Or “If I keep eating like this I’ll have smaller people orbiting me!”
St Louis is a bigger city than the initial drive in suggested. Our hotel for this 2 night stop was on the outskirts of town and so our drive in missed the city approach.
After our 8 hour drive from Chicago (including pie break!) we we’re exhausted and ready for some food and an early night. The city was an hours round trip but enough driving had been done for one day so we paid a visit to a lovely little bistro next to the hotel called “Hooters“. My initial thought was that this eatery might feature amusing pictures of Americans with oversized noses but what I found was far more exploitative and dare I say sexist. The premise is that pretty girls with hourglass figures clad in tight tee shirts and hot pants serve overpriced food and drinks to the largely male patrons who are also expected to tip more heavily than usual in response to the abundance (no pun intended) of pretty serving staff.
I find the whole concept quite demeaning. That the perfectly natural urges of simple, honest men folk should be exploited for financial gain by these curvaceous, burger slinging sirens of the off ramp, rubs against the very grain of my moral fibre… BUT, part of this trip is about embracing the cultural differences of this land so in the name of diplomatic etiquette we ventured in.. …and had a fab night of good food washed down with cocktails. Our server was a lovely lass called Kelsey, a name which rendered lewd limericks almost impossible to rhyme, try as we might.. We (Mike, Mick and I, not Kelsey, don’t get any ideas…) soon staggered back to the hotel ready for an early night so we could get an early start on the city..
The city sits on the banks of Mississippi River. The river was the bringer of trade, industry and tourists for many years, then the railroad came and the river became more of an obstacle to progress. The local restaurant menus reflect those early ties to the river and some of the decor echoes nostalgic memories of steam boats and river traders.
Captain James B Eads was commissioned to design a bridge to connect both sides of the Mississippi and by 1874 it was finished. The Eads Bridge has a four lane highway, 2 train lines, was the first bridge to use true steel construction and at over a mile long was the longest bridge in the world at the time of completion. I love the fact that Eads had never designed a bridge before and on his first attempt breaks the world record and 140 years later its still stands as a monument to progress & design.
The other monument is The Gateway Arch in St Louis, it’s a bloody big 600ft aluminium arch which was built to commemorate the US’s expansion into the west. It was completed in 1965 and is the biggest man made monument in America! Americans love making things shiny! This arch is finished in polished aluminium and seeing it for the first time is awe inspiring. It floats eerily on a perfectly mowed green lawned landscape but despite being in the middle of the city, the grounds and tree line somehow let it stand in its own pocket of serenity. The entrance to the visitors center reveals a whole hive of activity beneath the monument. After descending a walkway ramp the dim lighting and cavernous reception hall feels like some kind of 1970s presidential emergency bunker.
The monument has a small tram system to take you up to the observation platform and those of you who know how terrible I am with heights might be surprised to learn that I went to the top. The tram cars are tiny with just enough room for a few passengers (around the same size as the escape pods from Star Wars) and the journey to the top is like being a mouse in a grandfather clock. If you are claustrophobic and afraid of heights, stick with the view from the ground! The mechanism of these tram cars is intriguing, as they travel up the inside of the arch they rotate 80 degrees or so to remain horizontal.
The viewing area is right at the very top of the arch and the views from the observation platform are breathtaking. The small windows angle down so you can lie almost prone with only the view filling your field of vision, essentially floating 600 feet in the air with your gaze cast naturally earthbound. It was at this very moment the monument swayed slightly as a gust of wind came in across the bay. I won’t scar you with the intimate details except to say it was a good half hour before my arse cheeks had unclamped!
It was my turn to drive yesterday and though the GMC Acadia SUV we have is very comfy and looks rather butch, it doesn’t deliver the kind of pull one would expect from a V6 engine. However, it does weigh more than a collapsed star so it’s probably doing its best. Should you ever find yourself driving in America, my advice would be if there are more than 2 lanes, stay in the second one. The inside lane (right) has a habit of turning into the off ramp for a turning you don’t want to take.
That evening we found a restaurant about 100 yards from the Mississippi River where Mike and Mick sampled the toasted Ravioli (a local delicacy) and reported that it was good. I went with what I believe may be the finest veggie burger I’ve ever tasted! Seriously, if I lived here I’d be that guy on the news who has to have a wall removed to leave the house. I’ve been hitting the gym at every opportunity but to be honest I’d probably have to do 5 hours of daily cardio to put a dent in the thousands of calories these crafty Americans manage to shoehorn into every meal.
The drive from St Lois to Springfield has taken us through some interesting places like ‘The Devil’s Elbow’ and my favourite palace name so far ‘The Trail of Tears’. We stopped in Lebanon – Missouri at the Elm Street Eatery for a snack, yeah.. Here’s a tip for you, in the US, snack = meal, meal = banquet! I was feeling like a bit of a porker until a guy sat down at the table next to us who ordered enough food to launch a one man relief mission to Africa! He must have been 30 stone!
I was also surprised when we were asked if we wanted smoking or non smoking seats. I didn’t know there were any restaurants left that had a smoking section and to be honest it’s a freedom the US can keep for itself. I caught a whiff of cigarette smoke mixed with food on the way in and it sent me a little sick. I’m sure many of you are smokers and won’t get this but i find the smell of smoke while I’m eating or travelling truly sickening.
So The Best Western Rail Haven Hotel in Springfield is our home for tonight and after a fantastic Evening of Amazing food, real ale, live Jazz and a dozen frames of pool at the Springfield Brewery Company we are ready for our beds. I shot the intro new my new podcast at the front of the hotel and kept saying I was in Ozark when in fact we’re in Springfield. No sign of homer or Bart yet but it’s early days.. Apparently Elvis Presley stayed here in 1956, so i could be sleeping in the very building that Elvis left! Tomorrow we are driving to Oklahoma City (it’s oh so pretty) and once it has revealed its delights i shall relay them to you dear constant reader.
J Dubya D x