Thursday, January 12, 2006

Farewell, Louie, Louie

I pick up my last check from the city today. Next week I go into Irish exile. If you're curious about my travels check out my new blog -- Slouching Towards Bantry.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Union-Made Ashes

If you take the time to talk to the caretaker of the old Missouri Crematory and Columbarium at 3411 Sublette Ave., he will give you a tour. It's not often that the living seek his company and he welcomes the opportunity to converse with someone other than himself. But he is quick to add that he likes the solitude. The dead, he says, can't cause you any harm.

The crematory, which opened in 1887, shut down a few years ago, but the columbarium still has some space available, if you're interested. Those who have chosen to be cremated over the years came from all walks of life. For example, in the basement of the columbarium, an imposing crypt-like edifice, there is a bronze plaque on the wall that honors members of Brewers Local 6, many of whose ashes are interred here.

Since 1875

The city is layered in time, with decades overlapping themselves, defying the concept of linear reality. Passing by on the Interstates, commuters rarely glimpse the urban history that surrounds them, the places that have somehow managed to endure against the odds, including some establishments founded in the 19th Century that remain open today. Two of these venerable businesses, located on opposite ends of the city, first opened their doors in 1875. At 2501 N. 14th Street, on the near Northside, Marx Hardware still sells nuts and bolts as it did during President Ulysses S. Grant's administration. Likewise, Carondelet Bakery, at 7726 Virginia, in deep South St. Louis, has been serving fresh pastries and cakes at the same location for 130 years.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Outside the van, on Lindell Avenue, the young woman pleaded with my partner not to boot her late-model Toyota Scion. The Saint Louis University student, had just completed her last final of the semester. That temporary relief had suddenly been replaced with the anxiety that her car might soon be towed away for non-payment of parking tickets. She wore a small gold ring in her nose and her skin was the color of coffee with extra cream. The knit cap, pulled low on her brow, bore pins that espoused her social awareness. I watched from inside the van, listening to a Christmas carol on the radio. After we drove away from the scene, I felt vaguely depressed until I switched stations and happened to hear the Bottle Rockets singing $1,000 Car, a humorous lament on the poor man's transportation plight. The student could afford to pay her fine.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Tension on South Compton

The tow truck driver called for a "badge," a police officer in the parlance of automobile impoundment. He was parked on South Compton in front of a GMC Jimmy. Across the street, a chorus of gangbangers taunted him with threats and. racial slurs, while the owners of the vehicle loitered next to the vehicle. Their car, which would soon be towed, was locked and they needed to get their children's clothes out of the backseat. So a friend of the family took a big chunk of concrete and, on the second try, managed to smash out the back window.

Beatle Bob Saunters by an Old Haunt

It was a rare daylight sighting of Beatle Bob, St. Louis' famous nightclub dance phenom. He crossed the intersection with one arm extended, his index finger pointing upward, lecturing himself, his mop-top hair-do perfectly in place. Bob then stopped momentarily in front of the Hi-Pointe bar to scrutinize the fliers taped to the window before disappearing down Oakland alley behind the Cheshire Inn, past the dumpsters.

A Theological Question

An old black woman, wearing wrap around sunglasses, sat at the table of the White Castle on Natural Bridge Boulevard in North St. Louis. Oblivious to the banter of her fellow customers, she was absorbed in her reading amid the smell of fried onions. On the table, she displayed a sign which asked: "Is the devil real?"

Friday, October 28, 2005

We Have All Been Here Before

In the day-to-day hustle and bustle of our working lives, our sense of deja vu can easily be overlooked. This sense may be reawakened at any moment, of course, but often those of us with lesser psychic powers must rely on a foreign setting to achieve such insight.

On the St. Charles Street streetcar in New Orleans in the 1980s, for example, I once stared at the pattern of a woman's print dress and felt instantly transported back to the 1940s, when Tennessee Williams resided there.

Or walking the streets of Baltimore in the early 1970s, I remember seeing old rag men hunched over their reins, as swaybacked nags, festooned with a colorful, feathered headdresses, clopped down narrow streets lined with rowhouses, the sound of wagon wheels conjuring up Edgar Allen Poe's world.

Time is a blur waiting to be captured.

Second Spring

Before this week's cold snap, I noticed that dandelions had begun to bloom, again.

Signs of the Times

We will know that the war in Iraq will soon be over and all of our troops safe, when those stupid yellow-magnets finally disappear from people's automobiles.

Port of St. Louis

A couple weeks ago, the Mississippi Queen, one of the only stern-wheel steamboats to still ply the river, anchored on the St. Louis levee to board passengers for a fall junket. Unlike this week's hoopla over the 40th Anniversary of the Gateway Arch, the tall vessel came and went with little fanfare. But for those who happened to see the sight, it conjured up a timeless vision of this city's marriage to the great brown god. There was an era when such an embarkation was common place, a daily event. Now such rare sightings are almost dream like. Just below the Eads Bridge, the roustabouts once again took on supplies for the journey, as passengers arrived, their luggage heaped on the cobblestones.

Life on the Mississippi goes on.

Here Lies Eliza Poole

After a long hiatus, I've returned to occasionally jog in Tower Grove Park, a Victorian-style walking park laid out in the 19th Century on the original estate of Henry Shaw, who also donated the land for the nearby Missouri Botanical Garden, commonly referred to by St. Louisans as Shaw's Garden.

In his will, Shaw, an early mercantile mogul, specified that "colored" people, who were then still slaves, be prohibited from using the park. That part of his last wishes is obviously no longer honored, but the quasi-public park is still governored by an independent board of governors who oversee park policies and maintenance of the land.

The narrow parcel between Magnolia and Arsenal runs for a mile and a half, from Kingshighway on the west to Grand Avenue on the East. Its rolling landscape was long ago planted with a wide range of trees, including Ginkos, Osage Orange and Sweet Gum, to name a few.

Among the mysteries harbored in the park is the tombstone of Eliza Poole, which can be found in the southwest sector in a grove of trees that allows dappled sunlight to filter through in autumn. According to the carved stone, Eliza died in the 1870s, if memory serves me right. Instead of "rest in peace" or some other typical inscription the word "oak" was chiseled above her name. Perhaps it's not a grave marker at all, but a monument to a tree named in Eliza's honor. But nowadays there is no oak tree by the stone.

Canada Squirrels

Squirrels not geese. They're black in Canada at least in southern Ontario. Maybe further north near the North Pole there are white, polar squirrels.

The enigma surrounding the ebony-furred critters is akin to the mystery of black helicopters. Here's one theory.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Meditating on the River

During his lunch break, the young worker had somehow perched himself on the park bench at Bellrieve Park in a full lotus position. He sat motionless, staring at the Mississippi River.

Judging by the trucks parked nearby, he either worked for the Missouri Department of Transportation or a portable tiolet company.

Near Miss by Ambulance Chasers

Waiting for a red light at 14th and Market, we signaled to the emergency medical technician who pulled up next to us that there was something wrong with his vehicle. A steam-like vapor was rising from one of the ambulance's rear wheels. Apparently the brake line had broken and brake fluid was leaking on to the exhaust. As he jumped out of the vehicle to check it out, a SUV filled with suits flew by, barely missing him.

"Just my luck to be hit by a truck full of lawyers," he said.

Strutting at Straub's

He wore a beret, a turtleneck and jeans. But the two characteristics that stood out about the old man, who walked into Straub's supermarket on Kingshighway in front of me, were his stature and gait.

Then I looked at this shoes.

He was wearing three-inch stiletto heels.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Just Say Amen

The group congregated in a vacant lot at Euclid and Natural Bridge one day this week, which wouldn't have been that unusual in North St. Louis except for the presence of gasoline driven electrical generators and sound equipment. Once it was all set up, a young man took a microphone and began preaching against the evils of marijuana and succumbing to peer pressure. The location doesn't get too much foot traffic and the anti-drug crew had set up the loud speakers some distance from the street, so I'm not sure how many people heard the anti-drug crusader's testimony. But I think the point was more to just express their convictions out loud.


The two men, one white and one black, walked down Natural Bridge with their fishing poles and tackle in the direction of Fairgrounds Park. Both Fairgrounds and nearby O'Fallon Park have fishing holes stocked by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

If you ride down Clayton or Duncan Avenues in the morning, you can smell the coffee beans roasting at Ronnoco and Thomas Coffee Companies.


With the coming of cool fall nights, the homeless are staking out their spots around town that provide a modicum of warmth. One favorite location is the rear of Barnes Hospital on Euclid across from the Metro stop. This week, I counted three indigents curled up on the sidewalks next to ventilation shafts.

On the same subject, I heard a possible urban myth this week that involved a young woman who camped out for tickets to the Nine Inch Nails concert only to be told the next morning by a security guard that she was sleeping with bums.

Autumn Colors

The woman exiting her car on Marconi Avenue had hair that matched the hue of the scarlet Maple growing next to the curb.

Urban Ag

Urban agriculture may sound like a contradiction, but each day a legion of city tractors are dispatched to North St. Louis to mow thousands of acres of vacant lots. In some blocks, there may be only one or two occupied residences standing. In others, none at all. Vast stretches of the city are now open ground. Perhaps St. Louis officials should find a way to bale all that hay and sell it to livestock owners in rural Missouri.

Thunder Cats and Ol' Boys

In the hood, an ol' boy is anyone who has survived to age 40 and mellowed along the way, whereas, a thunder cat is a troublesome youth prone to violence.

Slo-Mo Gathering at the Bandstand

The tai-chi practitioners stood silently in a circle next to the Tower Grove Park bandstand, holding their hands aloft as if to capture the rays of the morning sun.

Bladder Lock Down in the Hood

One of the differences between Fairgrounds Park in North St. Louis and Tower Grove Park in South St. Louis has to do with the "accomdations," or lack thereof. In Tower Grove, the Johnny-on-the-Spots are open for business. In Fairgrounds, the single portable toilet is padlocked, which begs the question:

Are those who regulate such pressing matters concerned that the predominantly poor, African-Americans who frequent Fairgrounds Park will use the pisser for its intended purpose or do they worry that someone will steal the urine?

I'd Rather Be in Philly

Short of traveling to the City of Brotherly Love, the best cheese steak sandwich west of the Mississippi is to be had at Mammer Jammer on Natural Bridge east of Union.

The Best French Bread in Town

Long before nuevo bakeries peddling fancy "baguettes" at inflated prices arrived on the scene, Amighetti's across from St. Ambrose Church on the Hill, in St. Louis' Italian neighborhood, baked the best French bread in town. The bakery, which gained a reputation for its poor boy sandwiches, still sells bread out of the original storefront on Wilson, which has a separate door from the more popular restaurant entrance on Marconi. For $1.99, a customer can walk away with a fresh, three-foot long loaf still warm from the oven sometimes.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Golf Carts and Law Enforcement

The flatbed trucks lumbered down Olive Street on their way to Busch Stadium this afternoon, carrying a load of police golf carts, which I assume will be used by the cops to patrol the area during tonight's playoff game against the Astros.

Northside Eateries, The Price Is Right

*The Country Girl Pie House at Union and Ashland serves fresh-baked pies and burgers, too. On the wall of the carry-out establishment is a shrine to a recently departed loved one who worked there.

*Billie Burkes place is on Billups Avenue south of Sumner High School a few blocks. It has about four seats at the counter, and just enough room on the other side for the cooks to grill the burgers, which are, of course, delicious. And if you come just before noon, you can watch the ghost-like television image of octogenarian game show host Bob Barker as he sells the American Dream on the The Price Is Right.

Which Way To Downtown?

The young man stopped in the parking lot of the Straub's supermarket on North Kingshighway to ask a fellow cyclist how to get downtown. He had an foreign accent, so I asked him where he was from. He said New York. When I pressed for more details, he said he had lived in New York for 12 years, but was originally from Israel. I pointed in the direction of the next stop light, which was the intersection of Lindell, and told him to hang a left. I had first advised him to take the sidewalk because of the heavy traffic, and then recanted. He was, after all, from New York. On parting, he advised me to ride safely, and then was off, his curly locks blowing in the breeze without a helmet.

Shattering Eviction

The man said that he lived in the old GMC utility vehicle that was parked across the street from junk yard on Martin Luther King Drive where crack dealers conduct business. After his pleas failed and the city workers booted the wheel of his mobile residence for non-payment of parking tickets, he took desperate action. Knowing he would not be able to pay his fines and that the tow truck was on its way, he began smashing the windows with an iron pipe.


I've had to eliminate the comments on this blog because of spam from folks trying to sell dog coats and other crap.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Boom, Boom, Boom, Gonna Shoot You Right Down

Stopping for lunch at Penrose Park one day this week, I noticed five, spent .38-caliber cartridges in the gutter.


I noticed the trend earlier this fall, when I spotted a youngster early one morning pulling one of those suitcases on wheels favored by air travelers. Now I'm seeing students of all ages using the same devices to carry their books. Farewell to the hunchbacks and their backpacks.

Putting Around Town

The gangstas around Fairgrounds Park have forsaken their Escalades and taken to driving golf carts to conserve fuel. The same vehicles have been spotted in Dogtown, but driven by white yuppies.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Definition of Country

In black dialect, the word "country," when it is used as a synonym for rural, is a pejorative, as in "get your country ass on up outta here."

Economic Indicator

You know the local economy has tanked when the local dollar store closes its doors.

Code Orange

You know it's too hot inside your second-floor, Dogtown digs when your tropical fish start to die.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Flying My Kite

I'm sailing down the Forest Park bike path that parallels Highway 40 on my 10-speed, a French baguette sticking out of my knapsack, smiling. On the adjacent highway, the traffic is bumper-to-bumper, Democrats and Republicans, Bush bashers and Bush backers, all sitting still in their SUVs, heading nowhere at $3.00-plus per gallon. The bag holding my bread is flapping in the wind like a kite.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Ain't Going to Study That No More

In black dialect, the word "study" has a negative denotation, referring to an object or issue that should not be pondered. Perhaps the most popular use of this definition of the word is found in the old spiritual, "Ain't Going to Study War No More. But far from being an antiquated useage, "not studying" is commonly used in everyday language by many African-Americans in St. Louis. When people use the term, they are saying they refuse to be bothered by some annoying trait exhibited by others. The people who are most prone to "not study" the bad behavior of others usually have migrated from the South, specifically Mississippi or Arkansas.

Where Are All the Flowers From?

St. Louis' wholesale flower market is located on bustling LaSalle Street, one block south of Chouteau near the intersection of Jefferson. Here, in the early morning, drivers who work for florists retrieve orders that are transported throughout the area, to funerals and weddings and lovers.

Movie Marketing in the Ghetto

Abandoned buildings at intersections throughout North St. Louis have been plastered with movie posters for the current low-brow comedy "40 Year Old Virgin." The star of the feature film, Steve Cassel, is featured on the poster, smiling like a caucasian idiot savant.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Maffitt Mayhem

An after-school fracas broke out in the middle of Maffitt Avenue this afternoon near the corner of Sarah. From a distance, I could see a cluster of kids watching two others sparring. By the time we drew nearer, pandemonium had taken over. Kids were shouting, and laughing, and blocking traffic, while one frenetic youngster did a series of forward rolls across the asphalt.

For the Birds

The over-sized prefabricated out building, which has the shape of an old-fashioned barn roof, is overpopulated with winged residents. The pigeons that flock here can be seen from the Vandeventer overpass on Highway 40 (Interstate 64). The reason for congregating at this location is also visible. In the background are a series of towering grain elevators. Birds of a feather flock where there's food.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The End of Summer

Between successive heat waves, the respites of August arrive, harbingers of autumn. With the shortening of each day, the evenings cool down and there is both relief and longing for days gone by. The sycamore leaves are falling, falling.

Tribute to a Fallen Worker

A tiny white cross painted on the back of the parking meter marks the spot where he fell. Having worked the better for of his life, he died on the street doing his job. The spot where he had his heart attack on Spring Avenue near Forest Park Boulevard can be easily passed by without notice just as his passing was overlooked by the larger world. As Labor Day approaches, it is worth noting that every day countless anonymous workers sacrifice their lives while doing their job, their daily tasks never acknowledged as anything heroic.

For Goodness Sake

Black slang has a way of expressing the peculiar slant of people who live in the ghetto. One term that is popular now is "it's all good," a catch-all phrase that is used when events are anything but all good. "It's all good," for instance, might be trotted out when the landlord is clamoring for the rent or your paycheck is short a day or you just lost your last dollar on a lottery scratch off.

"It's all good."

Beauty for Sale

They are ubiquitous on the Northside, taking the place of old-time variety stores or five and dimes. In this case, however, they advertise themselves as the purveyors of beauty. Beauty supply stores, as they are called, hawk cosmetics, of course, but also carry a wide line of sundry merchandise, everything from pirated DVDs to identification holders.

Changing Cityscape

Slowly the city changes before our eyes. Houses topple, bridges fall, the old ways disappear, as if they never were.

In Rome, a modern subway stops across the street from the Colleisum, a tribute to the city's ancient past. But here fewer and fewer architecural reminders survive "economic redevelopment" and the urban planners' bulldozer mentality.

As people flee the core of the city for the outer suburbs, they have left their fading memories, too, of the forgotten places they once knew.

More often than not these changes limit rather than expand our world view, constricting our movements by implicitly proscribing old routes, pushing people into an ever-tightening grid.

For the cabbies, and the coppers and the nighthawks and all those who hold to the alternate ways in the city, these changes are sad passings.

A little-known road still snakes through the railyards east of Vandeventer and Tower Grove on the near Southside. It passes warehouses and factories, some shuttered. With the moon shining down on the silvery rails on a warm August night, the meandering path transports its solitary travelers through the industrial underbelly of the city. The route used to lead up to the intersection of Spring and Chouteau, but it is now a dead end due to the razing of the century-old Chouteau Avenue viaduct.

At the terminus of this new cul de sac, sit idle cranes and tractors amid the concrete ruins. When the new bridge is completed in a few years, I have no doubt that public access to the old way will be cut off.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Place Where Giant Puppets Sleep

One block south of Forest Park Boulevard, near the corner of Spring and Clark, there is a non-descript warehouse that harbors the Fair St. Louis floats of the annual parade formerly associated with the secret Veiled Prophet organization. The Veiled Prophet has its orgins in the post-Civil War era, when two Southern businessmen who had moved to St. Louis, decided to create a celebration akin to the New Orleans Mardi Gras. Over the course of the next century, the pageant grew into a huge civic event that was marred by the exclusive nature of the organization, an organization dominated by wealthy, white males. Each year, the Veiled Prophet, whose legend revolves around an historic Middle Eastern potentate, is selected from among his elite peers who control power in St. Louis. The masked man then briefly oversees his mythic kingdom and a selection of a queen, a debutante who hails from the same social class. The ball that honors her is a private affair that created controversy during decades past. But the parade was always a suitable diversion for the masses, having been first staged in the wake of a general strike by immigrant workers in the 1870s.

Today, the giant puppets that festoon the annual parade floats sit comatose, with glazed eyes, in there little-known-about hideaway, waiting patiently to prance through the streets once again.

Arkansas Traveler Asks for Directions

The driver of the pickup truck, which bore Arkansas plates, ran his fingers through the hair on this chinny-chin-chin, pondering with awe the Gateway Arch in the distance while stopped in rush-hour traffic on Market Street downtown. Turning to an adjacent motorist, he asked which leg of the souring monument was accessible for he an his traveling companion to ascend.

Either one was the reply.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Of Teddy Bears and Death

Throughout the Northside, random lamp posts and street signs are festooned with stuffed animals. The macabre monuments pay tribute to children who have died violently in drive-by shootings.

Cooling It at Blair and Newhouse

In the summer months, the city sets up sprinklers for inner-city kids in schoolyards, connecting the apparatus to nearby fire plugs with fire hoses. But these heat relievers are often left unused in favor of more creative designs. At the corner of Blair and Newhouse, for instance, during last week's 100-plus degree heat wave, a creative young urban planner built a giant fountain by encircling a fire hydrant with two old car tires and then wedging a board inside of them. A few well-placed turns of a monkey wrench opened the valve releasing a torrent, which hit the board, spraying water 15 to 20 feet in the air.

Good Morning Star Shine, the Earth Says Hello

The woman curled in the arm chair at the Dogtown coffeehouse, sat wiggling her toes, absorbed in reading Astral Travel for Beginners.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Price of Doing Business

Crown Candy Kitchen, St. Louis' oldest and only old-fashioned ice cream parlor has been located on St. Louis Avenue since 1913, when a Greek immigrant opened the business. His grandsons maintain the establishment, catering to people who visit from throughout the area, including the affluent suburbs. But Crown is located in one of the poorest urban neighborhoods in the city.

Yesterday, an indigent woman entered the shop and begged one of the owners for bus fare. Opening the cash register, he gave her the money saying, "Here's a buck twenty-five, you'll have to get the return fare from somebody on the other end."

Water Theme Park: 19th and Penrose

The kids opened the fire hydrant on the corner yesterday and took turns jumping into the roaring torrent, which pushed them across the asphalt as they laughed, the welcomed waters providing a temporary respite to the heat.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A Hurricane Visits the Midwest

The spent force of Hurricane David crept up the Mississippi Valley, enveloping the city in fog and mist, a respite from the summer sun. Under these humid conditions, St. Louis' geographic coordinates seems to move south, transforming it into a lush locale. The blooming mimosas and lady cigar trees (catalpas) furthering this illusion. And in the alleys, Chinese transplants, the ubibiquitous Trees of Heaven, turn an urban landscape into a jungle.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

See that His Grave Is Kept Clean

The black dude working the counter at the lottery-liquor store in Sauget drew us a map, a zig-zagging, curvacious series of lines on a piece of blue scrap paper. Following the cryptic directions, we meandered by the old chemical plants, past the new industrial park into the Illinois farm fields, where the bush league baseball park was located. After Willie Nelson performed as the sun set, Bob Dylan took command of the stage, singing songs from his forty-plus year career to a crowd of young and old. With darkness falling and marijuana smoke wafting through the air, Dylan, on keyboards and harmonica, and his back up band cast a spell on the crowd, the pounding beat moving seamlessly from one American musical genre to another, Dylan's gravel voice spitting out stacatto lines of lyrics. Dylan captured the audience early in the performance with a trance-inducing rendition of Highway 61. By the middle of the set, fully grooved, sweat dripped from his hawk nose. Mr. Zimmerman didn't bother to wipe it off.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The 5th of July

The young man sat curled in front of the shuttered Traveler's Aid Society office at 702 N. Tucker Blvd. early Monday morning, lecturing his reflection in the storefront's window, while a couple blocks south police stood and stared at the body of a black woman lying at the corner of Locust.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Hell and Brimstone on North Grand

The street preacher stood in the searing heat on the corner of Kossuth and North Grand with a bullhorn in his hand, a big man in a gray polyester sweatsuit with a message of salvation to impart to the world. These are the end days, he screamed, his voice crackling through the battery-powered megaphone. Accept Jesus or face certain damnation. Get right with God -- now! Some among his captive congregation prayed only for the light to turn green. It seemed like an eternity.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Right Shovel

The old man likes to talk about fishing. And when he does not talking about fishing, he talks about work. As a union laborer, he worked high and low, from girders spanning the Missouri River to the sewers running into the Mississippi. He will tell you about them all, puffing a cigarette, coughing, and then laughing, again, at his own stories; stories he has told so long that they are part of him, stories that meander like the rivers' memory from place to place, changing like shifting currents over time.

One story he recounts is of a summer spent shoveling cement on a road gang widening Highway 141 in West St. Louis County. He reveals that one of the secrets to survival under these extreme working conditions is to wear a hooded sweatshirt packed with ice behind your neck and in your sleeves.

The other survival tip for summer road work is choosing the right size shovel, he says. He recalls how a young buck showed up at work one morning -- his first day on the job. The strapping youngster, wanting to impress his bosses, took the largest shovel available and began heaving cement at breakneck speed. The old man says he tried to warn the younger man not to use that particular shovel. There was a reason why the shovel chosen by the new-hire had never been used, why it still had the wrapping paper around its broad blade.

It was too big.

Cement is very heavy and to move it manually it needs to be hefted in small increments. That's why the veteran laborers would shorten their shovel blades with a grinding wheel. The old man tried to explain this to the younger man, but he wouldn't listen.

By mid morning, the new-hire was lying unconscious by the side of the road. He didn't show up for work the next day.


The three young black men sat on the curb amid the dried, crumbling bark near the trunk of a towering sycamore at 19th and Penrose, their hands cuffed behind their backs. Behind them in the deserted softball field, the scorched grass was dying blade by blade under the June sun. In the stillness of the afternoon heat, a crowd of neighbors watched from a distance, as the three white police officers, who were also young, moved methodically back and forth from their squad cars; the routine arrests unfolding as if in slow motion. Last week's breeze had disappeared, and throughout the Northside, vacant lots have begun to look more like parched savannahs, interrupted by diliapidated brick flats with tar roofs, their cockeyed windows flung open or shattered, exposing tattered curtains with nothing to hide, sagging walls dissolving, melting back into the earth.

Friday, June 24, 2005

An Old-Fashioned Corner Store

Though the sign above the front door identifies the retail establishment at 20th and Newhouse in North St. Louis as a "Mini Mart," it's really an old-fashioned corner store, where a customer can still buy lunch meat, Wonder bread, soda, a quart of milk or, during this time of year, sparklers to celebrate Fourth of July. This curious anachronism in the world of 7-11s and Quik Trips has likely been preserved because the impoverished neighborhood in which it is located disqualifies it from consideration by the national chain outfits.

An Old Athlete Walks down Washington Avenue

He played in the 1964 World Series against the Yankees, along with Bob Gibson and Kenny Boyer. But that was a long time ago. On this day, St. Louis Cardinal's baseball announcer Mike Shannon's nimble limbs are slowed by the grandchild holding his hand and the decades of summers past.

The Fat Lady Sings

She sat at the busstop shelter across from the downtown library, singing in the summer morning, her airy voice countering the weight of her obese body.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The Price of a Soda Downtown

How much you pay for a can of soda downtown depends on where you buy it.

*The trendy grocery store at 10th and Olive charges $1.19.
*7-11 at 17th and Pine charges .79 cents.
*The hot dog vender across the street from City Hall charges .75 cents.
*The soda machine inside the shoe store at 14th and Washington charges .55.

Hocked Wheels

Sam Light's Pawn Shop at Jefferson and Olive usually has a rack of bicycles for sale out front. But last week, there was a more unusual two-wheeled vehicle on display: a motorized wheelchair.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Caribbean Connection

The tiny coin glinted on the pavement. By its size, it appeared to be a dime, but this picaunyne wasn't round. Its octogonal shape was the first hint of foreign origin. Somehow a Jamaican dollar had crossed the Caribbean Sea and found its way to the sidewalk in downtown St. Louis.

June Tune: A Bluesman on Union Boulevard

He sat on the sidewalk in a kitchen chair wearing a sombero, leaning against the sun-parched wall of Lou's barber shop, playing the Wind Cried Mary by Hendrix on a Telecaster knock-off, ascending chords rising above the din of traffic on a June afternoon.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Public Art and No Bicycles on the SLU Campus

When I ride my bike to work, I cut through the Saint Louis University campus. Early in the morning there are few people wandering around there, which gives me time to gaze at all the bad public art. There are all those terrible bronze statues, including the Billiken, some odd, Norse god, a sort of kewpie doll and the mascot of the school's athletic teams. Then there's the statue of the Native American bowing to Bishop Dubourg and the statue of Pope Pius, the Fascist Holy See, giving the peace sign. But the really scary statues are the ones of students sitting frozen on benches, and, of course, the laughing concrete dolphins squirting water out of their mouthes.

The obvious collegiate icons missing on the SLU campus are bicycles. There are very, very few, which I find weird.

Our Flag Is Bigger Than Your Flag

I am humbled that someone who lives in a downtown loft actually reads this blog, and pleasantly surprised that anybody does. And for those who have taken the time to respond to my street-level observations, thank you for your interest.

I hope I haven't disappointed any readers by my dearth of entries lately. I've been busy ranting on my resurrected political blog, Media Mayhem.

One thing I noticed this week while walking down Market Street is that the Metropolitan Sewer District's American flag is three-times bigger than the nearby FBI field office's American flag, which proves that the sewer guys are three times more patriotic.

By the way, standing in front of Milles Fountain, across from Union Station, you can see six flags furling along Market. I remember when I worked at Anheuser-Busch, there were nine flags between the parking lot and the entrance to the Bevo plant.

That's one of the many things I liked about Quebec. Fewer flags. Most of them in front of post offices where they belong.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Hold the Mustard, Jack

Jack Carl, the proprietor of downtown St. Louis' only authentic deli, doesn't mince words. When a suited customer asked him whether business had picked up with the influx of new "loft dwellers" in the neighborhood, he said: "It's all bullshit." The longtime downtown business owner was referring to the hype surrounding the rebirth of downtown, which is pegged to rehabbed residential developments in old warehouses along Washington and Locust Avenues among other places.

One reason that Carl may not have seen an increase in business is because the people moving into these pricey digs don't really inhabit the place where they live. Instead, they treat their new urban homes and neighborhood the same way they would if they lived in a West County burb. When they come home from work, they shut the door and turn on cable.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Happy Mother's Day

The car rolled down the apartment complex driveway off Laclede Station Road in reverse -- with a man clawing his way up the hood like a shreiking, rabid animal. As the car hit the street, he shoved his arm through the jagged hole in the windshield trying to retrieve the keys. Finally, acceding to his demands, the overweight woman, with a drink in her hand, stopped and exited the car. It was Mother's Day in Maplewood and the natives were restless.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Grocery Cart Woman

The woman stood with her head bowed at the rear of the Argyle parking garage at Euclid and Lindell next to the tony Chase Apartments. Beside her she had a grocery cart filled with all of his worldly possessions. Later, I saw her cart parked in front of the nearby public library.

Viaduct Dwellers

The men live under the highway viaducts along the exits of Highway 40 on the western edges of downtown St. Louis, where thousands of cars pass by their bundles of belongings each day.

To Have and Have Not

The platinum blonde in the stiletto heels strutted across the street from her loft apartment and opened the locked gate to her parking lot. Moments later, her sporty red sedan scooted out onto Locust Street, after another electric gate opened. A block away a homeless man sat on the curb in front of the New Life Evagelistic Center, music pulsing from his boom box. Unlike St. Louis County, where the wealthy have gone to great lengths to insulate themselves from the poor, city dwellers of all social classes co-exist in a separate but unequal environment every day. I don't know which is worse.


The most frequently asked question that is asked of a parking meter collector is "do you have change for a dollar." The second most frequently asked question is "where is the Social Security office."

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Sign of the Times

The graffiti had been painted over the wall of Gold's Gym on Washington, but the message was still discernible:


Manhole Talk

It wasn't the kind of conversation you would expect two electric company employees to be having. They weren't talking about last night's baseball game or shop talk. Instead, the guy somewhere beneath the street's surface was discussing a pending move by someone in his family. The disembodied voice was telling the guy squatting over the manhole that "she" had always wanted to live in Korea. He hoped that the career move worked out for her.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Encounter with the Wisecracking Senator

His shoulders were perhaps a bit more stooped than the last time I saw him, but there was no mistaking his touseled mane of silver hair. Dressed in a rumpled sports coat and open-collared shirt, former U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton stood next to the open door of his Toyota on Washington Avenue last Tuesday, waiting for workers from a nearby frame shop to carry out his purchases. When I introduced myself, he apologized for his hearing loss and leaned a bit closer to hear me above the din of traffic noise. Eagleton, a three-term senator from Missouri and briefly the Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 1972, didn't recall our prior meeting a few years ago, when I interviewed him as a reporter for a local alternative weekly newspaper. But he was, nonetheless, amused by my new incarnation. Gazing at the city identification card that hung around my neck, the senator quipped: "What's that for, in case you get lost?"

Sidewalk Squatter, 13th and Gay Streets

On a chilly morning last week, an old woman lay on the sidewalk warming herself next to a manhole cover spouting steam surrounded by parking lots. A little after 8 a.m. she gathered up her belongings and hobbled to the nearby St. Patrick's shelter, leaving a paperback edition of the King James Bible behind.

Blind Justice on Market Street

The grounds of the St. Louis field office of the FBI, located on Market Street, is tended by Mexican migrant workers, most likely illegal aliens, an indication of the Bush administration's lax enforcement of immigration laws. Whereas, across the street at the Jefferson Bank and Trust Co., the scene of civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s, the lawn is cared for by African-Americans.

Daily Planet Defunct

Man nor woman does not live by bread alone, especially that sub species of homo sapiens addicted to news. A city is not a city, let alone a civilization, without a newsstand. Sadly, St. Louis city lost its only purveyor of newsprint and slick magazines recently with the passing of the Daily Planet on Euclid. The Daily Planet, which was located next to the Coffee Cartel at the corner of Maryland Plaza, offered a necessary fix for urban news junkies. Blame it on the Internet or Borders, the results are the same. The demise leaves the St. Louis area with only one remaining newsstand, the Clayton-based Central News.

St. Louis' Cheapest Cup of Joe

I accidently discovered St. Louis' cheapest cup of coffee in the most unlikely place -- Straub's -- the upscale grocery chain. Tucked in the corner of the recently added deli in the back of the store is a coffee stand, where a small cup of Joe goes for 50 cents, much less than White Castle, QuikTrip or the ubiquitious, high-priced Starbuck's.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The City as a Museum

They come by the busload from the hinterlands, Bethalto and Hazelwood, Breeze and Eureka, to tour the City Museum, which is housed in the old International Shoe warehouse at Delmar and 17th Street. The museum, the mad vision of St. Louis artist Bob Cassilly, is of Rube Goldberg design, all shoots and ladders and tunnels inside and out, with a firetruck and airplane fuselages strewn about the premises, and an old log cabin in the parking lot, and the latest addition, a giant preying mantis sculpture rising from the roof. It's the stuff of kids' dreams come to life and their parents', too, of course. Passing by each week, I hear the squeals of glee and watch the youthful scampering. But even from a detached distance something about the scene makes me uneasy, as if as a city worker, I am also part of the backdrop for the museum, an anachronistic prop, a historical extra, briefly playing a bit part in the 21st Century. This is the city, kids, where people once lived and worked and played. Remember it and hold it dear.

Dog's Island

The long-haired pooch lay not quite cowering in the long, cool grass of an island on North Kingshighway Boulevard. Stranded in a sea of rush hour traffic, he waited to be rescued, panting softly, bright eyes shining in the morning sun. Soon his patience would be rewarded by the attention of concerned passersby. How transient this cannine predicament to human despair of everyday life on the street.

I-Deaf Morning

I said good morning to the young woman, but my greeting went unaknowledged as she continued walking west on Forest Park Boulevard with white wires dangling from her ears.

Coop Du Jour

The bum sleeps wrapped in carpet remnants in the doorway of the loading dock at the rear of the Plaza Square Building at 17th and Olive. Another day, another bit of squalor.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Free Advice from a Dead Millionaire

Andrew Carnegie, the 19th-Century robber baron, generously endowed the St. Louis Public Library, and for his philanthropy the library graced the back entrance with his words. Nobody goes in this door anymore, if they ever did, so few people ever stop to read what he had to say concerning his bibliomanic fervor. For what it's worth, here are Carnegie's overlooked words, which adhere to the same social Darwinism by which he rationalized his greed:

"I chose free libraries as the best agencies for improving the masses of the people because they only help those who help themselves, they never pauperize. A taste for reading draws out lower tastes."

Across the street from Carnegie's words, on the sidewalk adjacent to Lucas Park, the homeless queue up, as they do every noontime, to help themselves to a taste of free gruel doled out from the back of a pickup truck.

Climatic Divide

The sunny side of Washington Avenue this afternoon had already slipped into a torpor of summer heat, while the shady side of the street played with spring.

High-Rise Pit Stop: Charging Up at the Y

An energy-efficient vehicle was parked on the side of the downtown YMCA yesterday. A small electric motor had been added to the low-slung, three-wheel bicycle. The odd-looking contraption wasn't the only thing worth gawking over. Whoever owned the machine had decided to recharge its batteries by running an extension chord up to a 10th floor window.


I got the news of the selection of a new pope not from the Internet or TV, but the bells of St. John's Catholic Church on Pine Street. The bells resounded off the Plaza Square apartments as I walked down Olive on my way to lunch.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Place Is More Than a Name

I've noticed a tendency among St. Louis cub reporters to bestow identities to certain districts or neighborhoods that were previously undefined. My neighborhood, Dogtown, for example, was recently reported to extend as far west as Blendon Avenue near the city limits. More disconcerting was its designation as an "increasingly hip place to live" by yet another reporter. Even more inventive was a reference to an area of downtown that includes the Federal Reserve Bank, which was described as being the "central financial district."

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Multiple Jarods

The svelte gent leaving the Subway sandwich shop on Euclid Avenue in the Central West End yesterday slid behind the wheel of a car with Illinois vanity plates "Jarod 5."

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Hardshell Illuminati

The ornate lampposts outside the central branch of the St. Louis Public Library on Olive Street are secured to a base that's slow but sure. Each light has a pedestal consisting of four brass turtles bravely extending their necks heavenward.

Peaceful Revisionism

The peace sign, back by popular demand. Those hipsters who flash it nowadays employ a new twist, however. The index and middle fingers are still extended, but instead of the traditional "palms-up" peace sign, the revised version exhibits the back of the hand, and is displayed in a casual manner to express the total coolness of the peace signee.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Mr. Dip's Universe

My fellow workers call him Mr. Dip, though the tall black man's name is Ronald. Mr. Dip, a regular cast member in the downtown street scene, is known for his distinctive walk, which is noteable because of the way he moves his left arm in a scooping manner with each step. He is also a fashion plate partial to leather and polyester. Yesterday, Mr. Dip, wearing a long black coat and lime sports shirt, walked up to us as we pondered a problematic parking meter. In a raspy bass he whispered: "Are you draining the energy out of that machine?"

Friday, April 08, 2005

Nickel and Dime Symbolism

The old Chipewa Trust Co., now Regions Bank, at Chipewa and Jefferson, has a facade that includes a series griffins carved across the top of the building. Griffins, of course, are the winged-lions of mythology. More striking, however, is the symbolism carved around the doorway. The entrance is flanked by Images of buffalo-head nickels and Mercury-head dimes a positioned above chalices. The Holy Grail be damned.

Thanks for the monetary tip from Mike H.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Ying Yang Symbol on Grand

The wrought iron rails on the front of St. Louis University Hospital on Grand are an art-deco masterpiece incorporating a design element that includes a stylized series of ancient Taoist ying-yang symbols. Strange for a Catholic Hospital.

Her Hair Lives

Off to See the Wizard
The only time I saw the proprietor of the Crystal Wizard she walked outside her curios shop on South Broadway wearing a smock, with a cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth and a cup of coffee in her hand. With her hair moving in strange patterns towards the sky, she remains an enigma to be observed from afar, as does her business for it never seems to be open. When she's there, she's gone and when she's gone, she's really gone. Inside the locked mesh gates, the display windows offer dead houseplants for sale.

Hoosier French

The French founded St. Louis in the mid-18th Century as a fur-trading post, leaving behind a fading influence on the city that came to be. The traces of French influence can be found throughout the area, including street and place names, but they are pronounced in a distinctly unique St. Louis patois. Chouteau Avenue, for example, which is named after one of the co-founders of the city, is pronounced SHOW-tow. Moreover, the suburban municipality of Creve Couer is pronounced CREEF-core.

It's enough to break a Frenchman's heart.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Rural Road Kill

Just down the highway from Shu-Shu's Mongolian Barbeque restaurant on Illinois 158 is a memorial to an infant who must have died in a car crash. Next to a telephone pole on a desolate stretch of road there are reminders of Alexis' short life, including a a bottle of liquid bubbles.

The Sound of One Hand Dribbling

Or I should say thousands of hands. There were thousands of kids (and parents, too) downtown on Sunday afternoon, preceding the NCAA tournment. Most of them were bouncing basketballs.

I Beg Your Pardon, Sir, er, Madam

The person on Market Street wanted to know the location of the nearest pay phone, a rather pedestrian request. But the inquirer's appearance was unusual. She sported a mustache.

Paper Chase: Market and Chestnut, Monday, 12:45 p.m.

The bald lawyer and a couple of homeless folks who volunteered to help him ran around chasing after the legal papers that had blown out of his hand. I sense that his client will never know about the windy mishap.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Noontime in the Garden of Good and Evil

There it is standing in broad daylight in the 2700 block of Texas Avenue between Jefferson and Broadway. The plaque beside the front door of the two-story brick residence identifies it as the "compound," and in the nearby garden is a statue of a girl holding two bowls aloft in a manner resembling the image that appears on the front cover of the best-selling non-fiction book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

The Bald Barber

Call it counter-intuitive public relations, but the owner of the Top Flight barber shop on South Kingshighway is bald. Moreover, his shaved head is advertised on the front window on a hand-painted sign that shows him in all his hairless glory.

Warning: You Are Entering a Southside Time Warp

Sometime soon after John Lennon was assassinated and Ronald Reagan seized power, the crusaders of moral rectitude targeted local head shops by forcing the enactment of ordinances banning the sale of drug-related paraphenalia. And so the last vestiages of the 1960s counter culture faded into history or so it is said. But not so fast. On Gravois Avenue near the St. Louis city limits there are two businesses specializing in hippie wares: Eclipses and Area 51 -- both in the same block. Pipes of various sizes are displayed in the front window of the latter establishment, whereas, the former is festooned with dancing Teddy Bears, an icon of the Grateful Dead.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Diaspora: Cherokee and Oregon Streets, 8:30 a.m., March 31

A trio of young Budhist monks sweep spring blossoms from the sidewalk, where crack dealers will congregate later in the day. The wind is calm now.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Rock of Ages

Elephant Rocks in Iron County, Mo.

St. Louis City Hall

The stuff that St. Louis City Hall is made of is granite, pre-Cambrian granite to be exact, some of the oldest stuff on the planet. This particular stone came from a quarry in Iron County, Mo. at the turn of the last century. Elephant Rocks, the amazing rock formations that are near the now-defunct quarry have fortunately been preserved as a state park.

Wigged Out

They are among the most disturbing sights I've encountered on the street, appearing sometimes alive or recently alive, at least, like a small decaying rodent. But they only move when the wind blows. They are tufts of human or synthetic hair that have for some reason been deposited on the city's sidewalks and streets. They're presence matches or exceeds the disgarded single-shoe phenomenon, which has mystified great thinkers since the dawn of civilization.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Deja Vu: Plaza After the Rain

The branches of the trees in the picture are naked, songs without words, a quality I have only recently learned to hold dear. But the painting itself has long been my favorite. Plaza After the Rain used to have a space among the impressionists in one of the main galleries at the St. Louis Art Museum. But it has now been relegated to a spot next to the elevator on the ground floor, where some ill-informed bureaucrat has chosen to protect the work by covering it in glass. Paul Cornoyer's painting depicts a street scene at the turn of the last century. A woman in a long dress is approaching in the distance her children in tow. The chill air is wet, as winter refuses to yield to the inevitable. A moment captured like a memory from another lifetime.

Allen Cab

Allen Cab Company's garage on Delmar looks somewhat out of place among the non-descript warehouses that surround it. One of the city's oldest black taxi services, the building housing its dispatcher resembles archietecture you might see somewhere in Europe, Brussels perhaps. The gabled tile roof, the most distinctive aspect of its design, evokes a Flemish ambiance, a striking contrast to the adjacent Club Chinchilla and Club 747 nightclubs.


Out on the street, people ask for directions almost every day. A guy once asked me how to get to City Hall and I pointed to building across the street. But the most frequently asked question is how to get to the Social Security office at 17th and Delmar. I try to avoid answering this query if at all possible because even though the agency's local headquarters is nearby the shortest route involves a couple zigs and zags. The office is located across from Bob Cassilly's City Museum, but on the one occassion that I instructed a couple of lost souls to head in the direction of the building with the school bus teetering on the corner of the roof I was met with quizzical looks.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Memorial to an Unknown Printer

I've been reading the library lately. Specifically, the outside walls of the big one downtown, which are covered with quotes by philosophers Milton and Carlyle and Carnegie, the 19th Century robber baron who donated money to start the public library system in St. Louis. The outside walls also pay tribute to early printers, dating from the 13th to 18th Centuries. Among those so honored is an "Unknown" printer from St. Albans whose contribution is noted as being from 1480, more than a decade before North America was discovered by Columbus.

Missing Keepsakes at Eastertime

The wirey guy approached me near the corner of 20th and Olive. He was smoking a stogie and talking out of the corner of his mouth with his baseball cap pulled low over his eyes. His main complaint to anybody within earshot was that anonymous parties, who he referred to only as "cocksuckers," had ripped off his grandfather's gold watch and his crucifix.

Garden Lock Out

The Chapel Garden of the Healing Christ, at Saint Louis University's Hospital on Grand, is padlocked. Last week, I saw an indigent couple sharing a cigarette on the steps leading to forbidden sanctuary.

Sunday, March 20, 2005


Millions of St. Louis Zoo visitors a year watch the peacocks strut around the grounds. The birds, with their fancy plummge, are the only animals privelaged enough not to be caged. Nearby at the Forest Park maintenance headquarters other fowl also run loose. The park employees keep their own flock of free-range chickens, including a feisty banty rooster.

Secret Corrals

In this auto-driven city, horses are an anachronism. So an equesterian sighting can make the mind down shift momentarily and harken back to a time when life moved slower, and, less romantically perhaps, road apples filled city streets.

Most people know about the St. Louis Police Department's horse barn in Forest Park. Less known is the corral near the Hampton Avenue entrance to the park. It's easy to pass it by and not notice it even on a bicycle.

Another horse corral, located in the railyard across from the Amtrak Station, can be seen from the 14th Street viaduct. An unreliable source informs me that these horses are used for carriage rides in Laclede's Landing.

Harry' Bar

I'm not talking about Hemmingway's favorite watering hole in Venice. This one is located on 22nd Street south of Market. The St. Louis Harry's is painted pink on the outside, and, when the sun is hitting it just right, it could pass for a swank South Beach nightclub. Having seen some of the management loitering outside the entrance, one of my co-workers, a hiphopper with street smarts, suspects the joint may be mobbed up. The irony of his assumption, he points out, is that Harry's is located directly across the street from the new St. Louis field office of the FBI.

There goes the neighborhood.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

A Good Day to be Italian

My first memories of St. Pat's Day in Dogtown are exclusively associated with the now-defunct O'Shea's Bar, which was located next the drugstore at Tamm and Clayton. Each March 17th, Norm Journey, a card-carrying steamfitter, low-level racketeer and owner of the establishment would throw an all-day wingding featuring green beer and corned beef and cabbage. O'Shea's, unlike the current bar at the same location, was named after a real person, the late Jack O'Shea, the original owner and a Democratic ward committeeman. O'Shea opened the bar sometime before or after the repeal of Prohibition, give or take a few years, and in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was a place where an under-aged drinker could buy a drink with no questions asked, especially on St. Pat's Day. By closing time on that day, if not before, the drunks would sprawl into the street, a few fights would break out and the cops would come and chase everybody home.

But things changed in the early 1980s, when the Ancient Order of the Hiberians got into a donnybrook with the official organizers of the downtown St. Pat's Day parade. The civic-minded citizens who promoted the festivites banned the participation of a pro-IRA float. The Hiberians reacted by pulling out the of official parade and forming their own parade in Dogtown, the closest thing St. Louis has to an Irish neighborhood.

After 20 years, the Dogtown parade has grown leaps and bounds and now rivals the downtown fete. And so it was that I found myself blocked from getting home Thursday. Streets leading into Dogtown were either closed or jammed with traffic. I realized my attempts were futile when the green-clad teenager riding in the bed of the pickup truck in front of me began screaming incoherently, prompting me to flee to the Hill, the adjacent Italian-American neighborhood.

Here the streets were empty. I went grocery shopping at Viviano's; sipped an espresso next door; and topped it off with dinner down the street. By the time I crept back home way past dark, the crowds had waned, but there were still college-aged hooligans hooting on the front porch across the street and downstairs a troupe of young Irish dancers shook the floor joists.

All and all, it was a good day to be Italian.

The Price of a Hat

In the folk-blues ballad Stagolee, which is based on a real murder that took place in St. Louis way back when, "Billy DeLeons was killed over a $5 Stetson hat." You can still see vestiages of the thriving hat trade along Washington Avenue, including a faded sign on the western edge of downtown advertising the now defunct Bee Hat Company. At Levine's, one of the last surviving purveyors of hats on Washington, the price of a Stetson cowboy hat is now $275.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

If It Please the Court

The woman stood bundled in several layers of winter clothing outside the 7-Eleven at 17th Street and Pine one afternoon last week. Beside her a shopping cart overflowed with her worldly possessions. Most of the homeless people I encounter at this location ask me for a buck. Instead, she chose to make a plea to the court of public opinion concerning the estate of her late uncle. Being the only one within earshot at this particular moment, I became both judge and jury. As she continued addressing the court, I sipped my coffee and walked with deliberation quickly across the parking lot, deciding that court had already been adjourned for the day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Snow Cone Juice

The snow cone guy used to come down our street in the summer, ringing a bell as he drove his station wagon. Kids would come running from out of houses and backyards. They cost a dime back then. The syrup that the snow cone guy used (and which is still used by purveyors of shaved ice in St. Louis) was Rio. I just stumbled across the Rio syrup factory last week. It's located on 23rd Street north of Market.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Underground (Electric) Railroad

McKinley Bridge was originally used to transport electric trains across the Mississippi
The clue is above the front door of the now-defunct St. Louis Globe-Democrat building on Tucker Boulevard. Carved into the limestone over the entrance is the image of a locomotive with railroad men on either side. Most people don't know that the building wasn't originally built to house the newspaper, but instead was constructed as a depot for the Terminal Railway, a passenger and freight service that served St. Louis and central Illinois. The unique aspect of Terminal's operations was that its locomotives were powered by electricity not coal or diesel. Access to their depot, on what was then 12th Street, was located under the street, where the vestiages of the old railroad are still visible. The railroad crossed the Mississippi on the now-closed McKinley Bridge on the near northside, where the old electric standards that carried the wires can still be seen. The passenger service on the line continued between Granite City and St. Louis until the late 1950s.

Backscape Revelations

Motorists driving downtown rarely venture onto Lucas or St. Charles Streets. More like alleys, Lucas and St. Charles run north and south of Washington Avenue, acting as service entrances for the once-thriving garment and shoe manufacturing district, these narrow passages nowadays are crowded with construction equipment from the many loft developments that are changing downtown's character. Walking through this hubbub at noontime, you can glimpse time merging with patterns of everyday life. Fire escapes, iron lattices, dissect the sky with web-like lines. Broken patches of asphalt reveal previous surfaces of brick and cobblestone. Dumpsters, askew, brim with discarded things of the past, no longer valued. Fashionably-clad women busy themselves in the windows of a real estate office, as a disheveled woman leans against a brick wall behind the Missouri Bar and Grille, crying.

Coyotes in Forest Park

They streak across the bike path running in a pack, four or five ghost-like silouhettes back lit by sodium-vapor lights in the distant parking lot; moving low to the ground, legs extended, mouths agape, the backs of their tawny, mottled coats sleek and shining as they run across the rugby field, conjuring up the ancient wildness of the night, when a waning moon still holds mysteries and nature moves through the city undetected.


If April is the cruelest month, March is most fickle, when winter dallies in the morning and spring flirts in the afternoon.


Pennies may still be considered coins of the realm, legal tender, but many people no longer consider it worth their while to stoop over and pick them up when they slip through their fingers. Consequently, city sidewalks are littered with dirty copper. The most penny-laden concrete I've encountered is near Union Station, which is now, of course, no longer a station but a shopping mall.

Friday, March 04, 2005

I Put a Spell on You: Papa Legba's Lenten Special

Get Your Mojo Workin' Dept.
Not so long ago you couldn't find a black cat bone north of Memphis, where they're sold along with other voodoo stuff at an old general merchandise store on Beale Street. But times have changed. On Friday, the sign in the front window of Papa Legba's Spiritual Supplies store on Gravois advertised customized "mojo bags."

Sunday, February 27, 2005

I Smell Reefer

Last week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in a metro news brief that police had discovered an unmarked trailer full of marijuana containing approximately 1,000 pounds of marijuana parked near the corner of 10th and Martin Luther King in downtown St. Louis. Nobody has come forward to claim owership of the countraband, of course, and the story didn't say what led the police to the site. But it could have simply been the smell of that much weed. It's not uncommon to smell pot smoke on the streets of St. Louis. One day recently, however I smelled, the sweet aroma of unburned marijuana drifting from the vicinity an unmarked van parked on Pine Street, leading me now to suspect that the streets of downtown may be used as drop-off points for big-time dealers.

Up on the Roof

Rooftop statuary in St. Louis comes in a practical form. Home and business owners often enlist the help of plastic owls to ward off flocks of pigeons. You can see their silhouettes against the sky all over town. But I've noticed a couple of examples of another winged replica that graces the skyline here, too: storks. There are statues of storks on the chimney of Bevo Mill restaurant on Gravois and a more stylized, metal sculpture of the same bird on the rooftop of a 19th-Century residence on South Broadway near the corner of Chippewa.

Bow Wow Land: 18th and Delmar

Behind St. Nicholas Catholic Church, near the corner of 18th and Delmar, the two junkyard dogs wait behind the cyclone fence, anticipating the approach of the workers, one of whom pushes a heavy cart that rattles as it is wheeled across the crumbling asphalt. As they pass, the German Shepherds, the older male and the female with one drooping ear, begin frantically barking, running the length of their enclosure. They perform their ritual every week, exhibiting the same vigor and enthusiam: prancing, colliding, gnawing on each other's ruffs, until the workers turn the corner and disappear.

Buenos Dias

The Mexicans cluster together, steam rising from their breathes. A woman cloaked in a cheap blanket holds her baby to her breast. The men standing together silently, some wearing cowboy hats; en route, going somewhere or perhaps having only arrived. Hard to tell from the blank faces, the ghostly masks of future's past. Beside them on the sidewalk the sum of their worlds stuffed into old suitcases and frayed duffels, as if this were an undesignated bus stop, a transit point or terminal, this place outside 2911 Cherokee Street on a February morning, with the hand-painted sign out front that identified the shuttered business in an uneven scrawl as being the "EcNOmic ShOp."

Friday, February 25, 2005

Chouteau Avenue Viaduct No More

They're tearing down the old Chouteau Avenue viaduct that vaults over the railyards west of Grand. It's been around for about a century. Much of the area around the old bridge has already been altered. The Sanford & Sons junk store on the corner of Chouteau and Vandeventer was razed sometime back. On the other end of the span the Krey meat packing plant is also long gone, as is The Tastee Bread bakery. Taking the Manchester bus downtown as a kid, we would pass over the Chouteau viaduct and whiff the rank aroma of the slaughter house mixed with the sweet smells of fresh-baked bread.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

"Is This Normal?"

After stopping us on Courtois, near the corner of Polk, Saturday night, the cop said: "Is this normal?" He was questioning why my girlfriend and I would be cruising east of South Broadway on a dead-end street at night down by the river. The question prompted both us to laugh, which in retrospect was the wrong response, of course.

I have could also asked him the same question, but I astutely cessed our situation and decided wisely to refrain. If I wanted to spend the night in jail, I could have parried his query by saying: "What are you doing down here officer, having a scoring free doughnuts, ripping off a boxcar full of TVs or just napping?"

He had been lurking on the railroad right-of-way with his headlights dimmed when he spotted us making a u-turn near the entrance to the grain elevators. With the squad car's red and blue emergency lights revolving, he asked for identification and continued his interrogation. What were doing down there?

Realizing that our laughter had upset his sensitive side, I told him we were just driving around after having dinner, making sure to address him as "officer" in a respectful and deferential manner "It's an interesting neighborhood," my girlfriend added.

"Why? There's nothing but hoosiers down here!"

We could have said that we were enjoying the ambiance of the Mississppi flood plain, or marveling at the early 19th-Century architecture of the district. Or I could have said it reminded me of home. But no answer we gave save one could have explained our deviant behavior.

Alison said: "We're both writers,"

Bank Job

The well-dressed woman exited the bank at Gravois and Jefferson Friday morning, removed her cashmere coat, unzipped her designer jeans, squatted on the sidewalk and took a piss. Finishing her business, she zipped up, donned her coat and quickly walked north on Jefferson, her head held high.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Hit and Run on Jefferson

It happened about eight o'clock Thursday morning in the blink of an eye. After darting into the street, the mutt didn't quite make it across Jefferson Avenue in rush hour traffic. Instead, the dog ran directly under the front wheel of a slow-moving car, whose driver, an elderly black woman, hit the brakes in time to stop her vehicle from rolling over the animal completely. The dog then managed to twist its body around, in one blurred motion, and run the opposite direction, almost getting hit a second time by a north-bound pickup truck. Last seeen, the mongrel was moving at full speed down a side street, running on three legs.

Bells of Amsterdam

The bells I remember from walking the streets of Amsterdam are not the tolling of the cathedral bells, but the tinkling of bicycle bells. Bells, bells, bells, bells, the tinkling of the bicycle bells, warning the stoned tourists of their impending approach. When crossing a street, pedestrians must take care to look six ways: first for harried bicyclists, then for streetcars and motor vehicles.

A Tale of Two Diners

I once almost appeared in a Hollywood movie that was shot in St. Louis back in 1989. The film, White Palace starring Susan Sarandon and James Spader, was based on a novel of the same name by ad-man-turned-novelist Glenn Savan. Sarandon played the character of a middle-aged waitress who works at a White Castle-like hamburger joint. Spader played the lustful ad man. Savan, the author, made a cameo appearance as a bum.

The production company used the diner at 18th and Olive, refitting it with fake turrets, which the owner of the business kept after the film crew left town. My role as a extra was to simply drive up and down Olive Street in my car to give the illusion that there was traffic downtown after dark. We drove back and forth for several hours, shooting and reshooting the scene, but that particular camera angle must have been cut in the editing.

Nowadays, Sarandon, one of Hollywood's most outspoken liberals, would be appalled at the window display at the restaurant: "God Bless America and President Bush."
The sign of patriotic support for the president has been enough to persuade me to eat lunch elsewhere, too.

Personally, I prefer Eat-Rite diner at the opposite end of downtown on Chouteau Avenue near the entrance to the long-closed MacAurthur Bridge. Eat-Rite never received a Hollywood makeover, but there is a sign on the the side of the building indicating its historic relationship to Route 66.

When I last dined there, a wet snow started to fall, the first of the season. The waitress, who looked more like somebody's grandmother than a Hollywood actress, left her station behind counter momentarily, opening the back door to gaze at the sky in wonder.

From a Distance

From the tony subdivision off Clayton Road, the train can be heard in the distance, its lonesome whistle coloring a misty morning with a sense of romantic longing. The distance softens the roar of the diesel engines and the blast of the air horn. The distance is the difference of where I grew up, when the house shook with each passing freight. The distance is measured in miles and time.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Numero Uno Sewer Lid

Most folks probably don't spend a helluva lot of time studying manhole covers, but walking the streets several hours a day affords me the opportunity. There are, of course, a variety of styles and designs of these functional pieces of the streetscape, which are used to cover different underground utilities. Moreover, these cast iron artifacts range in age, the oldest of which I've found to be in front of the DeMenil Mansion, the ante-bellum mansion at the foot of Cherokee Street in South St. Louis. The DeMenil sewer lid, true to its aristocratic surroundings, is designed in an intricate series of interlaced arcs. They don't make em like this anymore.

The Parrot in the Shop Window

I pass the same appliance store on Gravois every week on foot. But I forgot about the parrot in the appliance store window until reminded of our feathered friend by a co-worker; proof, again, that we all see what we choose to see and tune out much of everything else that surrounds us.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times ...

The sign on the front of bar in the 1700 block of Olive Street reads: "The Hardtimes Lounge Where the Good Times Begin."

Smoke-Free Establishment

Liberty Candy and Tobacco on Martin Luther King near Tucker sells cigarettes both retail and wholesale. But, according to the sign on the front door,smoking is prohibited on the premises.

One-Way Conversations

You see them all over downtown, babbling to themselves or God or a departed loved one or their ex-wife in Indianapolis. No, they're not talking on their cell phones. They're talking, mumbling, shouting to anybody within earshot. Some speak in tongues. Others rave on street corners or while walking.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Ear Lobes Retooled

The guy on Tucker Boulevard this morning had tattoos all over his neck. But his ear lobes attracted my attention more. He didn't have any. In the places where his ear lobes should have been were silver-dollar size piercings, which were propped upon with plastic rings.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Cruising Missouri Avenue

The white chick cruised down Missouri Avenue in East St. Louis in a purple Caddy with a vinyl print top; pimpmobile extraordinaire. Everybody knew where she was coming from. Nobody knew where she was goin'. But there was trouble up ahead, waiting just around the corner. Sure as shit. A blind man could see it in his rearview mirror with his eyes closed at midnight.

Streets of Old Baldimar

Down Charles Street and up St. Paul,
winds carry the Cheasapeake's call,
as cello notes waft from windows of the music school hall.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Shadows in February

shadows of february loom long
at dusk and dawn,
casting silhouettes on walls of hovels and manses alike

Out of Order

Say what you will of the French, they at least believe in allowing a man to relieve himself in public without threat of being arrested for indecent exposure. Pissours are ubiquitious throughout Paris. St. Louis, which lauds itself for its French origins and is celebrating Mardi Gras this weekend, is another matter. The city fathers have made an exception to their normally repressed ways by spotting temporary urinals (called Johnny on the Spots in the U.S.) along the parade route, but after the fete they'll be hauled off, of course.

Moreover, the lack of public rest rooms is multiplied by the response of the private sector. Business owners and retailers often prohibit members of the public from using their facilities by simply putting an "out of order" sign on the door, when their is nothing wrong with the plumbing.

This leaves only one alternative: piss in the street.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Speaking of Coffee

The intersection of 18th and Chestnut always smell like coffee, at least in the mornings. The aroma must waft from either the White Palace sandwich shop or the nearby 7-11. Perhaps both.

Wind Tunnel

The spot on Locust Street, where it curves between the Shell Building and Christ Church Cathedral is the most windy point downtown. Each morning, the homeless trek down the street from the New Life Evagelistic Center and congregate at the rear of the cathedral. The Episcopalians must brew better coffee.

Defilers of the Public Domain

As loft dwellers increasingly flock downtown to their pricey digs, the sidewalks are becoming mine fields of dog shit.


No, not the fancy clothing chain outlets. These gaps inhabit city traffic patterns. People who drive, which includes the vast majority of St. Louisans, rarely if ever notice these spaces. But walking down Grand or Gravois Avenues, pedestrians will encounter an odd silence on occasion. Sometimes minutes can expire before the next bunch of automobiles pass. During these gaps, its easy to imagine what the world sounded like before the invention of the internal combustion engine.

Wearing Her Heart on Her Ankle

The matronly, grey-haired woman stood patiently at the corner of 14th and Olive Monday morning waiting for the light to change. Everything about her appearance was pedestrian except for the tattoo of a heart that she had on her left ankle, which was surrounded by varicose veins.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Who-Who: The Real Weatherbird

If you look closely at the rather mundane exterior of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch building on Tucker Boulevard, you're sure to notice the sculpted images of printers from days of yore above the front door. Less noticable to passersby, however, is the owl who hovers closer to the roof. Many St. Louis buildings are blessed with ornate facades, but those that include birds are more likely to feature the ubiquitous eagle, which, in the United States, is equated with freedom and liberty. The owl, on the other hand, symbolizes wisdom. But owls have also historically been symbols of the occult the forces of the night. And, of course, their call is one of journalism's five Ws.

Dedicated to Raymond Flynn

Laborers Local 110's office on Enright Avenue, across the street from the Veteran's Hospital in St. Louis, has a plaque dedicating the building in memory of former union officer Raymond Flynn. The plaque was placed on the building in the mid-1980s around the time that Flynn, a labor racketeer, was embroiled in St. Louis' last organized crime war. Flynn was later convicted for his role in the car bombing campaign that killed and maimed several mob figures.

Friday, January 21, 2005


The city is a widow in winter.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

900 N. Tucker

Fort Apache, aka, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch headquarters on Tucker Boulevard is undergoing a face lift. During the "bad-old-days" of the 1960s, the management of the newspaper bricked up its arhed, exterior windows on the first floor in anticipation of race riots and civil unrest that never materialized. With the re-election of George W. Bush, the Post must feel things are safer now. The windows are back.

Top Cop Sighting

Week before last, before the latest cop scandal broke, I spotted St. Louis Police Chief having lunch with another high-ranking officer at Buffa Brothers Cafeteria on Olive Street west of downtown. The cafeteria, a hangout for local pols and cops, is devoid of any exterior signs, making it impossible for passersby to know what's inside.

Return of the Rasta and the Skinny White Chick

I used to spy this odd couple up around Hi-Pointe near the city limits. Both wore tattered clothing and dreadlocks. The waif appeared as pale as her companion was black. They lived in a an old van, which was often parked near the Chinese restaurant next to Cheshire Inn. But their home seemed to be the woods near the Skinker Boulevard entrance to Forest Park. Perhaps they foraged for roots and berries there. They disappeared sometime back. Recently, I spotted them wandering the streets of downtown St. Louis.

Blind Corner

On this January morning, a blind man stood at the corner of 18th and Olive, tapping his cane, talking on the cell phone, wearing only jogging shorts and a T-shirt.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

All Steamed Up

Throughout downtown St. Louis manhole covers and various grates spout steam. A newcomer to the city might think that it's a winter phenomenon. But that's not the case. The reason for all the steam is the century-old Trigen power plant north of Laclede's Landing on the riverfront. Formerly a Union Electric facility, Trigen provides the heat for all of downtown's office buildings.

The End of Western Civilization

The end of Western civilization began with the adoption of baseball caps as part of a cop's official uniform.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

On Broadway

South Broadway that is. ...

Coming down the hill from Bellrieve Park, Broadway parallels the river and railroad tracks, storefronts flanking long stretches on both sides of the street. This place used to be a separate city from St. Louis, and in ways still clings to its distinctive character. Originally called Carondelot, the district's contiguous streetscape is arguably the best example of 19th-Century commercial architecture remaining in St. Louis. Ornate wrought iron balconies sag from many of the second stories of the attached buildings. Fading signs advertise mercantile enterprises dating back more than one hundred years. Suspended time hangs thick as wood smoke in the cold air outside the Commercial Southern Bank, as lunchtime customers congregate at the Riverside Diner and Wimpy's Cafe, and sleds bait buyers on the sidewalk outside Rathbone's hardware store, stirring memories in passersbys. Soon the first snow will blanket the street at dusk, muffling the distant cry of the boxcar wheels. Winter has crept into town like a slow-moving freight.


At first glance, the bronze commemorative marker could be mistaken for an oversized sewer lid. The monument is set in the sidewalk at 2635 Locust St. near Jefferson. This place, an area west of downtown is a "wasteland" of parking lots and shuttered businesses. Once, however, it was the boyhood home of poet T.S. Eliot.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


A St. Louis deputy sheriff was onhand this morning to oversee the eviction of a family from their home in the 4700 block of 20th Street, just east of the Grand Avenue Watertower in North St. Louis.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Died in the USA

On New Year's Day, the only family to pay its respects at Lakewood Cemetery appeared to be Islamic. Lakewood in Affton, a near suburb of St. Louis, is the final resting place for Bosnians of Muslim descent. Their graves, many of them fresh, are are set apart from the others, clustered near the entrance off Mackenzie Road. Many of the headstones are painted green and are emblazoned with a crescent moon and star. The names of the dead have been placed on the markers with self-adhesive lettering available at hardware stores.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Disappearing City

Much of the wrought-iron that once graced St. Louis residences can now be seen in the Big Easy's French Quarter.

Much of St. Louis' 19th-Century architecture is constructed from bricks fired at local kilns such as those that used to be located on Manchester Avenue, west of Kingshighway. The bricks were made from clay mined in the area by Italian immigrants who lived on Dago Hill, a neighborhood that still thrives today, although the first half of the name has been deleted. Another disappearing part of history are the buildings themselves, many of which are being razed throughout the city each day both legally and illegally. After the buildings are demolished, the bricks are neatly stacked on pallets and sold at a premium on the national market. The same wholesale disappearance has already occurred to most of the ornate wrought-iron balconies that once graced these residences. Many of these masterpieces forged at St. Louis' foundries can be seen today on the streets of the Vieux Carre in New Orleans.

Whitewater on the Mississippi

The old Chain of Rocks Bridge spans the Mississippi River in north St. Louis. Once part of the legendary Route 66, which ran from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif., the bridge is now open only to pedestrian and bicycle traffic. At its peak, a hundred or more feet above the river, the bridge overlooks its namesake, the "chain of rocks" that stretches across the mile-wide stream. At this point, the river drops approximately three feet, creating a constantly churning swell of whitewater that inhibits commercial navigation. Barges must use the nearby shipping canal to cimcumvent the natural impediment, leaving this portion of river free of any large vessels. The last lock and dam on the river is located along the canal. From Chain of Rocks to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi runs free. Water rushing over the rocks sound like an uninterrupted ocean tide, as sea gulls soar above.

Trombone Encore

The trombonist sat on a folding chair on Jefferson Avenue on New Year's Eve morning, playing Auld Lang Syne down the street from Sam Light's pawn shop, where handlebars of the hocked bicycles gleamed in the sun.

Call of the Wild

On the deserted Saint Louis University campus yesterday, a lone dog cocked his head to the sky and began yelping like a coyote, his call of the wild unreturned.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Yellow Journalism

At 3411 California, the Hat Mart, a millenary shop established in 1915, is still in business. Its bay windows jutting out into the sidewalk, displaying red satins and veils, the likes of which could have been worn before the War to End All Wars. While around the corner on Cherokee, a shuttered storefront window is covered with newspapers that bare the headlines of the carnage in Iraq. Already the newsprint is turning yellow.

Cherokee Blues/Cinderella Morning

Down on Cherokee, the black whore knocks on the door of the crack house, rousing the pusher who sticks his head out the second-story window for a moment and then disappears, leaving her standing alone in the doorway, her head jagging to an unknown beat. As she walks away, a gray, mottled cat follows her keeping close the storefront walls.


above the empty beer bottles and cigarette butts
and disposable lighters and shattered crack pipes
and countless lost gloves of winter,
pigeons soar in the weak light of morning,
winged shadows flying as one.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

German Spoken Here

Don't be fooled by the name. Pepino's on 14th Street may very well be St. Louis' only German pizza joint. Judging by the women behind the counter, it's a three-generational operation. Orders are often relayed back to the kitchen in German. Another unique aspect of the restaurant are the prices. For $4.50 you can get two slices of sausage or pepperoni pizza and a small soda. For diners who choose to eat at the restaurant the the square slices are served on paper plates. Orders to go are wrapped in aluminum foil. Apparently, Pepino's doesn't believe in over-packaging its food.

Friday, December 24, 2004

A Familar Tune on a Foreign Street

Walking along the Dam on cold April night last year, I heard a flutist playing a familiar melody. The Dam is one of Amsterdam's main boulevards. Centuries old, it harkens back to the halcyon days when the Dutch ruled the world of commerce. On this particular night, the chill winds had chased the tourist indoors and the street was nearly deserted by early evening. I found myself alone in a foreign city, listening to this street musician's song as it echoed off the walls of the commercial district. The musician occupied the alcove of a shuttered department store entrance. The instrument he played wasn't a modern flute with valves and levers, but a wooden one of some ancient design. His improvised version of the Star Spangled Banner lacked the bravado and jingoism that I've come to associate with the American national anthem. Instead, this version of the song sounded mournful and filled with lament.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Workingman's Bible

The proper way of carrying a newspaper is to fold it in thirds and stuff it in your back pocket. In St. Louis, Tuesdays are the best day for the workingman to carry a newspaper because the paper is devoid of supplements and most other advertising. Before email and computer games, newspapers provided the workingman with a diversion from the tedium of the day. For employers, however, papers are the enemy of productivity, and they would just as soon have their employees be illiterate.

Ice Power

Over the year, the rain water gravitates slowly down through the crevices in the parking meter post. Without a drain hole, the posts eventually fill up and, when the water turns to ice, it expands further, eventually popping the 40-pound meter head off its concrete base like a champagne cork.

Sunday, December 19, 2004


This week's curbside discoveries:

* A silver ring, possibly a cheap wedding band, next to shattered tinted glass near South Grand.

* A ball point pen advertising the the Catholic Knights of America's local chapter on Hampton Avenue. The pen bears a 2001 date and depicts the image of the space shuttle. Also found at the above location.

* A kid's marble on Gravois near Bevo Mill.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Outside the Missouri Bar and Grill

Outside the Missouri Bar and Grill last night on Tucker Boulevard, an angular street person, who carried his bedroll under his arm, stopped for a moment to ask a stranger a question: "Are you an outdoorsmen?" he asked. After the stranger replied "no," the homeless man walked down a darkened alley and disappeared into the night. A Cadillac SUV pulled up soon thereafter, double parking, as its passenger ran into the Chinese carry-out joint next to the bar.

The Scrubby Bosnians

The woman in the long print skirt furiously swept the sidewalk on Gravois just north of Bevo Mill. Up and down this boulevard the Bosnian presence in St. Louis can be seen every day. Although it is still called Dutchtown for the German immigrants who moved here early in the last century, it is now dominated by immigrants from the Balkans. Bakeries, grocery stores, bars, restaurants are signs of the renewed life that the Bosnians have brought to the neighborhood. And, yes, there's also an Internet cafe, where for a buck fifty, an aging German American can sip espresso and blog for free. Is this a great country or what?

Of Santa and Che on South Broadway

The kid on South Broadway passed by the city crew emptying parking meters off of South Broadway, walking like he had stepped out onto the main street of Dodge City, ready for a shoot out at high noon. He wore a red T-shirt with the image of Che Guevera emblazoned on it. "I see taxation," he said to the workers. "But I don't see representation." Pleased with himself, he repeated himself, grinned and strode down the street, his misfitted trousers displaying a pair of sagging white socks.

Minutes earlier and a few blocks south, a man in camo-hunting outfit with American and Confederate flag sown on his back stuck a quarter into a meter and marched into the St. Louis Carnival Supply store, which had Santa costumes on display in the front window.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Time on Vista Avenue

The sundial on Vista Avenue can be easily overlooked. The time piece, whis is attached to the side of the Saint Louis University Hospital, is part of an angelic gargoyle above the side entrance. My knowledge of Latin is minimal, but the inscription appears to relate to the sanctity and glory of the land. Originally, the hospital bore the name of Desloge, an old St. Louis family whose fortune came from mining lead in Southeast Missouri. The waste from those mining operations, which ended decades ago, can still be seen in and around the town of the same name. Lead contamination of the nearby Big River has forced the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to place a ban on fishing in the stream. Children in the area show signs of leading poisoning. So much for the sanctity of the land. In any event, when the sun shines the sundial cradled in the arms of the stone angel keeps good time. When I passed under her it was 9:45 a.m.

Black Hole on Chestnut

The Sci-Fi Channel is shooting a cable movie in St. Louis. Earlier the Post-Dispatch reported that the film crew had shot scenes underground at the Metropolitan Sewer District's 19th-Century Bissell Point sewage treatment facility. This week the film crew used the Soldiers Memorial in downtown as a backdrop. Yesterday, mock military troops and ambulances were clustered in front of the memorial. The name of the film is Black Hole, according to one of the grips I encountered on the street. The plot involves a black hole that threatens to envelope the earth.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Carl's Two Cent's Worth

Carl's Two Cents Plain, on Locust Street, bills itself as St. Louis' only authentic New York-style deli. The establishment dates back to the golden days of Gaslight Square, when Jack Karl and his partner opened the place. An old news clip, framed and hanging on one of the place's cluttered walls shows Carl hoisting a beer at the Gaslight location in the early 1960s. I recall an old column by retired Post-Dispatch reporter Joe Pollack that waxed nostalic on the deli and the reporter's mutual recollection of Jack Ruby's Carousel Club in Dallas, pre 1963. Carl still works behind the counter and offers free advice with the pastrami sandwiches. On the day I visted recently, the first words I overheard him say concerned his opinion on the urban renewal going on around him. Carl's position: "Fuck downtown."

Labyrinth of Meditation

In the front of the Centenary Methodist Church between Olive and Pine Streets in downtown St. Louis, there is a labyrinth. But don't be too concerned about getting lost. It was painted on the plaza outside the entrance sometime back by the church to remind the faithful of life's eternal puzzle. Unlike a maze, as the Centenary elders have pointed out, a labyrinth allows for only one way in and the one way out. The entrance and the exit or the same. The beginning is the end. Alpha and omega. Passersby are urged walk through the labyrinth and meditate on the fact life's twists and turns ultimately lead back to where one started his or her journey.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Nostalgic Echoes in the Grand Hall

The Grand Hall in the St. Louis Public Library on Olive Street downtown is an impressive room by any standard. Footsteps on the marble floors echo against the ornately-designed, ceiling. Natural light is provided by a bank of arched windows on each side of the room. But there's one thing missing that used to fill this space -- the library's card catalouge. The wooden filing cabinets filled with dogearred reference cards have been gone for years now, replaced by a computerized system. The convenience and speed of the new system doesn't, however, make up for theloss of the card catalouge. The Grand Hall is like an unfurnished room without it.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Oswald's Weapon of Choice

A Mannlicher-Carcano rifle similar to Lee Harvey Oswald's weapon is on display at the Soldiers Memorial in downtown St. Louis

The Soldiers Memorial in downtown St. Louis, which was dedicated in 1938 to the "war to end all wars," houses a permanent exhibit of various firearms, including an Italian-made 1938 Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, a weapon similar to the one Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly used to assassinate President John F. Kennedy in 1963. The background information on the displayed rifle, however, doesn't mention this fact. Instead, the information explains that the bore of the rifle was enlarged more than once to increase its lethal capacity, the last alteration being done by the Germans towards the end of World War II. Mannlicher-Carcanos became rare by the 1950s, but were used in conflicts in the Mideast, including Syria and Israel, according to the display.

Perhaps the rifle has been sitting in the same display case so long that it predates the Kennedy assassination.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Robbing the Cradle: Baby Jesus, MIA

All points bulletin: Someone has purloined baby Jesus from the creche at the corner of Lindell and Grand across from St. Xavier Church.

You Need a Pig to Know Which Way the Wind Blows

The 19th Century, two-story brick house near the corner of West Pine and Vandeventer, on the edge of the Saint Louis University campus, has a weathervane on the roof. It would be somewhat unusual if it was your run-of-the-mill weathervane, featuring a rooster, but this one is ornamented with the image of a pig.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The New Olive Hotel

The New Olive Hotel at 219 19th Street, may be the last remaining flophouse in downtown. While warehouses are being converted into residential luxury loft apartments, the the New Olive is a vestige of the past. The windows of the furished rooms are covered with tattered curtains and, on the outside window sill on the third floor, someone has left a plastic soft drink bottle and a grocery bag on the ledge. In one of the rear windows, a ragged American flag is draped.


I met the trombonist yesterday. He was howling at a couple of dogs whose owner -- a young downtown loft dweller -- was allowing to defecate on the front lawn of the downtown library on Olive Street. He wore a Vietnam vet's baseball cap and had a silver Christmas bow taped to his back along with a long string of baubles. The trombonist inquired whether one of my fellow workers had reported to work. When I told him he hadn't, he replied, `Good, Now we can get drunk together.'

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Ain't No Sunshine on Locust Street

On Locust Street one fair November day, an old trombonist squats on the curb playing a familar melody. The popular song, Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone by Bill Withers, harkens back to the 1970s before disco tolled the death knell for soul. Across the street, other indigents cluster on the steps of the New Life Evangelistic Center, a homeless shelter operated by the Rev. Larry Rice, St. Louis' most prominent advocate for the poor. As they wait for their noonday meal, the solo can be heard for blocks, echoing off the buildings on the western edge of downtown, the trombone mimicking the voice in the chorus: " ... ain't no sunshine when she's gone, only darkness everyday, ... and I know, I know, I know...." As the chorus stretches on, a hunched pedestrian's gait quickens, shoulders straightening as he steps to the beat of the music, the late autumn sun glinting off the windows of nearby office towers. The saddest of songs bringing smiles to passersby.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Sans-Coulottes at 13th and Olive

Somebody disposed of their blue jeans at 13th and Olive one day last week for unknown reasons. They were draped over a park bench on the corner. Later in the day, I saw a pair of Jordache designer jeans on a brick wall across from the city traffic court. Nearby, an old man was urinating on a small sapling near the curb as a relative watched. Behind me a man was shouting to himself in between humming the theme to the Flintstones. A few days later, on the cusp of a winter's first cold snap, I saw more abandoned clothing on the window sill of Christ Church Cathedral. Those who have next to nothing were apparently ridding themselves of the clothes on their backs, or, at least, lightening up their bindles as they trudged by invisible to nearly everyone they passed.

A View from Street Level

St. Louis isn't New York City, obviously. You won't be knocked off the sidewalk if you stop and survey the streetscape. On the contrary, the urban terrain here in this Midwestern city is comprised of broad boulevards with little pedestrian traffic. There is enough space here to provide a perspective of the urban environment from a distance and time to view it in detail from close up.

Those driving by in their SUVs are isolated from the space they are passing through, traveling at speeds that deny them a view of the city. This, of course, limits not only their worldview, but their basic comprehension of where they live and who they are.

Urban Road Kill will strive to combat this ignorance by reporting on everyday discoveries found on the streets of the city that sleeps next to the great brown god.