I touched the “freeways off” icon on Waze and took the street route from Cathy’s Kitchen in Ferguson, Missouri to Downtown St. Louis. I passed Leroy’s Barbershop. Its large lot was filled with cars that contrasted the abandoned spaces nearby.
I continued the six-mile cruise down Natural Bridge Avenue. Even the street litter looked old and faded. A sickly man scarfed down Chinese food outside a takeout. A 20-something white man, shirtless, carried a tree branch while eating its leaves. There was a youngish black woman crossing the street with two kids. She looked stressed to the point of disinterest. Her boy, about 12, wore imitation Vans that had seen better days with their previous owner. I felt for him. When I was his age kids would flip my shirt collar to see the brand. “Oh, you wearin’ Hilfiger?” they’d ask with a laugh, knowing full well it was whatever my mom had picked from the JCPenney catalog.
The family made the way across the street and toward a row of crumbled-in-half homes. Maybe there was a new development farther down the street. Probably not.
Like America’s other murder capitals–Baltimore, New Orleans, Cleveland, Detroit–St. Louis is segregated and has some poverty-stricken neighborhoods that gain most of the media’s attention. So the cities aren’t exactly high on anyone’s list of vacation destinations. As my coworker, a resident of inner-city St. Louis, told me before I went to explore, “Don’t get shot!” My dad said the same.
But there’s a lot to do in St. Louis, and a portion of the city has been revitalized.
One of my favorite spots was City Museum. It’s an old downtown warehouse that’s been artistically remodeled into a huge climbing playground for adults and kids. If you’re afraid of heights or tight spaces, the venue is not for you. But if you’re like me and enjoy having nervous sweats and bubble guts while climbing high above ground in an outdoor metal tunnel, City Museum is well worth the $17 admission. There was also a 10 story slide (I was too long and kept getting stuck) and a five story slide (much more fast and fun).
My next stop was Laumeier Sculpture Park. It was a bit out the way but also calm and quiet. There were plenty of sculptures, including a huge eye ball and giant deer. I ran into a real deer while walking through the park’s woods. It gave me the same startled look as a white couple I saw moments before.
There were plenty of walkable neighborhoods in and around St. Louis. The first I wandered around was The Loop. It’s supposedly a happenin’ place, but it was early afternoon so the only people around were employees having lunch, a street musician who laughed at me for being unable to find the crosswalk button, and a college girl wearing short-shorts and bright pink construction boots. Crazy story: She said hi. Wild. Anyway, I spent much of my time eating a bowl of poke and looking for interesting album covers in Vintage Vinyl.
The next walkable neighborhood I checked out was Central West End. It’s a monied area with local shops and high-end bars adjacent to columned homes protected by gated streets. I walked the streets for about an hour and people watched. I knew if I stopped for a drink it would turn into three. And I was not trying to drive buzzed and end up in St. Louis City Justice Center. Man, have you ever seen Locked Up In St. Louis on the Nat Geo channel?
My one-night trip to St. Louis ended with a walk down Cherokee Street. It’s a Latino area that’s being colonized. I only spent a short time there, but I reckon its claim to fame is having two taco/ice cream restaurants on the same street. There was also some street art and quite a few characters hanging out.
My hotel was right near the Gateway Arch. I snapped some pictures before bed using the Night Sight feature on my Pixel 2. The next day I returned home without being a victim of gun violence. The same cannot be said for the 19 people who were shot the weekend before I arrived.