Monday, July 31, 2006

"Right Here in St. Louis"

This saying, made memorable in the film Meet Me In St. Louis, is appropos of so many things.

It comes to mind whenever we experience another "St. Louis moment". StL moments are those unexpected, random acts of neighborly kindness between neighbors or total strangers.

They are also moments in time in special places, like a train ride at the Zoo, a neighborhood parade or block party, or when open fall windows echo cheers up and down the block after a late September Cardinal home run.

It's neighbors checking on neighbbors when the power is out. And it's the ensuing neighborhood gatherings out on the sidewalk, sharing an iced-down cold one.

It's right here, in STL.

Counting Home Runs and the Heat Index

July 31 in STL. It's hot. There's no question. Talk about January 1 in STL, and chances are, it's cold. Life goes on, and depending on your point of view, it's pretty good.

On January 1, it might be snow, ice, and with the wind chill, it could feel like 20 below. And if there's a snow bank of 1 inch, kids and adults are having fun, sliding down hills and drinking hot chocolate.

Presently, the national news is reporting about the heat in STL. They'd have you believing we're all melting into greasy smears on the pavement. Not so much.

Today, I survived in our non-air-conditioned, ten year old mini-van. And from over at the asphalted, neighborhood schoolyard, I received reports about a lively, multi-inning'd, multiple home run game of fuzz ball. With wooden bats.

The heat index was around 115, and the players tallied 20-something homers into the neighbor's back yard.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Old St. Louis Rising

At the northeast corner of 11th and Locust, there's a sad-looking, apparently vacant, stuccoed-over, 3 or 4 story corner commercial building.

At even intervals on the ground level, you can see the building's original cast iron columns showing through the stucco walls.

Unrecognizable as it is, this must be one of the oldest downtown STL buildings still standing.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Best Of: City Views

St. Louis is filled with many interesting sights and vantage points. Here's one:

With the prep football season only weeks away, the best place to watch a Bishop Dubourg football game is from the wine garden at the rear of the Pitted Olive restaurant on Hampton. It's also where they grow some of the fresh herbs for their delicious offerings.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Team Photo Day

The 2006 youth baseball season is winding down. After Sunday's game, the players and coaches on Matt's CYC team stood for their annual team picture. The regular season schedules for both of Matt's teams is complete. Talk now is about end of season tournaments, fall ball, and "next year".

For some of the kids, "next year" will probably mean no organized baseball. Every year it's the same. The kids decide whether they want to keep going. The typical drop off rate is about a third. Each year, the level of competition dramatically increases, and lots of players have a hard time keeping up. The pitching gets much better; the fastball is heavier and it moves more.

In the last game, our guys played a team that was made up mostly of first time players. The opposition only managed two hits in the entire game. The church sponsor of the other team had to recruit players all the way down to fifth grade to field a team.

Baseball is at about the bottom of kids sports interests these days. Combine the overall lack of interest with the difficulty of mastering the sport, and it's no wonder the big losses of players from year to year.

A few of the kids from the church team showed real promise. Solid basic skills, dedicated coaches, and a tough competitive spirit. Hopefully we'll see them again.

For our guys, it's hard to tell. There's a core of serious, hard working players. We figure some won't return. The off season brings the opportunity to evaluate the good and bad of this past season, work on weaknesses, and wonder how many "next years" in baseball some of these young ballplayers might have.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Why STL Rising?

Because we are rising from decades of abandonment and decay, that left ruined buildings like this one... a city that is being rebuilt block by block. It's a place of possibilities, that has room for believers and doers. Naysayers are being proven wrong on a daily basis.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Columbia Bottoms

This place is sort of a mystery. It's the name of the large flood plain across from St. Louis that lies between the Mississippi River and the bluffs to the east.

The area is dotted with small town places and rich farmland. It's right next to downtown St. Louis. There are opportunties for development and redevelopment.

The Confluence Greenway project includes much of the area. Some of the riverfront is old, abandoned industrial. There are great views of downtown.

Crossing the Mississippi can be a pain for commuters, but if you know the shortcuts (Eads and MLK Bridges), you do alright.

It's also home to the world's tallest fountain. If you look closely, you can see the reservoir for it at the bottom left of the image above.

Around noontime, the fountain shoots a column of water over 300 feet in the air. At the free Hootie and the Blowfish concert on the 4th of July, the fountain was going the whole time.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Riding Against Traffic

For the past few weeks, my route to the office has been changed to drop off kids at a summer school program near Forest Park. As a result, I'm getting on eastbound Highway 40 at Kingshighway.

Three times now, I've passed bicycle riders heading westbound on the shoulder of eastbound Highway 40. I've seen them in the vicinity of Market Street/Bernard and Vandenventer.

As odd as it is to see these wrong-way bike riders during rush hour, the cyclists appear totally at ease.

In some states, there are rules that if a highway is the shortest route between two points, you can ride your bike on the interstate, but always with the flow of traffic.

Typically you see highway bike riders in rural areas where alternate routes are not available. That's not the case in the city of STL. We have literally thousands of alternate routes.

If you're on east bound Highway 40 in STL, keep an eye out for these highway bike riders.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Warning: MoBot Koi Attempting to Swallow Babies and Small Farm Animals

Just kidding, but you've got to admit, in such a beautiful place, the sight of all those gaping fish mouths is a little incongruent.

Shaw's Garden in STL is one of the most beautiful places on earth. But take a group of little ones, and their favorite thing to do is feed the fish in the Japanese Garden at the far back corner of the Garden.

To get there, they must first walk through Shaw's entire garden wonder. You don't suppose he planned it that way, do you?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Walsh Street Landing Strip?

That's a shot of our backyard. Note the smokehouse-inspired garage. I often wonder what those circa-1932 builders were thinking building such a small garage when most cars those days were the size of navy gunboats.

The vegetation is teeming with Missouri wildlife. Our hound-mix has made it her job to clear the yard of these native species. Last nite, around 1:15 AM, she made noises indicating it was time to flush the wildlife out of the yard.

There is a Target-issue gazebo on the patio. The mosquito netting makes it a nice , insect-free place to relax. As the dog patrols for rabbits, mice, birds, squirrels, and possum, I sometimes try to get a little sleep on one of the lounge chairs under the gazebo.

I must have dozed for about an hour. When I awoke, the dog was beside me on her own lounge chair, the yard now apparently free from the invading horde. Presently, there was a low roar overhead. I quickly unzipped the mosquito netting, and leaped out of the gazebo for a look skyward.

The sound was increasing. Then above our house, no more than a couple thousand feet in the air, a full-size airliner was cruising by very slowly. I've never seen a large plane fly so low over our neighborhood before. It was about 2:20 AM. Could it be with such late nite flights, pilots have permission to fly their planes at much lower altitudes?

It was a like a scene out of Close Encounters. It didn't bother the dog at all, nor any of the other neighbors. Every one else was probably asleep.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Outdoor Air Conditioning

Over the past twelve years, I've been an occasional pedestrian walking along Locust Street in downtown STL. For most of those years, the walks would be lonely ones, down empty sidewalks, past empty buildings. Today, there is a noticeable difference in the feel of the street.

The new sidewalk cafe at the Old Court House was filled to capacity. Heavy equipment was operating in the early phases of the $80,000,000 Syndicate Trust rehabilitation. A twenty (maybe thirty)-something couple crossed the street at 10th and Locust, where the lady asks the gentleman, "and what's happening here?", nodding toward one of the corner buildings. He began describing the beginnings of another adaptive reuse development.

And from the long list of unsolved city mysteries, even when our STL weather is steaming hot, out from a metal grate in front of the US Bank Locust branch (across from the Lashley Baer law firm), pedestrians enjoy a steady blast of free cold air from some unknown source beneath the sidewalk.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Eagle Has Landed

Thirty-five years ago, when Neil Armstrong and his Apollo mission safely landed on the moon, the phrase "The Eagle Has Landed" came to signify a turning point in American history. About this same time, the dark and lonely streets of downtown St. Louis could have been compared to a similar empty space.

Washington Avenue has come miles since the days of the early nineties when vacant buildings could be had for $.50 - $1.00 per square foot. Before the Missouri historic rehabilitation tax credit, there was no future for the glorious stock of historic downtown loft buildings.

The transformation of the Bogen Lofts at the corner of Tucker and Washington stands as testament to the renaissance of one of the region's hottest neighborhoods and one of our nation's most exciting downtown revitalization success stories.