My son and I visited St. Louis last weekend, our annual pilgrimage to meet my parents and see a Cardinals game at Busch Stadium. This year we took in two games in one weekend instead of making separate trips like we have in years past, because I’ve decided that one five-hour drive a year is enough for me, thank you, even if it’s for baseball.
We had time to kill on the Saturday morning between game nights, so we visited the Gateway Arch. This was Carter’s first time and he was as excited as a 9-year-old kid can be. I had been to the top years ago when I was a kid, and what I remembered of it was nearly the same: the terrifying awesomeness of leaning out to peer across the city through the tiny plexiglass windows, 630 feet in the air; the knee-knocking, cramped seats inside the elevator pod/rollercoaster ride that takes you to the top; the slightly hokey yet surprisingly interesting museum of western expansion, with its stuffed bison and animatronic figure of Meriwether Lewis twitching and rolling through a tale of his trek through the Louisiana Purchase. It’s an odd mixture of old and new, a space age monument to the past, but it somehow works.
St. Louis, as a city, occupies that same kind of in-between territory for me too, an anchor for my young and adult lives. It’s the mythical big city of my childhood, where my favorite baseball team played two hours west across the stark cornfields of southern Illinois. Now it’s a three-day weekend destination for my family as we pay our same respects to baseball.
As I walked through downtown St. Louis, what has been happening a few miles north in Ferguson wasn’t far from my mind either. None of that was evident on the anodyne, tourist-friendly streets of course, but the feeling seeped into my experience, the dual role of the city in my life taking a more depressing tone. I have never lived in St. Louis or anywhere even close, but it remains a fulcrum as my life has moved progressively north to Chicago, now in more ways than I ever expected.