Wednesday, January 13, 2016

24 Hours in Saint Louis. Or is it St. Louis?

The train.  It ain’t the fastest way to travel, but it gets you from point A to point B for a reasonable price.  Plus the internet is fee and the food selection is a little better.  Walking out of the station in St. Louis, the first thing I notice is that we’re right across the street from the hockey arena.  That’s always good to know.  Due to the way we came into the city I also know that my hotel is about an eight block away.  Shouldn’t be too bad.

If you take the train in, sit on the right side for the best views.

A hockey game was the reason I was in town.  Due to fact that business is a bit slow I had an extra day off this week.  I flipped around nearby cities and saw that the St. Louis Blues were home and tickets were cheap ($20 after tax, tag and title).  The train ticket was cheap and so was the hotel.  For less than the cost of a night at the Blackhawks game I was on way to the Gateway City in order to check off another hockey arena from the list.

In the spring and summer the walk from the train station to the hotel was probably pleasant. In the winter it was a bit nippy.  I probably should have worn something on my head other than my well-traveled baseball hat. At least my hoodie was fleece lined.  I cinched it up over my head and started walking like I knew where I was going.

I’ve always found that walking with a purpose and not making eye contact is the best way to avoid any interference with less desirable natives.  You know, the down on their luck types that hang around the train station at 3pm on a Tuesday.  As a walked down the slight decline on Spruce Street I was surprised by the lack of humans I encountered along the way.  In fact as I passed one building I’m pretty sure the security guard was eyeballing me a bit too hard.

After about 10 minutes (and with no assistance from GPS or a map) I arrived at the Westin St. Louis to check in.  Yes there were hotels closer to the arena, but I wanted to keep it in the family and the Westin had a decent price (almost as good as my employee rate).  Despite it being about 3.30 the lobby was empty and the process went smoothly, the only delay being when the agent asked me if I wanted a key to the refreshment bar in the room.

I’m always amused when I read comments about people complaining about the mini bar.  Yes, the sensored ones are a pain in the ass, but trust me, as a former front desk agent we really don’t give a shit if you took something or if your kid knocked it off the sensor.  It’s not our money.  Just don’t waste our time coming up with a lame story. Just say you didn’t have it and move on.

Those aren’t the complaints I’m talking about, nor are the ones about the pricing.  Yes it’s overpriced.  We make a lot of money on your inability to control yourself.  Which leads to what really chaps my ass.  People who complain about the mini bar being in the room because they don’t have the “self control to keep them from eating the high calorie, overpriced snacks”.

Holy shit people. You are (for the most part) grown ups.  How the hell have you gotten through life with that little personal responsibility.  Do you also complain to management at Jewel Osco because you can’t help yourself from buying People Magazine and a Kit Kat when you’re standing in line at the store? Don’t blame us because you’re weak.  I don’t eat a steak at Del Frisco’s and then bitch at them for clogging my arteries instead of telling me to have a salad.

After a little hesitation, I declined the key.  Not so much because I would be tempted (after all I’m only 12 days into my “no snacking” quest for the year), but more so that I wouldn’t have to turn it in when I check out on Wednesday.

I had initially thought I would check in, drop my stuff off and get a quick work out in.  My legs and back were a little stiff from the train ride and I thought a run would work the kinks out.  However, the directions to the health club included the words “walk out the front door” and that wasn’t going to happen.  Not when it was a brisk 20 some degrees outside.  Instead  I decided on a late lunch.

Based on my five minutes of research on Yelp! I knew there was a beer place a couple of blocks away. It was one of those small chains that catered to people like me.  A hundred or so craft beers on tap, mediocre food and a soundtrack that could have been ripped off of my iPod (seriously, when was the last time you heard Deer Tick in a bar).

I ordered a porter with a clever name that I’ve already forgotten. Since I didn’t go to the gym I figured I’d eat something on the healthy side (personal responsibility!).  It wasn’t bad, goat cheese and walnuts tend to improve any salad and it was large enough that I was actually somewhat full. Besides my sinuses are such a wreck right now that taste might be the weakest of my five senses.

The service at the bar was adequate if somewhat disinterested.  My bartender was just ending her shift and the other one was just starting.  They were more interested in catching up with their days then talking to the stranger eating a salad and writing in a notebook.  After hearing the two size 4’s complain about being “fat” I’m not sure we would have had much to talk about. One bemoaned her meal of a bottle of wine and a Totino’s party pizza the night before. I call that a Thursday night.

The bar might not have had Budwiser on tap, and they would surely look down at you if you tried to order it, but they did have Abita Purple Haze.  So I finished my meal with one of those.  Yes, it’s a fruit beer, but it’s also a beer that reminds me of hanging out in New Orleans with my boy Hamel.  Any beer that reminds you of good times is a good beer.

With an hour or so to kill before the game I decided to head back to the hotel.  I don’t get to watch much cable and it’s always nice to sneak in some mindless TV when I’m in a hotel room.  Instead I ended up watching the local news (something that you miss when you don‘t have cable).  I had managed to be in St. Louis on the day they would find out if their professional football team would stay or move to L.A.  At that point in the day it was looking like the NFL was favoring a deal put together by the Chargers and the Raiders instead of the Rams.  That would have been interesting since Rams owner Stan Kroenke had pretty much torched the town a week before insinuating that any team in the city would do nothing but hemorrhage money.

After an hour or so of that and some mindless channel surfing I threw my fleece hoodie back on and headed out into the darkness.  While it was still chilly the arena wasn’t that far away so I decided to hoof it up the hill.  Ok.  It wasn’t really a hill, more like a slight incline.

I made it to the arena without incident, walked past the Bernie Federko statue and into the Scottrade Center. There was a line of people waiting to go through the metal detectors, but there were also some people just going through.  I joined those people.  Apparently season ticket holders get into the building 15 minutes before the unwashed masses. AND it appears that whoever had sold me the ticket on StubHub was a season ticket holder because nobody tackled me and told me to go to the back of the line.

With 60 minutes to go until the puck dropped I wandered around the arena.  It reminded me a lot of the Ice Palace in Tampa.  An older, but not old building.  There were few of the fancy knick knacks that you find in building built this century, but it still had its charm. After a couple of trips around the lower concourse and a trip into the gift shop I decided to head up to my seat.

Once I was up in the 300 section (gotta love the buildings with 300 sections) I decided to grab a snack. The menu was typical of a sporting venue with nachos, popcorn, hamburgers and the like.  They did have one item that intrigued me. A calorie bomb called a Beer Cheese Pretzel Dog.  Melted cheese, bacon, a dill pickle on a hot dog with a pretzel bun.  It’s like they knew I was coming to the game.  With fries and a drink, my wallet was $12 lighter but my belly was happy.

The only things left were a grease spot and the dill pickle

I made my way up to my seat.  Section 329 right behind the Blues goal (and the organ player!).  When I don’t have great seats I prefer to be behind the nets instead of at center ice.  I just think you see the play develop better.  The stadium wasn’t full and I did have some room on each side and the folks around me weren’t too annoying. The seats were built after 1960 so I was able to actually sit in them without my knees touching my chin.

Here we go from HIGH above the ice

Pregame warmups were taking place, which means the arena was consumed by the overamped dance/rock music that teams seem to prefer.  I was momentarily grouchy with the atmosphere until I realized it just meant that I was getting old. “Damn kids and their hip hop music!”.  To each their own.

My reward for being an enlightened and understanding old person was.… ELVIS NIGHT!  That’s right, the St. Louis Blues decided to celebrate the King of Rock and Roll’s birthday with an Elvis impersonator.  Not just an Elvis impersonator, but a FAT ELVIS impersonator.  He sang the National Anthem.  And yes, it was as glorious as you would think it would be.

As for the game itself. The Blues scored first which is always nice for a home crowd.  Then the Devils scored twice, but for some reason never really seemed to be a threat. When the Blues tied it up, I held out hope for my first 3-on-3 overtime, but it wasn’t to be.  St. Louis scored three unanswered goals and walked away with the victory.

The crowd itself was a typical midseason crowd.  They do some weird shake, shimmy things with their hands whenever the Blues go on the power play. I guess it looks cool on T.V., but the fans embraced it with the unbridled enthusiasm that your mom has when they play the Electric Slide at a wedding reception. It was slightly disconcerting.

They also count off every time they score.  It’s weird when they score one. After all it’s just a guy on the Jumbrotron waving a rally towel and then the crowd screaming, “ONE!”  It sounds better after the second goal, “ONE! TWO” and is ok with three, “ONE! TWO! THREE!” But it just cuts off after the number.  It would be much easier on the aural palate if there was a “WHOOOO!” or something after the last number.  But coming from a city where screaming “TAMPA! BAY!” is considered the pinnacle of crowd tradition I’m not going to criticize another team’s traditions too much.

An interesting subtext throughout the evening was the Rams situation. After all there were a couple of thousand St. Louis sports fans in the building, surely some of them would be football fans. And some of those fans had to be serious Rams fans who would be heartbroken if the team left. My buddy Superstar, who I had been texting back and forth all game was the one that officially broke the news to me that the Rams were indeed heading to L.A.

From that point on, I was wondering if they would announce it over the loudspeaker.  I’ve been to a few sporting events where they’ve done similar things. I remember a Lightning game during a Bucs playoff game where they announced that the Bucs had won.  Of course, breaking bad news is a slightly different situation.  For the record, I never heard an announcement.

Nor did I overhear too much talk on the concourse.  I guess they were resigned that it was going to happen and there was no use getting worked up about it now. I was too young to be really heartbroken when the Colts left Baltimore.  Any anger I developed was based on being a son of Baltimore and following the lead of my elders.  Plus there is a big difference between sneaking out in the middle of the night and holding a press conference with the commissioner.

There were two instances that I noticed a negative reaction about the news.  First, about 10 minutes after Superstar sent me the news (and 20 minutes after our discussion if Al Hrabosky was known as “Fat Elvis“ as well as “The Mad Hungarian“), the kids next to me found out.  One guy read the Tweet to his buddies and then quietly said, “Fuck, I didn’t really think they’d move”.  His one friend responded with a dejected “God Damn it”.  They were so sad I wanted to buy them all a beer, but I don’t think they were old enough. Plus it was a pain to get out of the seats and down to the concession stand.

The other moment was well into the third period with the Blues up by two goals.  A spontaneous “KROEN-KE SUCKS!” chant started and gained in volume.  The boys next to me were happy to have a chance to vent their frustration vocally and I’m sure the chant would have lasted the rest of the game if the Devils Bobby Farnham didn’t choose that moment to try and decapitate Dmitrij Jaskin with his stick. That touched off a minor line brawl that the brought more joy to the crowd and ended with the Blues forward Ryan Reaves scrambling the brains of Jordin Tootoo with a single punch which the crowd REALLY loved.

A couple of things about that little skirmish.  First, Bobby Farnham is a dick.  If you’re going to cheap shot a guy, at least do it to the person that just checked you into the boards, not an innocent bystander like Jaskin.  By the way Farnham’s official penalty was a five minute interference penalty. I can honestly say I’ve never heard that called before.

Second, all props to Tootoo. He’s a veteran and knows what his role is. He leads the league in fighting majors so he knows how to handle himself.  But he was also giving up 3 inches and 30 pounds to Reaves. It would be like asking Manny Pacquiao to fight Deontay Wilder.  Sure he could do it, but if the big man lands a punch it’s over.  Needless to say the big man landed a punch.

I wasn’t a big fan of the second punch Reaves threw when Tootoo was down, that’s the type of punch that tends to do more damage than the initial one.  At least Reaves realized that Tootoo was done after the one extra punch, I’ve seen hockey fights where the pummeling continues until the linesmen can break it up.

The game was pretty much over at that point, New Jersey tried to make it closer by pulling the goalie, but the captain David Backes, who must be a shuffleboard legend, pushed the puck down the ice from his own zone and into the empty net to put the final nail in the Devil’s coffin.

I made my way out of the arena and after some initial confusion made it back to the hotel in time to watch the end of the Lightning game.  It was great watching Tampa do everything possible to get Stamkos the hat trick in the last five minutes. It was also great that the win put them in a playoff spot and one point behind Montreal for the 3rd seed.  Look out Eastern Conference, I think the bear is waking up.

Some more news and I was out for the count. If the weather hadn’t been icebox cold I might have entertained the thought of going out. But I’m old and tire easy after a long day. Besides I did plan on getting up early to do a little exploring before my 3pm train back to Chicago.

Early turned out to be  7.30am.  It’s so nice waking up naturally and not to a cat whining or running around the apartment like a lunatic. I flipped on the TV to see if anything new happened overnight, it had not.  Twenty seconds of Stephan A. Smith screaming about something was enough to motivate me to head into the shower.

A quick Yelp search for best breakfast’s near the Arch led me to Rooster.  The crepes are fantastic there.  At the table next to me an elderly lady had written out an itinerary for her companion, a gentleman also advanced in age.  It was interesting that she had handwritten out a few things for him to do. You don’t see that much in this digital age.

Cheese, egg and sausage in a savory wrapping.  Delightful!
I snatched a quick glance while she had the note out and it was written in the same handwriting style that women of her age seem to have.  By the time I was finished my second tea (a drink for a more civilized age) and had paid my check the gentleman was trying to explain Bluetooth speakers to the lady.  It was quite entertaining.

With a full belly I meandered down to the Arch to find that it was under construction and closed.  Boo.  At least the old courthouse was open.  Apparently it was the same courthouse that the Dred Scott Decision was made.  Yea history!  I wandered up and down the stairs for a little bit, browsed the gift shop and then went on my way.

A statue of Mr. and Mrs. Scott (Did you know she was part of the lawsuit? I did not.)

Nothing was on the agenda so I meandered over to The Landings, a strip along the river filled with bars and restaurants.  All of them were closed at that hour so I made my way to the riverfront and watched the boats go by.  Several tug boats and freight carriers made their way down the Mississippi River. The mud brown waters were moving swiftly and were filled with small groups of ice mixed in with the other debris that the waters pick up along their journey.

It’s hard to look at the river and not think of riverboats and Mark Twain. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough, but there weren’t many references to Samuel Clemmons in the city.  I guess I’ll have to look harder the next time I’m in town.

That's the Mississippi, the Mighty Miss, the Old Miss, the Old Man....Deep River

On the way back to the hotel to pick up my things I stopped at a bodega to get a Powerball ticket and a stamp for the postcard I bought my niece.  I wished the owner good luck on our ticket and promised him a million dollars if I won.  As I was walking out I noticed a distinct lack of Wal-Greens in downtown St. Louis. Unlike Chicago where there is one on every block I don’t think I saw a single one the entire time I traipsed about the city. Also, they call their Panera’s “The Saint Louis Bread Company” which is cute.

Picking up my bags and dropping off my keys (and momentarily contemplating taking the $19.00 bottle of wine for the train ride home) I knew I had enough time to walk to the Schlafy Tap Room for some local beer and lunch before heading to the train station.

If I was to do it again I would have stayed in the hotel and then called a cab instead.  It wasn’t the 30 minute walk, but more so the neighborhood I walked through. Not the type you’d take your wife through at night.  Of course, I didn’t really plan my time out that well and I ended up having to eat the burger way too fast (burgers on English muffins are my second favorite burgers after pretzel buns) and couldn’t enjoy a second beer.  To the gift shop for a T-shirt and back through the shady neighborhood to the train station just in time to line up and get on the 304 heading north to Chicago.

Not a bad 24 hours.  I could and will definitely come back for some more exploring. It sounds like the Arch should be open some time in the spring so maybe The Duchess and I will head down for a summer or fall visit this year.

Oh and check arena number 12 off of the list.


1 comment:

Wilson said...

It's fun to read an out-of-towner's take on my town, thanks for writing this.

As for the power play dance, that started several years ago with just a few very persistent frequent fans. I distinctly remember going with a friend who had season tickets, who was able to point to the section that was going to do the dance before it happened, and we both kind of rolled our eyes at the 4-5 people doing it. Eventually more and more people started doing it, and it became an odd tradition. Now, of course, they can't ever change the power play intro, the fans wouldn't have it.

The towel guy's been there since my very first game 20+ years ago, I have no idea how much longer than that he's been at it.