Aug 23, 2017

Saint Louis

When the pressure equalized in St. Louis, a wave of warm, moist air swept over me. And I smiled, because I’d missed it. The smell of trees and grass, you could almost hear the cicadas. It conjured up memories of lazy summers with grandparents in Oklahoma, barbecues, condensation on cold local beers with friends on muggy nights.

I was surprised by how much I’d missed Saint Louis. It’s not even tied to University nostalgia- I didn’t miss the school or campus, nice as it was- but the city, the landscape, the atmosphere. There is a stateliness to Saint Louis, a city built at a time when buildings were built to last, and at the peak of American influence and power. The space-age modern curves of the airport terminal, the odd and mysterious mason temple, the small, deep red brick houses. And although the city has been decimated by population loss and decay, it still retains its dignity. It’s an interesting parallel to New Orleans, which has suffered similar tribulations but functions now as a city for tourists, hawking a fantasy or pastiche of it’s past self. Actually, I’m sure St.Louis wishes they had the tourist draw of New Orleans.

I took the MetroLink in from the airport, and walked up Delmar to Allison and Jonathons apartment. Jonathon’s had the place for a decade, right behind Delmar, and it’s a really cute place, part of a complex that must have been built in the 1940s or 1950s. Lovely corner flat, 600 square feet and a kind of a squirly plan wrapped around the core, but cosy, especially when it’s full of all the great stuff. Full of plants, books, furniture, and decorative items. They need more apartment or less stuff, but I can imagine that it’s a hard call in either case. I might imagine its the kind of apartment we could have if we were someplace for ten years. I was happy to have a couch to crash on, and I also just enjoyed the hell out of seeing the two of them again. They make an embarassaingly cute couple. Their personalities and conversations bounce off each other really well.

After I dropped my bags, we drove out to grab a drink at Urban Chestnut brewery, which I had also sorely missed, and avoiding the trivia night going on inside, took a seat in the empty beer garden under the orange and purple sky. We chatted a bit, and after our beers, we went to dinner at an Italian place in Clayton. I treated my hosts, and the food was pretty good. We were all quite tired, actually, and all went to bed a little after ten p.m.

We were all up early- seven am found us drinking coffee and eating Jonathon’s breakfast sandwiches- fried egg topped with melted white American cheese on an english muffin. Allison went to work, and then Jonathon left to go teach an orientation studio at the university, and I stepped out for my very long day.

I took an uber to the Budget rental agency by the airport, where I picked up a rental truck. I’d asked for a 12’ but got a 16’. I haven’t driven regularly since I left the US, almost four years ago, and to be driving again makes nervous, so I was sweating as I pulled that monstrosity out onto the road. I did get the extra insurance on it though, in addition to the legally required minimum. And traffic is never that bad in depopulated corners of understaffed St.Louis. I drove the truck a few miles to the storage unit by the airport, and pulled it around. Taking a page from my brother I’d hired moving help, but due to scheduling problems, I wasn’t able to get them until 2:30. I was at the storage unit by 10:30, so I figured I could use the time to sort, and get a head start on the loading since you pay the labor by the hour.

O time capsule. I was greeted by a worn looking green basket filled with plastic coat hangers and a dusty dust buster. Goodwill? Toss the basket, definitely, but the dust-buster still functioned (!) when I turned it on. Just needed a good cleaning. As for the plastic hangers. Well, we’d need hangers, there was nothing particularly wrong with them, so they went in the truck too. The whole thing was kind of maddening. I was hoping to open up the unit and scornfully tossing things and throwing boxes into the goodwill pile wholesale. The reality was we did purge a lot before we moved, and while I was able to fill a suitcase of my clothes to donate, most of the boxes had books, clothes, kitchenware, and many things which were not easy to simply say “toss.”

Box by box, I unloaded the storage unit. I had a mishap early on, when after loading a long mirror into the truck, my foot got tangled in the hanging cord, and I stepped through the mirror, shattering it. I checked myself out and everything looked ok. I had the good sense to have worn sneakers instead of sandals for the loading day, but it turned out later that there were some small shards that cut their way through my shoe and into my feet. It was just an annoyance to clean up and find a place to trash the rest of the glass.

I’d rented a good hand truck with the truck, and with the loading ramp, I found I was making good progress, and could manage the entire load myself. I called the labor office and had them change my order so that my moving help would go instead to the shipping terminal. Of major furniture, we only had a solid wood table, a small chinese cabinet, a green upholstered bench, and a Tibetan trunk. Boxes of camping gear, speakers and stereo equipment, books, and tons of clothes, which will probably be the first things to go.

Covered in sweat, dusty, and grime, and bleeding from a few small cuts, I drained a gatorade and checked the now-empty storage unit one last time. It was not without some bitterness and regret. Roughtly $75 a month, for 54 months tallies up to four grand. Could have bought a lot of stuff with that money. Really, what was irrreplacable? Ok, there was the chinese antique dollhouse, and the Tibetian chest, the chinese cabinet. A Mexican mirror, a Peruvian rug. A few other things with sentimental value. If I were to go back, I would have shipped the good stuff to someone, anyone. Shipping would have been a few hundred dollars, and taken up not much more than a closet, maybe not even that much, and Goodwill for the rest.

But who knew. We loaded that storage unit in a hurry and in uncertain times- planning to open that padlock in six to eight months, with a vauge and haphazard view to a move to Boston.

Clock is ticking. So, drive. I checked out of the unit at the manager’s office, and headed out on the freeway towards the shipping terminal, lightened, at least, by the fact we wouldn’t have the slow hemmorhage anymore.

U-ship is a pod delivery service run by ABF. They offer door to door service, or terminal to terminal. Terminal to terminal is a significantly cheaper, but I guess most people opt for door to door, since there wasn’t much in the way of clarity or transparency in the u-ship at the terminal itself. I show up with my truck to the address. There’s no indiciation of where to park, or even if you’re at the right place since there was no U-ship signage. I found the front door and you walk basically straight into the logistics center, where one of the women got off the phone and asked me what I needed.

They gave me yellow high-visibility vests to wear on the site and walked me through the loading docks to the side lots where they would deliver a pod. I pulled my truck around and waited a bit. It was enjoyable, actually. It had rained in the morning, and the puddles of water on the acres of empty concrete reflected the blue sky dotted with slow-moving clouds. The few empy silver trailers scattered around the lot were nearly sculptural, like chess peices. It was the feeling of being nowhere under a big sky.

I got my pod and the moving help arrived around the same time. Two college kids. I used “Bellhops” and I was pretty happy with the service. $45 an hour is basically professional moving labor cost, and I’m sure they’re not paying the kids that, but it was convenient, and the kids were polite and hardworking. They followed my directions on where and how to pack, and had suggestions of their own.

At first, actually, I was bit nervous if everything was going to fit since those cubes look a lot smaller in person on that big lot, and especially next to my 16’ truck, which I filled to the doors. But I’d run the area and volume calculations and I knew that it would all fit. We tetrised it in: big and heavy stuff first, light boxes on top. It all fit, and I think it will hold in place until we get it to Portland. We just have to watch out for a potential avalanche when we slowly open the doors. Items may have shifted in flight, and all that.

It took 45 minutes to transfer the contents, and I released the kids. I signed the bill of lading at the office, collected my cell phone which had been charging on one of their desks, and drove back out with an empty truck. Got lost when I was close by the rental truck return, and found myself at the St. Louis Mills shopping mall. My feet had been taking a beating from all the walking in thin converse sneakers, and I’d been scouting around for a new pair of athletic sandals. I was ahead of schedule, so I parked and walked in.

It was a ghost mall. The lights were on, and so was the A/C but all the stores were shuttered and dark. There were only a few stores- temporary furniture clearance centers. It was sad and a little eerie. I turned around and left. The Cabela’s was still there, so I went inside. Some small changes there too. When I left the US, Cabela’s was an outdoor store with a hunting department, like BassPro, but I guess it’s now a hunting store, with an outdoor department. Guns, ammo, camo. At the back though, I found a good selection of water and athletic sandals, and picked up a pair on sale. Columbia, to match my jacket. I paid, and drove on.

Gassed up at $2.09 a gallon, and returned the truck. Just shy of 50 miles on the odometer. Took an uber back to Saint Louis with a wizened old man who simply couldn’t believe the GPS. Actually, knowing St.Louis, I think Uber is rigging the nav systems to find the shortest distance rather than the shortest time, to make sure they squeeze all the pennies.

Back at Jonathon and Allison’s place, I grabbed a hot shower and stole a beer from the fridge. Got caught up on email and the couple were soon back from work. We all nursed our beers while we dithered a bit on where to eat dinner. Jonathon drove us over to Cherokee street, which has also seen a lot of changes, much more upscale now, and we waited about ten minutes to get into the cool ramen shop. We all got the same pork ramen bowls, but I also ordered a bowl of kimchi to share.

After dinner, we drove through the dark to get some frozen yogurt really just down the street from where I used to live, and talked about people with whom we’d gone to school. We all retired early again. I didn’t sleep well. Actually, I tossed and turned both nights. I don’t know if I just couldnt get comfortable on the couch, or what it was.

My phone woke me up at the disagreeable hour of five am, and I quickly got ready to go. I wanted to make sure I got to the airport early since my flight was oversold. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see Allison before I left, but I got a nice message from her by the time I got to the airport.

I hope people don’t judge America by their airport breakfasts. I had a greasy puff pastry stuffed with eggs and cheese, and topped with bacon. Served from “La Tapenade: A [Vagueley] Mediterranian [Sounding] Cafe” which I can’t tell if its more or less egregious than “Linguini’s Italian”, which at least has the decency to shed all pretense and use the name of a pasta as a fictitious proprieter. Or a wry declaritive statement, depending on how you read it.

If I opened an Italian restaurant, I’d call it Don Parma John’s and we would just serve pasta. The whole thing would be a mechanized assembly line. Whichever pasta was ordered would be dumped into a basket carried along a boiling trough to cook it, raised to drain, then dumped into a hollowed wheel of cheese, which would then be turned vertical and rotated like a clothes dryer to tumbled the hot pasta with the cheese. The order would then be scooped out by the servers who would add whatever toppings from the electric grill- sausage, chicken, peppers. Served, naturally, with breadsticks from the breadstick machine.

We would use Mafia pricing- meals would be cheap, but for every visit but we get to “call in a favor”. People would have to register the first time they came, and for every visit they chose to make, they could get a text later, telling them it was time to repay the Don- either with a social media task, another visit on a particular day or time, or bringing in a new customer. People who incurred the displeasure of the don by refusing the task would be warned and then banned.

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