Friday, June 30, 2006

12th Street Relic Rising

In front of the new King Louis Square neighborhood on the city's near south side, construction crews are removing the pavement down the center of 12th Street, making way for what appears to be another of the city's new attractive landscaped medians.

With the old pavement being removed by a depth of about 9 inches, workers are exposing the old streetcar tracks that once served south city. Head south from downtown on 12th Street (Tucker) toward Soulard to catch a rare glimpse of a (temporarily) visible relic of old St. Louis.

Reply: Scholar Shop. $5.

Compliment: Nice Tie!

Can't beat the place. Two locations: Webster and Clayton.

Talk about designer brands at discount prices. Tommy Hilfiger tie, $50-$60 department store price, $5.00 at the Scholar Shop.

Check them out. All proceeds fund grants and low cost loans for STL area college students.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Charm and the Anniversary of the Interestate Highway System

There was a story on the news today about the 50th anniversary of the Interstate Highway system.

One person interviewed reported how while the Interstate Highway system may have become the preferred mode of transporation in the US, it certainly does not offer travelers the "charm" experienced on road trips in earlier decades.

If it's charm you seek, consider St. Louis.

Back Streets of Affton

After visiting one of Affton's most popular local businesses, we took an interesting side trip through some of the back streets of our historic suburban neighbor, situated just along the southern bank of the River Des Peres.

There we discovered many well-maintained homes, mostly frame, some brick with studded stonework; quiet, tree lined streets; a hidden away neighborhood park; rolling hills; and even one house with a healthy mid-summer vegetable garden in the front yard, replete with multiple rows of corn standing about four feet high.

We look forward with much anticipation to our next visit to the interesting back streets of our charming STL County neighbor.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Secret Weapon = .500

Talk about being evenly matched...

At the start of the year, we set up two practice games at Tower Grove Park between Dorn's Pirates and our South Sox. The teams split the two games. Then in early season action, the Pirates beat our Sox in a close one, twelve to ten.

The Pirates and the South Sox had a rematch this past Saturday. Both teams entered the game with identical 4-win, 5-loss, and 1-tie records. A win would bring one team to the .500 mark, and drop the other to 2-games below .500. However, as the South Sox entered this pivotal game, we had a new, pint-sized, secret weapon on our side.

"Playing up" in youth sports means you're playing with kids older than you. All of the guys on our team are seventh graders starting eighth grade in the fall. You can see it in them: they're becoming young men. A couple have bested me in height this year(good for them), and Matt is getting close.

When mid-summer hits, it can be a challenge fielding a full team. Summer ativities wreak havoc on little league rosters. For this game, four of our regulars were out of town, and one was sidelined with a sore elbow.

We needed a substitute player. The boys had just the kid: little "C". Some knew him from alley Wiffle Ball. "C" would be playing up, being a sixth grader going into seventh. And he'd be looking up too. At around four feet three, and weighing 70 pounds, he would be by far the smallest player on the field. But in baseball, big size isn't much of an advantage; and, sometimes being smaller can pay dividends.

Being the new kid, we batted "C" at the bottom of the order. When he came up, the other team must have wondered where we found the littlest Sock. I enjoyed watching the expression on the faces of the opposing pitchers as they tried to find "C's" tiny strike zone.

In his first at-bat, the Pirate's pitcher worked "C" to a two-strike count. But "C" bore down, and drilled a line drive past the picther right up the box. Leading off from first, you could tell that "C" was a ballplayer. Taking his lead, he dropped his hands down between his legs, the ends of his fingers twitching. His baserunning savvy was raising immediate concern on the other team. For the day, "C" made it safely on base three for three times, scoring two runs.

In our last at bat, we were down by one run. "C" helped keep things going, working the pitcher for a walk and coming around to score. At the end of our half of the final inning, we were up by three, but down to none of our regular pitchers. After "C" scored his run, I asked him if he wanted to come in to pitch. He didn't need any convincing. He grabbed a ball and started warming up.

About this time, one of the parents from our team came up and asked, "who is the new guy?" I smiled and said he was friends with some of the boys. When our half of the inning ended, "C" took the mound, trying to secure the victory. I was wondering what the guys in the other dugout must have been thinking.

"C" got the first batter to pop out. The next guy up was safe on an error. On the next play, one of our infielders recorded the second out on a fielder's choice. The next batter made first on a clean single. With two on and two out and the tying run at the plate, "C" went into his motion. The batter swung and grounded the ball up the middle. Cooly, "C" fielded it. I heard one of the other dads in the dugout say, "that should do it". "C" turned to first, set himself, and made a perfect throw over to Johnny Boom-Boom at first. Game over. Sox win!

With three games left to play, the Sox improved their record to five wins, five losses, and one tie.

Back in the dugout, after the traditional post-game handshakes with the other team, one of our guys asks, "can we get 'C' on our team for next year?".

Next year. Already talking about next year. That's a good thing.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Grove

Yesterday, after getting detoured and momentarily lost around Compton and Market, I made a wrong turn trying to enter westbound highway 40, and ended up near the upcoming "RBar" in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood. Nowadays, the name "Forest Park Southeast" is quickly giving way to "The Grove".

How this name change occured will go down as one of the little differences in the renaissance of the neighborhood located roughly between Vandeventer, Kingshighway, and Highway 40.

Grove. It might have started with the Manchester strip that runs east and west, connecting the north and south sides of the neighborhood. Grove. It's root may come from "Adams Grove", one of the four individual neighborhoods that were grouped together under the name "Forest Park Southeast".

Grove. Add a letter and it spells "groove", fitting for the area's new status as a hip STL night spot.

Years ago, when the ground work was being laid to convert vacant Washington Avenue warehouses into loft apartments and condominiums, realtor Sarah Bakewell was a leader on the Housing Committee of the Downtown St. Louis Partnership.

So maybe it's a sign of more good things to come that today along Manchester in the Grove, in a newly renovated historic commercial building, there is a brand new Bakewell real estate office.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Bare Spots-Filled!

This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit one of those high dollar coastal communities. Exiting the crowded airline terminal to meet my ride, I was concerned he might never find me, let alone find a place to stop for a minute to pick me up. Cars and passengers were criss crossing everywhere. It was a crowded, disorganized C-F, if you know what I mean...

Over the weekend, we drove through some of the area's signature open spaces. I noticed how some of these once-pristine area are being plowed under to make way for new multi-million dollar housing developments. Earth movers are making deep cuts in the hillsides, probably to prepare underground drainage systems to prevent future landsliding.

Retruning home after the weekend, flying into St. Louis, our flight path took us right over our city neighborhood and then made a swing over downtown. There were clear views of the city streets, shopping centers, parks, and downtown's landmarks. Clearly recognizable were the bright red tile roofs of our parish buiildings. We touched down at Lambert a couple of minutes later. As we flew over Dellwood and Kinloch, my seatmate was astonished at the height of the trees in the neighborhoods.

Twenty minutes earlier, my ride had arrived at Lambert. She pulled into the 5 minute curbside loading zone and there were no other cars waiting. The nice security lady granted her permission to wait as long as it would take for me to deplane and retrieve my luggage. She waited undisturbed for over thirty minutes.

Driving home, we travelled the neighborhood streets, crossing through Forest Park and then into South City. We grabbed a quick meal on the Hill, and then headed home. That's when I could see that eighty percent of the previous bare spots in the front lawn were now filled with tall growing grass. The previous barespot challenge has been reduced to a barely noticeable twenty percent of remaining tough ground.

This week, a trip to the Botanical Garden for one of their low cost pH soil tests could hold the key to winning this mini-turf war.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

2006 Seedlings Rising!

One of the wonderful features of our old block is the mature street trees that cool the neighborhood by at least ten degrees on hot summer days.

One of the downsides of all the shade is the delicate process involved in getting the lawn to grow. In the past two years, we've removed a flower bed and ornamental tree which obstructed views up and down the block, redone the front lawn twice, and tried to get a full, lush lawn.

Still, we have bare spots. I've made making them green a personal quest. Like generations before me, it's been a typically determined, partially obsessive, south city lawn care struggle.

Last weekend, we repaired the ground and planted a "playground" variety seed. Today, an army of bright green seedlings is rising from the barespots. They are in that needle-thin, vulnerable phase.

The question is, will they survive the pending summer onslaught of trampling kids feet, and tossed down bicycles? The odds are not good...

A Perfect St. Louis Year

Right now, our alley is bursting in a colorful show of multiple varieties of day lillies in full bloom. They look like a miniature fireworks display, all at waist level. Drive the alley between Loran and Walsh, Clifton and Hampton for the next couple of weeks to see the show. It's a tribute to the former owners of the place...they did good gardening. We're just the maintenance crew.

To find the lillies, look for the yard with a tiny garage numbered "5864". You'll recognize it as the one that looks more like a Bevo neighborhood smokehouse than a place to park a car. How those early 1930s builders ever thought someone could park a car in the tiny brick building is a mystery. Maybe they always thought of it as more of a garden house. Bring scissors and a copy of this post, and feel free to take a few of the lillies home with you to decorate your place.

One of the neat things about St. Louis is the tradition of decorating houses. St. Louis people are so into decorating their personal space, you can even tell there's a St. Louis family when you're on vacation-they're the ones who start out by decorating their campsites. It's great.

Egg Trees in Spring. Patriotic decorations at the Fourth of July. Halloween and fall harvest displays. And then at Christmas it's a total house and yard decorating extravaganza. Maybe some of the tradition is owing to the tradition of Catholicism in St. Louis. We are very into physical displays of our spiritual identity.

So last nite, while under our Target-issue gazebo and gazing out into the wildlife habitate and lush foliage in the backyard, we thought of the perfect way to usher out the looming dog days of summer and send an early invite to our glorious fall weather. We're going to start our yard decorating rite a month early.

As soon as we pass the peak of summer heat, sometime around August 20, we will decorate the perimiter of the back yard with strings of twinkling white lights. The yard decorations will progress with more seasonal flow toward Christmas. Then, sometime after Thanksgiving, in addition to the decorations on the street-facing side of the house, we will put up multi-colored lighting on the trees and structures facing out to the alley neighbors.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Old, fat guys hurting "hip" scooter image?

Sporting those sleek, Italian designs, and enjoying a history of being popular with the young set, scooters have always seemed pretty fun and cool.

Lately, however, there has been a notable increase in the number of older, balder, fat guys riding scooters around the city.

Could this spell trouble to the burgeoning scooter business?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Reopen the Caves!

In the ongoing quest to raise St. Louis up to maximum possible coolness status, let's start a civic initiative to reopen the caves near Lemp and Highway 55 as a new-or very old- underground beer garden and music venue. New Years Eve in the Cave! Party down! Waaay down!!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

St. Louis Opens Annual "Sweat Fete" Season

It's that time of year again, where in church parking lots and neighborhood streets friends and neighbors gather to sweat, consume mass quantities of A-B products, and have an old-fashioned, neighborly good time. It's block party, neighborhood festival, and parish picnic season.

Last nite was the Our Lady of Sorrows picnic, held on Bishop DuBourg High School's parking lot. This Saturday is the parish picnic for St. Gabriel's church. St. Stephen's always has a good one (anyone know the date?). The Polish Falcons sponsor a big party at their St. Louis Avenue home-always fun with good music and food.

These St. Louis traditions are among our city's best. Be sure to check them out, bring your friends and families, and enjoy the special charm and character of our neighborhoods.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

City Schools To Teach Social Skills

Summer School in the city of St. Louis begins today for 14,000 city kids. Today's morning news reported that city school's chief Creg Williams will be emphasizing the teaching of social skills and improved study habits.

The radio news readers had different takes on the issue. One gave William's approach a "thumbs up", while the other had a more mixed response, believing that emphasis in school should be on academic subjects, not social skills. With such high enrollment, maybe the parents agree with the superintendent's plan.

Kids learn from adults all around them, both the good and the bad. Given that they spend so much of their time in school, doesn't it make sense to use the school setting to help develop their social skills?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Lefty Mystique

Baseball chemistry is a fragile thing. It's an unpredictable mix of the internal workings of each player's confidence, skill, team dynamics, and the unfolding situation of each game's events.

Our team is blessed with a variety of players with different personalities and talent levels. One of them in particular is a high-spirited, natural athlete, talented in all sports, but unsure of his baseball potential. For baseball, he has another weapon: he's a lefty.

We had heard stories about how he pitched beautifully as a 9 and 10 year old. But after one especially bad outing, his confidence was shaken. He gave up pitching and a lot of people wondered if he'd ever try it again. It would be up to him to make that decision.

We've always played him in center field, where he runs like a gazelle, anchoring the outfield. At the plate, he's consistently a .500 hitter. We've wanted to work him into the pitching rotation, but would never put him in until he decided he was ready for it. This year, he's slowly been coming around to the idea.

The other day, I asked his dad to talk with him about starting for us last nite. Early reports were positive; he said he wanted to pitch. But then when I saw Matt, he said how our young lefty had changed his mind, and how he didn't want to pitch anymore, and that his stomach hurt. The situation had changed into a game time decision.

When our young prospect arrived at the game, he had an anxious look on his face, and he was turning three shades of pale. Fifteen minutes before game time, he walked up to me, and he said he wanted to pitch. That's what we wanted to hear. We gave him the ball, and he took the mound for the first time in over three years.

The kid was awesome. His competitive nature came through, and he led the team to its best win in 2 seasons. He pitched five solid innings (the max at this age), allowing only one earned run, and walking none. The few times he trailed in the count, you could see the intensity build in him. Consistently, he battled back, throwing strikes and getting outs. And the defense played solid behind him.

The team won 5-2 in only one hour and thirty minutes, a lightning paced game for 12 and 13 year olds. At the halfway point in the season, the team's record stands an even 3 wins, 3 losses, and 1 tie.

More important, with 7 games to play, team chemistry is building, the boys know they can play solid ball, and they have discovered a new leader. The second half of the season just got a lot more interesting.