectly in the new Power & Light District.

EAST ST. LOUIS, TOODLE-EWWW!
East St. Louis, Illinois doesn’t get its bad reputation for nothing, as evidenced by this crumbling edifice—one good windstorm could probably knock this whole damn thing over.  It would be an appropriate venue for G. Carlin's "St. Louis Home For The Totally Fucked".  Apart from Gary, Indiana, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an uglier and more dilapidated shithole of a town than ESL, which I cruised through on board the Metrolink commuter train.  Just for kicks, I rode the entire length of the route, which extends eastward way the fuck over into Illinois to its terminus at Scott Air Force Base near the town of Shiloh.  You get to view a little of everything on Metrolink—suburbia, office parks, freeways, tunnels, major sports venues, downtown/riverfront splendor, storm sewers, ghettos and cornfields.  Great way to get around the city, too—it hits many of the major attractions in St. Louis, or at least gets you within walking distance of them.

NOT PICTURED HERE
Does anyone know the average number of beers announcer Mike Shannon goes through during a typical Cardinals game broadcast?  I listened to parts of all three games this weekend with the Royals, and he sounded pretty incoherent most of the time…

I paid my first visit to Lumiere Place casino at Laclede’s Landing this weekend.  For all the hype and hoopla about Lumiere, I was pretty unimpressed.  Gaudy d├ęcor (for a casino, anyway), unattractive cocktail waitresses, bland-looking sports bar and an overpriced dinner buffet (which I passed on).  Meh—I’ll stick with Harrah’s and Ameristar…

Why are there Gulf Oil logos on the outfield wall at Busch Stadium?  There ain’t a Gulf station within three states of St. Louis, is there?

The mighty K-SHE 95 never fails to play some cool old song I’ve never heard before on their Sunday morning lost classics show whenever I’m in town.  This time it was 10CC’s “Rubber Bullets” from 1973.  I must take a few points off K-SHE, however, because of the 20-something chick DJ in the afternoon who was yapping about a new Jimi Hendrix DVD set that will feature his appearance on the “Dick Cavett Show” back in the day.  Instead of ‘CAV-ut’, DJ chick pronounced Dick’s surname ‘Cuh-VETT’.  Fail!