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Another story of eminent domain gone wrong

Eminent domain is supposed to be used for the greater good, such as when a building is falling down and endangering people but the owner refuses to take care of the problem, or when a road is needed and there’s no choice but to take out buildings that stand in the way.

It’s not supposed to be used to bulldoze an auto repair business to make room for an art gallery.St. Louis is rife with stories about homes and small businesses being bulldozed to make way for Lowes and other big-box stores. Never mind the Missouri Constitution prohibits seizure of private land for private use. In St. Louis and its suburbs, we never let laws stand in the way of progress.

Republicans love it because they love big business, and Democrats love it because they see tax dollars. It’s ridiculous. People came to the United States from Europe because you couldn’t buy land unless you already had land and money. Now, unless you have a certain amount of land and money, it’s getting to be difficult to hold on to what you have (and don’t expect to get a fair price for it either).

Now we have a former mayor, Vincent Schoemel, deciding that the city needs an arts district, and Jim Day’s independent garage, which has stood there for 20 years, making a profit, paying taxes, and serving its neighbors, stands in the way. A year and a half ago he was offered $125,000 to sell out. He declined. That’s a generous offer for the land but it’s not enough to allow him to relocate his business.

Two months later, he received a counter-offer, which is still on the table: $67,500, which is nearly $13,000 less than the city says his land is worth.

Sometimes Schoemel only offers $1.

When the mafia does things like this, it’s called extortion. But when Schoemel does this, it’s called progress. That’s funny. I don’t see any difference.

Let’s give Schoemel a dollar to slither back under a rock and stay there.

When in St. Louis, don’t miss the City Museum

So, not wanting to celebrate the Anheuser-Busch-mandated holiday of New Year’s Eve but not wanting to sit around at home on a Friday night either, a good idea came up: Go to the City Museum.

It claims to be unlike any other museum you’ve ever seen. While that may be debatable, it does have something for everyone.It’s a very hands-on museum designed for exploration. The first level is almost like a catacombs, with secret passages and the like. Wear comfortable tennis shoes. You’ll need them.

The other two levels are a bit more museum-like but still hands-on. Each level has a large slide that goes down to the lobby. Yes, adults can fit in the slides too. I know because I went down each of them about three times.

You’ll find a level of art and artifacts and various activities. Included is a very large, elaborate, and critically acclaimed HO-scale model railroad that was built by St. Louisan Pete Fordyce in the 1950s. Fordyce was a frequent contributor to Model Railroader magazine and the layout is reasonably famous, as far as model railroads go. Anyone who ever built a plastic model kit as a child will be impressed with it; a model railroader could probably stand there for hours studying the techniques.

The top floor has a very large exhibit dedicated to architecture. The artifacts include doors, windows, cornices, and even entire storefronts. Most artifacts have signs telling where they came from and why the building was demolished–sadly, usually for something stupid and generic like a chain store or a gas station. There are exhibits about the histories of door hinges and doorknobs. How can hinges and knobs be interesting? They weren’t always the boring, bland mass-produced affairs you see at Home Depot today.

Outside, there are lots of things for kids (big and small) to climb on. I didn’t climb much; as much as I would have liked to climb up to that airplane and go inside it, climbing up three stories on semi-open girders to get there is more than my nerves can take. Judging from the number of people climbing on it, I’m in the minority and that’s a good thing.

I absolutely recommend it. At night when the admission is only $5, not only is it cheaper than going to the movies, but you’ll get some exercise and if you’re not careful you just might learn something. During the day it’s far less expensive than going to an amusement park.

Incoming link:

The quest for BBQ in St. Louis takes me to Smokin’ Al’s

I’ve written many times before about my never-ending search for BBQ in St. Louis. It’s a lot easier to find now than it was 10 years ago. And, although it’s still not up to Kansas City standards, I do have to say it’s getting better.

This weekend’s adventure took me to Smokin’ Al’s, which is on Hampton, just north of I-44 and south of U.S. 40, within earshot of Forest Park. It’s in the city, so be sure to pack your concealed weapons.

I’m kidding. That part of St. Louis is safe, and Smokin’ Al’s seems to be popular with the police anyway. But what’s it like?The first thing I noticed was the prices. They’re very reasonable–higher than McDonald’s but no higher than, say, Subway. My girlfriend got the BBQ hamburger with fries and a drink. Posted price was $4.99. I got the BBQ brisket sandwich with fries and drank my usual water (I don’t drink caffeine after noon). Posted price was $5.75, I think. Our total came to $11.99.

Like a true BBQ joint, Smokin’ Al’s has a napkin dispenser on the table. On a recent BBQ excursion, someone handed me a single napkin. I held it up and told whoever would listen that this was a perfect example of everything that’s wrong with BBQ in St. Louis. If you can clean up afterward with a single napkin, it wasn’t BBQ.

When the food arrived, it came with reason to hope that the napkin dispenser would be necessary. It had BBQ sauce on it! Amazing!

Like the classic Kansas City joints, the brisket sandwich was served on Texas Toast. The girl at the counter was much friendlier than the people at the counter at Gates or Arthur Bryant’s though. (They make rudeness an art form at those places. It’s part of the atmosphere.)

The quality of the meat was very commendable. It wasn’t dry or tough, and it was about as lean as you’ll ever find at a BBQ joint. You could tell from looking at it that it was cooked the way it’s supposed to be: long and slow. And there was a lot of it.

The sauce is their own homemade blend. It’s a bit different. It wasn’t quite as spicy as, say, Gates, but it wasn’t sweet. I doubt there’s a lot of honey or molasses in it. It also wasn’t tangy like a lot of BBQ sauces. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s pretty good, but it’s not much like anything I’ve had in other parts of the country. Maybe that’s what they mean when they say "St. Louis Style BBQ"–that’s what it says on the sign. And I know they don’t mean pork steaks, because those weren’t on the menu.

And yes, during the meal I went through about five napkins.

Best BBQ I’ve ever had? No. Best BBQ in St. Louis? Well, you’ve got me thinking, and I’ll grudgingly admit that the title of Best BBQ in St. Louis is no longer like the title of Tallest Building in Topeka. I might give a slight edge to Super Smokers, but Smokin’ Al’s is cheaper and the portions are a bit bigger. Best BBQ value in St. Louis? Absolutely.

So how’s it rank on the All-Time scale? It’s not quite in the same league as Gates, Arthur Bryant’s, or Smokestack, all in Kansas City. Second tier is Biffle’s in Concordia, Mo., Carson’s in Chicago, or Trotter’s, an old chain out of Springfield, Mo., which during its prime was as good as anyone’s but whose quality dropped off very quickly in the early ’90s. It disappeared soon after. But I remember it fondly.

I rank Super Smokers a notch below those two levels. I’ll put Smokin’ Al’s in that same category. But one must remember, both of these chains are mere rookies.

The quality of life in St. Louis just went up a notch. This Kansas Citian will be back. Especially seeing as it’s about a 10-minute drive from work, making it suitable lunchtime fare.

I can’t think of a higher compliment I could give.

Myths about the 1904 World’s Fair

The 1904 World’s Fair was the stuff of legends, especially in St. Louis. St. Louis has a bit of an inferiority complex, so the 1904 World’s Fair gives it a rare point of pride. But there are a number of myths surrounding the 1904 World’s Fair. Let’s look at three of them: the ice cream cone, hot dog, and hamburger.

According to legend, the ice cream cone, hot dog, and hamburger as we know it today were all invented at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. But in all three cases, there are earlier examples in history, though one can make a case that the 1904 World’s Fair helped popularize all three.

Read More »Myths about the 1904 World’s Fair

Quirks about St. Louis

I guess one thing I like about St. Louis is that it isn’t completely cookie-cutter yet–I can still go to a place called MacArthur’s for a better doughnut than a Krispy Kreme and a much better sandwich than Subway, or to The Concord Grill for a much better hamburger than Applebee’s or TGI Friday’s, or to Fortel’s for the best pizza, period–but St. Louisans themselves have some delightful quirks to make fun of.

You can tell I’m not a St. Louis native because I haven’t asked you what high school you went to yet. You might be 48 years old and the president of the company you work for, but for some reason that’s more important than your name and what you do for a living. Because, after all, St. Louisans measure the quality of their weekend by the number of former classmates they ran into.

When Dick Gephardt decided to run for president, I’m sure the first paragraph of the news story read, “Southwest High School graduate Dick Gephardt announced Tuesday his intention to run for president–of the United States–in 2004.” The second or third paragraph should mention he graduated in 1958. And somewhere buried in the middle of the story, there’d be a mention that he served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 26 years. The mention of minor details such as his political party was probably cut to make room for a bigger photo of Southwest High School.

And the only quote from Gephardt ought to talk about how he manages to keep in touch with his old classmates from Washington D.C. and where to get a good pork steak outside of St. Louis.

At least that’s how I would have run the story if I’d been the editor and wanted St. Louisans to read it.

And I never have figured out what you’re supposed to do with a pork steak. Put it in your baseball glove for extra padding? What a true St. Louisan does is throw the fat- and gristle-laden thing on a grill, dry, cook it until charred, then wave a little bit of Maull’s over it and call it real BBQ.

No wonder Kansas City is on the opposite side of the state. It’s trying to stay as far away from that vile dish as possible.

Sorry about that. I got rolling in an e-mail message this morning so I’m cheating and posting that. I’ll answer someone’s writing and publishing question later this weekend.

The St. Louis I never knew

Hey, I never said anything about not posting new content here, right? Friday night, Gatermann and I went out to the east side to do some shooting. It was overcast, so we didn’t snap many pictures–I think three between the two of us. We passed some half-demolished buildings with for sale signs in front of them. We passed an apartment complex that advertised cheap rent, and from the looks of the buildings, windows must have cost extra because the buildings sure didn’t have very many. The frightening thing was, there were signs of life in the complex.
We picked up our friend Jeanne (after heading back to south St. Louis–she doesn’t hang out much on the east side, as far as we can tell) and headed north to St. Louis Avenue, home of the Crown Candy Kitchen. Not every St. Louisan knows about the place, which is a shame. Their sandwiches are fabulous, but the real reason people go there is for an excuse to get a milkshake or something else made of ice cream.

Citysearch gave it a one-star review, but they’re smoking crack. The people who’ve actually been there gave it four out of four (and unanimously, I think). Crown was founded by two Greek immigrants in 1913, and they made all the candy and ice cream themselves. The place has stayed in the family ever since, and they continue to make their own candy and ice cream. Those huge multinational conglomerates ain’t got nothing on these guys. Comparing Crown to the ice cream you get in a grocery store or another restaurant is like comparing Schlitz beer to Boulevard.

Crown is across the street from what used to be a bustling commercial district, but there’s not much left in there now besides a hair salon and some social workers’ offices. Two or three of the buildings are condemned. Many of the others obviously were beautiful in their day, and it wouldn’t take much to make them beautiful again. Looking at it made me sad. It hurts to see wasted potential.

If your travels take you through St. Louis, Crown is absolutely worth a stop. It’s just a mile or two west of I-70.

I know the first words my dad will say to me after I die: “David, how come none of your lame St. Louis friends told you about that ice cream joint until eight years after I was gone?”

And he’ll have a point. Living in St. Louis for five years and never hearing about the place is a real shame. It’s 100 times worse than living in St. Louis for five years and never hearing about the Cardinals.

I shoulda stayed home and read a book!

The last few days have been nuts. I’ve been wrestling with tape drives, trying to get them to work on a brain-dead operating system from a company in Redmond whose project is headed up by a potty-mouthed ex-DEC employee. Its initials are N and T.
And, riddle me this, someone, please. On Unix, I just hook up the tape drive, then I type this:

tar -cf /dev/tape /home

Badda bing, badda boom, I got me a backup of all my user data, assuming the drive is good. One command, keyed in. One command that’s no harder to remember than the phone number of that pretty girl you met last week. (Or wish you met last week, whatever the case may be.) What’s hard about that?

In NT, you plug in the drive, you load device drivers, you load your backup software, it doesn’t recognize it, so you stop and start 47 services, then it finally recognizes the drive, and then you stumble around the backup software trying to figure out just how you tell it to make you a tape. By the time you figure all this out, in Unix, you’d have finished the backup.

Ugh. So, when I get home, I don’t want to have much of anything to do with these brain-dead machines infected with a virus written in Redmond. And the virus from Cupertino isn’t any better. I don’t have much appetite for my computers that run Linux either, because, well, it reminds me of the crap spewing out of Redmond and Cupertino. It’s kind of like a messy breakup, you know? You meet a girl who’s nothing like the last girl, but you don’t want to have anything to do with her because she’s female, breathes oxygen, and she’s carbon-based, so there’s the off chance she might remind you of that last disaster.

Hence the mail piling up in my inbox and the lack of updates for a couple of days.

So what have I been doing?

I’ve been reading books. I finished Dave Barry Turns 40 a couple of nights ago. It wasn’t as good as his later books, but it had a few howlers and part of a chapter that was actually sincere and serious and really made me think. It was about his mother after his dad died. They lived their lives together in this brick house he built himself, and after he died in 1984, she would write on her calendar, on April 24, “Dave died today, 1984. Come back Dave.” And on the day of their anniversary, she would write, “Married Dave, 1942. Best thing that ever happened to me.”

Finally, the house turned out to be too much for her to handle on her own, so she sold it and moved away.

And he went on for another page or two, talking about the last years of her life, trying to relate to her and failing miserably, as she wandered from place to place, living with relatives, never finding a place to call home, because what she really wanted was that brick house back with Dave Sr. in it.

As she died, she had that smile that all mothers have, that smile that tries to reassure her boy that everything’s going to be OK.

The story had a flashbulb effect on me. Partly because it came from Dave Barry, the guy who went on and on about cell phones, and how people who get cell phones have no escape at all, and sometimes they’re trapped in their cars for months, stuck on the phone, surviving on drive-thru food and peeing in the ashtray.

I can’t say I read very many things that jar me, but that short essay definitely did, especially the insight it gave on his parents’ relationship. How many people feel that way about the person they married 42 years ago? All too few, in this day and age. And since it came from the person I expected it from the least, it made it all the more jarring.

Since then, I’ve been reading White Palace. I understand it was made into a movie in the early 90s. It takes place in St. Louis. It’s a book about a relationship, and the relationship has absolutely zero substance. Sex sex sex sex sex sex sex. And more sex. (I wonder what that’s going to do to my Google rankings…) I really don’t want to like the book, especially after having my world rocked by a short essay that Dave Barry snuck into a comedy book and apologized about.

But I learned something.

The book has no plot. Guy meets girl in a bar. Guy and girl begin torrid affair. It’s a cheesy romance-novel plot. You find better plots laying outside on the sidewalk or in the parking lot.

The book does have compelling characters. The main character is 27 and his beloved wife died tragically when they were both 25. I’m 27 so I can relate to the guy on that level. And all of us have lost someone that we miss. And there’s a lot more about the guy too. I won’t give it all away. His (ahem) girlfriend has more substance than a plastic blow-up doll, although it would have been very easy not to give the character any substance. She’s in her early 40s, she drinks a lot, and she forgets to pay her bills. (At least she has priorities.) She works in a fast-food joint, and at at least one point in the book, she stops dead in her tracks, looks the character in the eye, and asks, “Why are you so good to me?”

Heart-wrenching line, that.

OK, so the book’s got good, well-developed characters. It also has a good setting. It takes place in St. Louis, and you can tell from the way he describes it all that he’s actually lived here. The main character lives in Kirkwood, and any St. Louisan instantly draws a mental picture. She lives in Dogtown, and any St. Louisan instantly draws a mental picture. He draws in places that St. Louisans are familiar with. He talks about Tony’s restaurant, and the book’s name comes from a fast-food joint that litters the St. Louis landscape (without infringing on a trademark). He even works in Concordia Seminary, and Cindy’s Motel. Any St. Louisan will instantly love the book because it describes home. I wonder how many St. Louisans utter aloud the words, “Where’d you go to high school?” while reading it.

He made St. Louis real, and he made it compelling.

Great characters, great setting… He didn’t need a plot.

And now I find myself itching to write fiction. I get that bug every couple of years. I wrote 100 pages’ worth of novel while I was in college. It was the opposite of White Palace. It had a good plot. Maybe even better than good, but I can’t be objective about my own work. But to the very few people I’ve described it to, it’s been riveting. But the characters were awful and so was the setting.

That manuscript is lost, as far as I know. Some version of it might be on my Amiga’s hard drive, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. No great loss. I intend some day to revisit that plot, plop it down in a compelling setting, and drop some compelling characters into it. There’s really only one question.

Have I lived enough yet to pull it off?

Who knows. Right now, who cares? I’m gonna go read some more. I think the UV from this monitor is getting to my head.

Sexual Harassment training

Warning: This entry is rated PG-13. No animals were harmed in the making of this post. And all other standard disclaimers apply.
On Saturday, before the hammer fell, I was out chasing trains and airplanes in a train. Gatermann hadn’t ridden Metrolink (St. Louis’ light-rail system) on the East Side yet, so we went off sightseeing. Anyone from St. Louis will know the connotations the East Side has, but those weren’t the kinds of sights we were after. We were looking for modern ruins, not scantily-clad women. And we found some modern ruins, including an abandoned Drive-In Theater that must have been at least 30 years past its prime.

We took another friend along, female. I won’t say her name because she gets mad when I write about her.

We were on the train, with me sitting at a window seat, she in the window seat behind me, and Gatermann in the window seat across the aisle from her. Suddenly she tapped me on the shoulder. “Dave, help me.” I looked back at her. She was breathing OK, and as far as I could tell there wasn’t anything physically wrong with her. She beckoned behind her. I saw a guy sitting in a seat behind her, but he was looking the other direction and seemed to be minding his own business, reading (or pretending to read) a newspaper. I asked her what she needed. She beckoned in the direction of that same guy, whose face remained buried in that paper. Seeing the bewildered look on my face, Gatermann started wondering what was up, so he came over and sat next to her. She didn’t say anything. The train pulled to a stop, and the guy she’d been beckoning towards stood up and exited, giving us a quick sideways glance before heading off on his way.

Once the train started moving, she mouthed the words, “Is he gone?”

I said yes. She started to talk.

“That guy,” she said, pointing at the seat he’d been sitting in, “He motioned towards me, then he said, ‘Hi.’ Then he mouthed the words, ‘I want to lick you.'”

Gatermann and I started snickering, because, well, this guy wasn’t even close to being in her league, but besides that, the nerve of the guy! I’m the kind of guy who has trouble walking up to a girl I don’t know even if she’s acting extremely interested, and Gatermann makes me look like an extrovert, and here’s this skuzbucket saying that kind of stuff to a girl when he doesn’t even know her name?

That kind of stuff happens to her a lot, and she asked why. It’s pretty simple. There are a lot of creeps out there looking for girls who’ll take them up on those offers, and if 99 out of 100 girls say no, he’s still happy because of the one who didn’t. Maybe he’s even happy if only 1 out of 1,000 girls say yes. By the time he was off the train he’d written her off. It’s no knock on her. He probably literally does say that to all the girls–at least all the girls he sees who aren’t wearing a ring on their left ringfinger.

What made it really ironic was that she’d been griping all morning about having to go to sexual harrassment training last week, and Gatermann and I had been amusing ourselves by looking for signs or other things she wouldn’t be able to say at work.

But I think that creepy guy came up with the most blatant violation.

And now I know why no girls I know want to ride Metrolink alone.

St. Louis secrets

St. Louis secrets. I have no idea how many of you live in St. Louis or travel to St. Louis or have ever been here. I’m a St. Louis transplant, being a native of Kansas City. Toasted ravioli was odd. I learned to like it pretty quickly (for the unitiated, it’s ravioli that’s been battered and then deep-fried. In these health-conscious days, sometimes you can get it baked instead.)
St. Louis-style pizza, on the other hand… I tolerated it. But real pizza was from New York or Chicago. To get good pizza in St. Louis, you had to go to one of the places that specialized in one of the foreign styles. When I was in college, to get a decent pizza, my dad and I would go to Shakespeare’s, a little hole in the wall (well, now it’s a big hole in the wall) at 9th and Elm streets in Columbia, just on the edge of the MU campus. I remember once, my sophomore year, sitting there with my dad, and he looked off, whimsically in the distance. “I’m gonna miss this place.”

There wasn’t anything remotely like it in St. Louis. Ironically, their sausage and pepperoni was delivered fresh every day from St. Louis. St. Louis knows how to make this stuff–the Italian population here is huge, and the Italian restaurants in St. Louis are to die for–but Imo’s, the most famous place to get St. Louis-style pizza? Forget it. I’d rather stop at the grocery store and get a frozen pizza. Seriously. If you bake it on a baking stone, you’ll get a crisp crust that’s almost as thin, and bettter in every other way. The other big local chains are comparable.

So if you’re ever in St. Louis, skip Imo’s. Skip Cecil Whittaker’s and Elicia’s too. They’re better, but I have a hard time thinking they’re anything special.

I found out this weekend the place to go. It’s called Fortel’s Pizza Den. There are four or five locations, and they don’t advertise a whole lot. Gatermann and I paid it a visit at about 8:30 Saturday night. There were only a couple of emtpy tables when we got there, and when we left an hour later, people were still coming in about as fast as they were leaving. That tells you something. The toppings were extremely fresh, not to mention plentiful, and there was something special about the sauce. I’m not good enough at identifying spices to know what they did with it, but it’s absolutely a cut above anything the national chains like Domino’s and Papa John’s use. St. Louis knows how to make a red sauce, which you’ll know if you visit any of the Italian restaurants here. You wouldn’t know that from Imo’s or Cecil’s. You’ll know it from Fortel’s though.

So if you’re visiting a friend or relative in St. Louis and they want to show you Imo’s, show them Fortel’s instead.

I figured that to get a decent pizza joint in St. Louis, I’d have to open it myself. I’m glad I won’t have to do that now–the thought of owning a restaurant never really appealed to me. And now I don’t have to drive two hours to Shakespeare’s in Columbia to get a first-class pizza either.

Speaking of Italian restaurants, I recommend Zia’s on The Hill. There are pricier restaurants out there, but I’ve never found one that was better. Get a salad, and get their Italian dressing on it. Trust me, you’ll love it. Another hint: They sell it in grocery stores. You can stop at Schnucks or Dierbergs (the two biggest grocery chains here, both run by families who don’t know how to use apostrophes) and buy a case of it to take back with you. You’ll want to.

The Dierberg family is Lutheran. There are lots of Lutherans in St. Louis.

And if you want a goofy souvenir, stop in at Dirt Cheap Beer. There are dozens of convenient locations all around St. Louis. Pick up a six-pack of their house brand. It’ll set you back about $1.75. I won’t ruin your fun by describing the label on it. No, it’s not any classier than the word BEER in solid black block letters on a white can. But it’s a lot funnier. I’ve never been brave enough to drink any of it. One of my rules is to avoid all beer that costs less than Pepsi.

For frozen custard, there’s Ted Drewes on Chippewa. I think 3/4 of the appeal is the atmosphere and nostalgia. But it’s good. The place is always crowded, so I’m not the only one who likes it. Ted Drewes is Lutheran. He doesn’t know how to use apostrophes either. Maybe the Dierberg family taught him.

For the best deli sandwich in the world, there’s Amighetti’s on The Hill. For the second-best deli sandwich in the world, there’s Mom’s Deli on Chippewa. They’re both amazing. (I’m still mad about the Amighetti’s franchise in Crestwood, near where I work, closing. The sandwiches were to die for, and the girl who always worked the counter was really cute, too.) They know how to use apostrophes both places. Must be because they’re not Lutheran.

There’s another place I haven’t checked out yet, but I’ve been ordered to do so at some point. Up in north St. Louis, there’s a joint called Crown Candy. It’s a candy store (they make their own) with an authentic old-fashioned soda fountain. They serve food too, so you can get acceptable lunch fare on your pilgrimage. The milkshakes are supposed to be out of this world.

But if you want good barbecue in Missouri, you still have to go to Kansas City. And if you want good beer from Missouri, skip Anheuser-Busch’s products, which are as smooth as a gravel road. Get a Boulevard. That’s brewed in Kansas City, of course. (You can take Dave out of Kansas City, but you’ll never take the Kansas City out of Dave.)

Memorial Day in St. Louis

I made a big mistake at work yesterday. I let someone be unreasonable and ruin my day. No, I don’t want to talk about it. I’d rather go back to a happier time… like Monday.
On Monday, Gatermann and I went out shooting. He’s experimenting with high-contrast b&w photography and I wanted some harsh and stark pictures of myself in an urban setting, so we went driving around in the warehouse district. We found a great source of used car parts–drive around the right places, and you’ll find tires, hubs, car batteries, mufflers, and even gas tanks just sitting there, and no one complains if you take them. I even found a couple of tires mounted on hubs. They must make them in some of those old buildings or something.

But that wasn’t what we were looking for. We were looking for good shots. Well, we found a building that they’re tearing down, and one corner that’s still standing has a really big word painted on it, descending down the building: “Fresh.” Gatermann said he’d be coming back when more of the building was gone to get a shot of that. And Gatermann got a shot of a modern train running past the old, abandoned, St. Louis Southwestern Railroad (aka The Cotton Belt Route) freight depot on the riverfront.

And we found some neat-looking doorways for me to stand in while he took some shots.

We drove around some more, and Gatermann said he knew of a really neat-looking trestle nearby, so we went there. It’s been years since the trestle’s been used, but someone still mows under it. We got a few shots, then Gatermann looked over to the left. Next to a building, there were a few coal hoppers just sitting there. “Let’s get a shot of you standing between those two cars,” he said. I walked over there, then Gatermann said, “No, let’s go to the other side. With where the sun is, we’ll get backlighting there.” So we walked to the last car, stepped over a rope that was blocking our way and totally ignored the sign on the rope, and then one of us noticed a sign on the door of the building: Danger. Radioactive. Keep out. I looked at the signs on the fence next to the building: Radioactive contamination. Keep out. Gatermann and I looked at each other. “Maybe it’s not a good idea for us to be here.”

We stepped back over the rope and read the sign: Radiological buffer zone.

I looked at Gatermann. “Well, that was probably the smartest thing we’ll do all day.”

As we drove off, I noticed some more signs on that fence: Guard dog on duty. Guard dog? Isn’t radiation that’s bad for us bad for dogs too?

Chances are one of the sets of signs was lying. Maybe both of them. But that just didn’t seem to be the place to be that afternoon.

We weren’t the only ones to think that. Apparently some people think the thing to do in St. Louis on Memorial Day is to go find a warehouse, preferably with a loading dock that you can use like a porch, pack up the lawnchairs and the grill, and barbecue there with your family or a bunch of your buddies. You’ll have to ask Gatermann why that is, because I’m not a St. Louis native. I just live here. I don’t even like pork steaks.

But no one was BBQing at the House of Radioactivity. I guess no one wanted to know whether the barbecue would cook faster there. Or maybe they just didn’t want to share with the dog.