Missouri Loves Company: Day Four: The Only Way to Get Away

Most days in St. Louis started off with me spreading out the various maps I had on the spare bed and figuring out if it would be possible to get to places I wanted to go through some combination of bus, train, and foot. Then, I'd pick the area that seemed easiest and go from there.

So, on Friday morning, after saying a bittersweet farewell to Meredith Vieira on "The View," I set out for the Little Italy section of St. Louis, which is called The Hill. This journey was going to require my first bus trip of the vacation, so I made sure to check where I should catch the appropriate bus by asking the woman at the Transportation Center downtown. She informed me that the bus route had changed a bit, so it seemed I made the right decision by checking.

Until a half-hour later when I was sweating my ass off in the midday 90-degree heat, waiting for a bus that didn't look to be coming any time soon.

I decided then to abandon what the helpful woman told me and go to where I originally thought the bus would be leaving from. The bus came five minutes later.

Never ask for help.

I told the driver I wanted to go to The Hill, and he didn't seem to have any idea where that was. Sweet. But after about ten minutes on the bus, he turned back to me and said, "So, let me ask you this: where is this Hilton?"

"No, no. The Hill. Like the Little Italy section."

"Ohhhhhhh. The Hill. Yeah, we go there."

This would be the first of two communication breakdowns we had. The other came as we drove up past Soulard (where I planned on going the next day). He was giving me a little audio tour of the various neighborhoods we were passing, as I had told him it was my first time in St. Louis. In between reminding me that the people of St. Louis aren't as mean as the people in New York and New Jersey and telling me about the time he bought some fake Rolexes in NYC and made a good profit back in St. Louis, he would point out things of interest and suggest places I could eat in The Hill.

So, as we went through Soulard, he began talking about the kinds of people that lived in the neighborhood

"Over here on the left, that's where a lot of the gangs are."

"Oh really?"

"Yeah, all up around there."

"They're nice people, though. Real nice people."

I was confused. The gangs were nice? Well, that's refreshing.

"Yeah, you know, I like them. They're good people."

Now I was really confused. As I was about to ask him if the gangs were a real big problem, I heard him say something that ended with "...but, you know, I'd like a female wife."

That's when it hit me. Gays. That's what he was saying. My confusion subsided and was replaced with relief that I hadn't asked him if gays were a real big problem. I also tried to remember if I initially said, "That's too bad" when he brought up the "gangs/gays." I hope I didn't. If so, please accept my apology, gay people of St. Louis.


Anyway, after going by a few restaurants recommended by the bus driver, I told him to let me off at the next stop, which was right around Elizabeth Street, where Yankee catcher Yogi Berra and Cardinals catcher/Game of the Week broadcaster Joe Garagiola grew up. I wonder how Joe Garagiola feels knowing that he is neither the greatest baseball player nor even the greatest catcher to grow up on his block. I wonder if I'm the best blogger to grow up on Goodwin Avenue. I hope so. I would hate to be second.

I wound up having lunch at Ragazzi's, famous for their Frozen Fishbowl, a 32-oz. fishbowl-shaped glass of your alcoholic beverage of choice (I know, an odd choice for someone who doesn't drink...but it was neat to look at others' drinks). I picked well with the appetizer—celery root chips—but made the grievous mistake of trying their pizza because I had read that it was good. It was definitely not, unless you like cheese with the appearance and consistency of plastic. But the celery root chips made up for it. As did the cookies I bought at a bakery afterward. Mmmmm.

I walked around The Hill for a bit, snapping the picture above of The Immigrants statue, which was outside St. Ambrose's Church. I also peeked into the bocce club and checked out Berra Park, which, oddly enough, isn't even named after Yogi. Garagiola Park was nowhere to be found.


I suppose here is as good a time as any to share that my time in St. Louis coincided with the national convention of the Red Hat Society, marking my second run-in with the group of gals in a month. The Red Hat Society, for those not up on all things elderly (sorry, ladies), is a group of women over 50 who celebrate their vivacity by wearing red hats and purple clothing everywhere they go. Everywhere. Checking in at the hotel? You better be in red and purple. Going to church? Represent with the colors. Standing in the lobby waiting for the group bus? Of course, you've gotta be wearing the appropriate attire. It seems like a good idea, but I imagine it gets tiresome after awhile. And I wonder what happens if you don't show up in the proper regalia. Beatings? They say the RHS is an organization without rules, but this section on the FAQ would make me nervous:

Q. Are there any rules?
A. The spirit of the Red Hat Society forbids rules, per se. There are, however, some common-sense guidelines that we must insist upon:

You must be a woman of 50 or over (or you may be a Pink Hatter under 50), and you must attend functions in full regalia, (red hat, purple outfit for women 50 and over, or pink hat and lavender outfit for women under 50)....Ladies are strongly encouraged to follow these color guidelines, and to NOT wear purple/red until they have reached THE BIRTHDAY.

I think it's the ALL CAPS words that make me nervous.

Anyway, I was going to take a picture with some of the ladies in the hotel lobby, but I lost my nerve. However, I made out with one of them in the elevator and this was the aftermath:

I kid. Seriously. I'm kidding. I swear.

And now for something completely different...

Pardon me for this brief excursion into being one of those blogs. You know, the ones where the writer shares personal information. I try not to do that too much. But I felt it was going to be necessary as soon as the Bottle Rockets launched into "Sunday Sports" at Night 3 of Twangfest.

Night 3, like Night 2, started off with two bands (in this case, the Sovines and Kevin Gordon) that were fine but not spectacular. But it was really the Bottle Rockets' night anyway, as it was the (sold out) CD Release Party for their new disc, "Zoysia." They started the show (which was attended by the middle-finger-thrusting chap from Night 1, who was only slightly more subdued) by playing the new CD from start to finishÂ?a ballsy move, but they're a ballsy band so it works. Or at least it worked for me. Then as the last notes of the CD's title track echoed throughout the room, they headed back to the dressing room for a few minutes before quickly returning with new setlists. The next dozen or so songs were a mix of covers and choice Bottle Rockets cuts, all capped off with a righteous, life-affirming charge through what is probably my favorite Bottle Rockets song, the aforementioned "Sunday Sports."

"Sunday Sports"—from the best Bottle Rockets disc, "The Brooklyn Side"—was one of the songs that was in heavy rotation during junior and senior years of college. I had a solid lineup of songs I would use to get revved up for the day of journalism nonsense that awaited me, a selection that also included the Old 97's "Timebomb," the New Duncan Imperials' cover of "Travelin' Band," and Todd Snider's "Late Last Night." So hearing "Sunday Sports" reminded me a lot about college, that glorious time when hope shone through, all my friends were within walking distance, and things were just generally pretty damn good, girl troubles aside. (And, for the record, I think "The Brooklyn Side" was the first CD that journalist/cab driver/TaR commenter Bryan Chambala realized that we shared in common. Actually, I believe he had the cassette, which makes him cooler, I suppose.)

But "Sunday Sports" also reminds me of my dad, and the weekends spent watching TV in the living room with him. I know I've written about this before, but those Saturdays (and, in my mind, "Saturday" wasn't used in the song for sheer reasons of the extra syllable) watching the PBA tour on ABC with my dad (and WWF wrestling before and NWA wrestling after) will forever mean more to me than just about anything else in the world. And "Sunday Sports," in a little over four minutes, not only brings those memories back, but also pinpoints the essence of being a working dad. You pack as much work as you can into five days, just so you can get those two days with no responsibilities, no cares other than whether Mike Aulby's gonna be able to beat Earl Anthony. You love your wife, you love your kids, but when it's your time to relax, you just want your Sunday sports and nothing else. So when I hear "Sunday Sports," I think of those afternoons with my dad and I think about the sacrifices he made to give me the life I have, and, well, I get a little emotional.

And so, with the previous day's visit to the Bowling Hall of Fame and Sunday's early flight home to visit my dad's grave on the anniversary of his death both in my head, I stood at the lip of the Blueberry Hill stage and screamed along as loud as I could:

You know the kids gotta keep it low
Better not miss nothing on the bowling show
Holds his breath as the ball goes wide,
Aint nothin' beats a strike from the Brooklyn side

Watching Sunday sports in his boxer shorts
Forget the wife and kids and selling auto parts
Sunday sports in his boxer shorts
His only way to get away from everything else.

I should note that, to his eternal credit, my dad didn't watch TV in his boxer shorts, nor did he sell auto parts. But that's neither here nor there (Look! It's over there!). When I screamed those lines (and, man, did I scream them), I was thinking of all those afternoons with my dad and how he would inch up to edge of the sofa when a guy started off a game with eight or nine strikes in a row, or when Hulk Hogan or Dusty Rhodes or whomever came running out of the dressing room to save one of their buddies from a prescripted beating. The kid never left my dad. And if nothing else happens in my life, I hope the kid never leaves me, either.


Partly because I wanted to leave on the emotional high of "Sunday Sports" and partly because I wanted to save on cab fare, I made the tough decision to head for the last train of the night (and the dozens of cockroaches that roam the section of Delmar Boulevard near the train station after hours) while the encore started with a cover of Bob Dylan's "Trust Yourself." It was a tough decision made easier by the fact that I'd be seeing the Bottle Rockets two more times when I got home, as well as just thinking that "Sunday Sports" was the only proper way to end the night. So I cut out for the train, thinking of my dad, eternal youth, and the power of the song.

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