The girls and I are traveling to St. Louis tomorrow so that I can visit with friends and Ruby can see her dad and her grandparents. I am obviously extremely devoted to New Orleans and never truly fell in love with St. Louis the way I did with, say, New York, but I still have a lot of very fond memories of the Gateway City. It’s the first place I ever saw snow or was offered a brain sandwich; it’s where I had my first wedding (at the City Museum) and went sledding and saw my first Major League Baseball game. (Go, Cards!)
So yeah – if St. Louis were a person instead of a city, he’d be the guy who was too sweet and boring to date, the guy who meant well and maybe brought you tissues and Gatorade once when you were sick but just didn’t spark any true passion in your heart. I’m just speaking for myself here; let me make myself clear. At the risk of wayyyy overstretching my metaphor, that sweet but boring guy who does nothing for you might be someone else’s perfect husband – many of my best friends adore St. Louis and are happily raising families together there, and I sometimes look at their pictures on Facebook and feel at least a tiny twinge of something.
And I like St. Louis enough to get defensive when people make fun of it or the Midwest generally. I remember being on a flight out of New York that stopped in St. Louis on its way to L.A. I deplaned in St. Louis, and as I got my bag down from the overhead compartment, I heard a woman in a very furry hat say to her very bald husband, “This is St. Louis, honey; you know, they have the Arch? Without that Arch, they wouldn’t have anything.”
“Beer,” he told her. “I’m pretty sure they have beer here, too.”
They laughed. And I got so mad thinking about these obnoxious rich New Yorkers who regarded vast swathes of America as just boring flyover country. St. Louis deserves so much better than that.
So in addition to seeing some of my best friends, here’s what else I’m looking forward to about my trip:
- Gus’ Pretzels. St. Louis actually has some pretty decent Italian restaurants and some nice fine-dining places, but what I really crave from there is the most Midwestern of food: a bratwurst wrapped inside of a soft pretzel. They’re particularly good dipped in mustard or cream cheese.
- Crown Candy Kitchen. I have been going here as often as possible since the fall of 1998. It is one of a dwindling handful of places in America that can make a decent ice cream soda (the secret is to mix a spoonful of vanilla ice cream with a ounce or so of soda water before you add any of the other ingredients, just FYI). Crown Candy is pretty much the purest definition of “nostalgia.”
- The zoo, the Missouri History Museum, and the St. Louis Science Center. All of these places are lots of fun for kids, educational, and interactive, and admission is free.
- Laumeier Sculpture Park. My kids love outdoor art, and this, like basically everything else in St. Louis, is free and open to the public.
- Coming home. This is a big one. I moved back to New Orleans in January 2008 – and in those eight-and-a-half years, I never stopped being thrilled to be home. Going back to see my old friends and frequent my old haunts and eat my old favorite Midwestern foods will be nice … but without a doubt, the real treat will be coming home.