Summer in St. Louis, or The Glamourless Midwest

Written August 2014

So it would seem. I mean, if you want to ask an 18-year Chicago-area resident what she thinks of St. Louis after three months of living there as a summer transplant…

As two major Midwest metropolitan areas, the comparisons between St. Louis and Chicago are inevitable. The truth is that St. Louis is a better city than Chicago, if only by logic -- the cost of living is cheaper overall; the job market is flourishing, particularly for young hires; traffic means sitting in your car for an extra five to ten minutes; parking is never more than $5 a day unless you’re at a Cardinals game; from parks to bars, alcohol culture is relaxed across the board; food trucks are welcome and abundant; and the city is making valiant efforts to modernize the area with its CityArchRiver project and ArchGrants initiative. But like any other, St. Louis is its own city -- by no means a perfect one, but a good one, and soon to be one of the best.
There are peculiarities -- of how a common question is where you went to high school, how one street can take you from a prosperous neighborhood to a questionable one in just a few hundred feet, and how it truly takes 20 minutes to get to any place from just about anywhere. It was only fitting, then, to spend the summer with my car, a love-hate possession but seasonal necessity that spewed freedom across the suburbs and around the city, caused multiple maintenance jobs and parking fees, and in the end -- I think -- made me an overall better driver. I suppose there’s no choice going from completely flat roads on perpendicular gridlines to those rolling river hills of Missouri. Those hills led me to about 50 food establishments, all major tourist sites, multiple summer traditions, a trip to Kansas City with a stop in Hermann on the way back, and a full-time internship that was an unbelievably worthwhile journey of its own. I wish I could be an intern forever, if not just to see a different city each year.
Among those experiences, I lived in the most luxurious apartment complex; dealt with hair frizz for probably the first time in my life thanks to the insane (yet unusually infrequent) amount of humidity; and went to my first baseball game where I began to understand the appeal. I discovered that the best places to get coffee are Blueprint, Kayak’s, and Sump, and the best places to eat are Half & Half, Seoul Taco, and Pappy’s Smokehouse -- I conditioned my body to expect the highest quality BBQ weekly. If you’re touring the city for a weekend, must-visits are Ted Drewes on Chippewa Street and the City Museum. I failed at sufficient photographic documentation, but a friend did confess that St. Louis is the new addition to her travel to-do list.
While it may not be as natural, initially, to romanticize St. Louis the way I would romanticize a city like Chicago or London, the point is that every place has its own food and traditions, its own peculiarities, its own advantages and disadvantages of living...and after a few cities, they all seem to blend together. I’m always one to try to pinpoint a city’s identity based on history and current culture, but what truly makes a place is the people -- the company kept while there. My unbreakable independence agrees that I’ve been lucky to explore a handful of cities on my own, but I can tell you that who to see matters just as much as what to eat, where to go, and what to do. St. Louis is, ultimately, an understated city not because of the comparative size of its population, its underestimated cultural prominence, or its geographic location, but because of its continual evolution alongside the consistent humility and kindness of its residents. And without my fellow interns, co-workers, and occasional friends and family visiting from out of town, St. Louis would have been the dull city I was expecting it to be in the beginning -- especially with a suburb that translates to “Broken Heart”, in a state that sounds like the word “misery”, which is situated even further into the American Midwest than I would have ever willed to go.
Regardless of location, and as tired as I am of moving so frequently, two or more months in any one place is always enough to make me restless.


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