I've been to St. Louis, too

The trip to St. Louis should have been the centerpiece of the vacation. We were supposed to see Chuck Berry do his monthly show at Blueberry Hill. In fact, that was the whole reason for putting together the trip in the first place. Once the date for the May show was posted in January and we realized that we could see Chuck and take in a few ballgames, the plans for the Trip of a Lifetime were made.

Then, last month, when it was too late/too expensive to change our plans, we noticed the 5/12 show wasn't on the Blueberry Hill schedule. Hmmm. Interesting. I initially wrote it off to just not having room on the webpage to list the show. Then, after a few hours of trying to convince myself that this was indeed the case and that we had nothing to worry about (after all, the date was still listed on the Chuck Berry website), I admitted defeat on that front and decided to give Blueberry Hill a ring.

I was kind of hoping for "Yessir, May 12. Definitely happening." Instead, I got, "Well, it should be. He plays here every month." It reminded me of the time I told my landlord in college, "Hey, the washing machine's broken," and he responded, "Well, that shouldn't be." Hard to argue with that logic. And, so, it was hard to argue with the fact that, yes, Chuck Berry should be playing in May, because he plays there every month.

Unfortunately, it became harder to argue for the May 12 show happening when I found word online that Chuck had shows scheduled in Brazil on the week of May 12. And then found a website selling tickets for a Chuck show in Brazil on May 12. Soon, the Blueberry Hill site got around to listing the Chuck show...for May 19, the following Wednesday.

Well, that shouldn't be.

Kudos to the Chuck Berry organization for keeping Chuck's tour dates a mystery. Very helpful.

But, hey, at least I'd get to go to St. Louis, a city I'd already been to and wasn't really anxious to revisit, to see the Cardinals play at Busch Stadium, which I'd already been to, to see them play the Astros, one of the worst teams in baseball.

Fittingly, the skies looked ominous when we got to St. Louis, which was also about 20 degrees hotter than Chicago. We checked the weather reports and saw that they were calling for bad storms for Thursday, when we'd planned to see a day game at Busch. So, since the forecast for Wednesday night was slightly more optimistic, we decided to hit the Wednesday night game lest we spend 12 hours on a train to sit in a hotel room and possibly go to a diner.

So, after dinner at the nearby Schlafly Tap Room, site of the legendary--for me--Avett Brothers/Yayhoos/Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings show at Twangfest, and also the site of one of my fave celeb photos, with Robbie "Cousin Oliver" Rist. Dinner was really good (pretzel appetizer, followed by one of the better turkey burgers I've eaten), and we burned off (some of) the calories by walking to the stadium. All was going well...until the Toothache From Hell returned. Hard.

Once we got to the stadium, I realized I would be needing some sort of painkiller pretty quickly. So, desperately swishing cold water in my mouth to numb the pain, I scurried back downtown to a Schnucks, where I grabbed several varieties of pills, downed two Excedrins, and then sat for a few minutes in front of a Pinocchio statue massaging my face while hoping that I didn't throw up from the bottle of water I'd downed on top of the big meal I ate.

Luckily, there was no vomiting, not much significant crying, and only a dull pain as I headed into Busch, where I quickly got on line to get autographs from former Cardinals John Costello and Ken Reitz. I had only vague recollections of either, but figured what the hey. I was seeing a mustachioed Ken Reitz on a Fleer baseball card in my mind's eye when I saw his name, and when I got on line and saw that he had a mustache, I silently commended my memory. The Internet confirms my memory of this card, which I definitely had at one point in my life.

Anyway, I got my ticket stub signed and was safely in my seat for the first pitch.

The guy next to us was having a ridiculously loud and seemingly interminable conversation on his cell phone, so we went roaming around the stadium for awhile. We arrived too late to get a picture with Fredbird, so we continued on to the batting cage, where we considered if it was worth the five bucks and potential embarrassment to take a turn at the 65 MPH pitches in the cage. After watching a 10-year-old take a few hacks, we figured we oughta. It didn't go particularly well for me. I made contact three times out of 11 (while being heckled), but none of the three were very inspiring. My fellow traveler fared better, but I don't think Coach will be putting us in anytime soon.

The game was fine, but not terribly exciting. After going down 9-1, the Cards started to claw back, but the crowd didn't seem particularly enthused, save for this large-bellied gentleman:

The Cards put a run on the board in the bottom of the ninth but could do no more. They lost 9-6, and we headed off in search of a blues bar a few blocks away from the stadium. There are two--BB's and Beale on Broadway--across the street from each other, and since there was music going on in BB's, we went there first and stayed for a decent set from the Rockin' Jake Blues Band. Regrettably, though, it was a blues band without any black guys, which is rarely a good thing. So we went across the street to see Roland Johnson and Soul Endeavor, who were doing all covers, but doing them pretty well (and playing outdoors, which was another point in their favor). "Try A Little Tenderness" and "Ball of Confusion" were particularly strong, and the occasionally risque between-song patter was top-notch.


The next morning, we got on the bus and headed through the bowels of St. Louis to arrive at the Goody Goody Diner, which I'd discovered on one of my many pre-vacation Web searches. There's nothing like a good, old-school diner, even if you've gotta take a 30-minute bus ride through parts of St. Louis that don't look particularly great to get there.

The special at the Goody Goody is their "Legs and Eggs"--frog legs and eggs, that is. But, since (a) I don't like eggs and (b) I've seen "The Muppet Movie" enough to know that I will never eat frog legs, thank you very much, Doc Hopper, I went with a buttermilk biscuit, a waffle, and hash browns (which I'd call home fries--and I'd also call the Goody Goody's some of the best I've ever had).

After finishing off breakfast and buying the requisite diner souvenirs (a hat for me, a shirt for my fellow traveler), we headed back to Union Station to hop on the Metro Link to the Delmar Loop, where we would walk by Blueberry Hill and shake our heads in disgust before going to Vintage Vinyl and buying some records.

The prize find (other than the football-shaped record and another Pete Seeger Folkways record with liner notes) came from the $1 bin. My eye is attracted to odd covers when I'm flipping through records, so when I saw an album with an American flag background, the Statue of Liberty, and a family photo with a guy wearing red pants, I was intrigued and thought, "Ooh, evangelist record." Sure enough, it was. Then, I looked at the names of the family members in the pictures. And that's when I knew I'd be adding the record to the pile.

Yep, the youngest member of the Cox clan is young Gaye Cox.

I know I'm not supposed to find that funny at the age of 33, but, guess what? I do.

And the Vintage Vinyl trip took a little of the sting out of Chuck's rescheduling. But not enough that we couldn't step on his star on the way out.

Adios, St. Louis. I'm not sure I'll ever see you again, but we had some good times.

When we got back a little after 11, we were quite hungry. Since we were too hungry to go exploring Chicago (and, well, because I was determined to eat there), we decided to hit the Billy Goat for the proper Billy Goat Experience. Unfortunately, we arrived during what I assume is the nightly Cleaning o' the Kitchen, so we had to wait until that was done before we could order any food.

But we made it. And as I dug into my overstuffed roast beef sandwich (no, I didn't get a cheezborger, or cheeps, or a Coke for that matter) and my fellow traveler was berated by a Billy Goat employee for putting ketchup on his hot dog (which I personally think is gross but is apparently akin to statutory rape in Chicago), it was time to look forward to the next day's adventures in Chicago: a big breakfast, a proper nine innings at Wrigley, and one, maybe two concerts.

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