23/7/2002 - St. Louis
Woke up too early, and wrote a Perl 6 regular expression engine. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?
At 6:30, I headed off to find some coffee, which was more of an ordeal than I expected. The hotel’s on the edge of quite a small town, and nothing opens until at least 7am. Finally, I wandered down past Concordia seminary, and found a lovely little cheap and tasty coffee bar on the corner. I got my stuff together and around 8:30 I was ready to head into St. Louis itself.
This town, as a famous man once said, is coming like a ghost town. St Louis is a weird, weird place. The car culture has driven a few of the usual things you’d expect to see in a city out to the suburbs. Basic things like “shops” and “people”. Until around noon today, there was essentially nobody on the streets apart from me. (Granted, it was a Sunday.)
Even when the city started to liven up, I couldn’t help noticing, while I was wandering around, that there wasn’t really a central business district. There were a few delis, pharmacies and 7/11s dotted around, but not even so many of those. Instead, many of the downtown streets were filled with empty buildings, boarded up doors and the shells of long-dead shops. It was bizarre. Some of the most wonderful urban architecture I’ve seen in a prime position in the city center was just lying empty and forgotten. Even the St. Louis Center, a four storey shopping and restaurant complex, hadn’t really taken off. Many of the units remained closed, and those which were let were not exactly inspiring.
The only signs of real civilization were the Busch baseball stadium, - complete with crowds of mourners for legendary baseball radio announcer Jack someone-or-other - the old Union Station, - now a restaurant complex - and the Gateway Arch - long queues and tight security. It took me half the day to find somewhere which would sell batteries, and then I took another few hours taking pictures of some of the great yet desolate buildings I’d seen. Finally, an hour long trip on a Mississippi steamer, before ordering a van ride back to the hotel. Then writing, writing, writing.
The language barrier is turning out to be a problem. I ordered a cheesesteak from the St. Louis Center when it finally opened, and was startled to be asked by the server “Why do we pray?” Well, I wasn’t really in the mood for theological discussions, so I just shrugged. This wasn’t enough. “Why do we pray?” This a trick question, isn’t it? The server got agitated, and picked up two bags of rolls. “Why do we pray?”
Realisation dawned. “Oh, um, wheat, please.”