I was in no rush today. There were only a mere 260 miles between St. Louis and me so I sawed the proverbial wood until 8am. I recollected a dream from my slumber that my brakes over-heated, a fate I endured on my beloved Ducati that I restored back in 2009. I loved that bike and wish I still had it, but I joke with my friends that I traded in my hot, red Italian girlfriend for a more dependable, sturdy German woman. My heritage is ¼ Italian and ¾ German that grants me license to tell such jokes.
I was catching good luck with the weather and the first miles of the day were easy ones. I dosed again on Swimmer’s Ear to try and unclog my left ear, but it would just not open. I scored some earplugs to see if wearing them would cut down on possible damage cause by wind noise at high speed. I stopped in Bates City, a tiny town of 219 with a huge fireworks store called Pyro City. How do you not stop at Pyro City? Unfortunately it was closed, so I went ahead and fueled up. A man in the gas station asked me for directions. I tried to help him, but then a local stepped in who clearly knew the roads better than me. This was an interesting event. I tried to help the man, and then somebody tried to help me help the man. I was surprised to see the infectiousness of my good will.
Everybody needs assistance at one time or another. I have great friends that love and support me, and they have seen me through some turbulent waters. At times I felt caught in a vortex, swirling to the depths of the giant squid, but my friends would not let me sink asunder. With outstretched arms they clasped wrist-to-wrist and pulled hard, squeezing against the slipperiness of the salt water to pull me back aboard. True friends will try to warn you of dangers ahead, but they know that sometimes the only way for you to learn is to survive the whirl of the tidal pool. They let you step off starboard and watch your dizzying ride until just before you sink for the third. Then they rescue you, only to be immediately at the ready when you foolishly step off again. True friends realize that with great risk comes great rewards, but they also understand how to navigate the aftermath of a failed attempt at a pipe dream. As I pulled out of the station, I thought about those that have saved me, and decided that I could stand to do a little more pulling in and a little less swirling.
I arrived in St. Louis with no trouble. The trip seemed like a 10-minute jog compared to the long day before. But unlike KC I was going to get some on this town’s dirt under my fingernails. I used the Yelp! app on my iPhone and found what is supposed to be one of the best sandwich spots in the city. The place is called The Blues City Deli and my meal was incredible. I had a 7th Street Sicilian sandwich that was phenomenal. It consisted of Genoa salami, cappicola, pepperoni, and provolone, dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, onion, pepperoncini and Italian vinegar on a fresh baked baguette. I paired the sub with a Schlafly Kölsch, which is a light and delicious brew. It was the best meal I had since Colorado and my stomach and brain both thanked me. I met the owner Vinnie and gushed to him how much I liked the place. He told me about the restaurant, the artwork, and, the blues music events coming up. I love going to restaurants where the owner is present. You know that he is there steering the ship and because of his vested interest, service and quality are going to be provided. Live music is also a sign of devotion. A jukebox is a much simpler proposition, so when an owner to makes accommodations for a live band, it means he’s not afraid to work to provide a better product. This ideology translates directly to the preparation of food. I said goodbye to Vinnie and I bought a shirt to add my wardrobe since I had accidentally only packed one shirt for the trip.
I drove to America’s Best Inn that I had selected carefully to avoid my off-the-beaten-path Kansas City debacle. The motel is a short walk from to the Gateway Arch that I was going to check out. I am not against touristy attractions, especially the older ones like the Arch that was completed in 1965, the year of my birth. I parked the brick and checked in, the clerk was a happy man from India named Sundeep. I chatted with him for a while and he said I was lucky to have arrived because a storm was heading this way. The sky looked gray, but I decided to risk the walk to the arch. No more than halfway to my destination, the skies parted and down came a deluge of toad-sized rain. I found cover under a highway with a view of the Arch. I was not upset. The downpour let me stop, think a bit, and catch my breath. The sheets of rain blurred the traffic lights and I started to feel relaxed. I was in the home stretch of my trip and I was proud I had made it so far.
The rain slowed to a drizzle and I ventured back on the path to the Arch. It is an amazing structure and beautifully designed. As I approached, I was taken aback the enormity of bright silver structure. It looked as if a strong wind could blow it over, but it’s stood for so long I realized that somebody had thought through all of the engineering nightmares. I entered the visitor’s station and enjoyed the demeanor of the security guards. As I placed my belonging on the metal detector, one of them said, “Just remember, we keep all of the nickels!” I was happy to hear a person who was making the most of their job. I am sure security work can be mundane, but the workers here all had smiles on their faces and were very engaging to the guests.
I purchased a ticket and walked into the entrance for the elevators to the Arch. The architecture is completely bizarre. A staircase follows the curve of the arch that leads to the tiny pod-like elevator cars. I was seated alone and as the pod rose through the curved shaft, all I could hear in my head was the voice of HAL9000 from Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 speaking in a slow monotone, “Dave, although you took very thorough precautions in the pod against my hearing you, I could see your lips move.” Riding through the stainless steel behemoth was new and exhilarating. I reached the top and the drizzle started to let up. I peered out the tiny slot windows at the city to the east and the Mississippi River to the west, a storied view I felt privileged to witness. I had a strange welling up of pioneerism as I continued to look out, the skies slowly clearing. I had ventured across this country like those making their way to the West in the 1840’s. I had seen so much and now I was heading home. Unlike those pioneers I had a home and a job. My risks of taking this journey on an old motorcycle seemed minor compared to the bravery needed to make the trek with a horse-drawn Conestoga wagon with a wife and offspring in tow. Travelling alone gives me a lot of time to have these introspective moments that might have been missed if I was travelling with a partner, but I would wager that thought is a rationalization of many a meandering wanderer.
I exited the Arch and went poking around for a bar. I found a place called Hair of the Dog and decided on a cider. The bartender was aloof but not unpleasant. I wasn’t up for trite chitchat at this point and was enjoying just thinking about being in the Arch. Somebody thought up this structure and saw that it was built, an unbelievable task to complete. Seeing big construction such as the Arch inspires me. Impossible things can be done when employing a determined focus. The bar was dead so I pressed on to another place. The whole city seemed very unpopulated, but the night was still young. I found a bowling alley/restaurant called Flamingo Bowl and decided to have a beer or three and a bite to eat. By some stroke of luck the bartender named Jason is also a bike nut. We started talking and rambled on for the entire time I was sitting there. He showed me pictures of his CB750 café racer and we both told tales of our bikes present and past. I love working on my bike even thought I am not allowed to do it in my parking garage, I will scoot out to my bosses place in Jersey and wrench on the Brick, replacing parts and fluids as needed. I also found out that Jason builds guitar effects pedals, and also plays in a band like I do. This caused the conversation to get even longer. I ordered a Chicago style dog and a Bud light. The food was excellent, the conversation beyond excellent, but I had more to see. I was going to squeeze the blues out of St. Louis.
I tried a well-known establishment called the Crack Fox but there was not a single person in the bar. The barkeeps Kari and Phil gave me a few destinations for the night and highly recommended the City Museum for tomorrow. I headed toward a couple of blues places they recommended and on the way I passed Busch Stadium. I coerced a tourist into snapping a picture of me with a guy in a Superman costume because my drummer’s son Oscar, whom I baby-sit, is obsessed with Superheroes. I walked on and came upon a blues joint called Beale on Broadway that has live music. I settled into the outside bar, ordered a craft beer, and enjoyed the Ground Floor Band that was playing some great blues tunes. This was the real deal – no FM radio light blues.
The band took a break and I blabbed with Red, the conga player for the band. He was a huge guy with a booming voice and a big smile. There is camaraderie among musicians. It stems from the hardships one must overcome to play live music. If you’ve played live you have done your time in the trenches. The sacrifice of money to buy equipment, the band fights, the van breaking down, all of these rites of passage that one encounters in the brotherhood of musicians. Red and I exchanged a few war stories and he got back onstage. The band laid down a tremendous rendition of “Booty Shaker” that redefined the word funky.
I crossed the street to another famous place called BB’s, known for great blues and delicious soup. Again the idea of music and food together that I thought about back at Blues City Deli is something so pure and obvious. I had the shrimp bisque with cornbread and it was amazing. The music was killing as well. The front man played harmonica and the guitar player knew the blues form well, yet still sounded unique. I finished my soup and a few more beers and watched the band continue to crush onstage. I thought back to my heyday in the early to mid 90s with my bands in Tampa. I think of those days often and miss them.
I headed back to the motel. The Cardinals game was letting out and people were hitting the streets. The crowds were rowdy but I felt calm and satisfied, even among their anxious energy. I had crammed a lot into today and really enjoyed exploring the town. I had enough food and enough beer, and tomorrow was a busy day. Walking back I saw the Arch lit up in the night sky. Not only had I ridden to the top of the great structure, but I had also crossed this country westward and back. I was filled with an awe I’ve rarely felt. I was living.
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Kansas City to St. Louis – 261 miles