I took a bus from Memphis to St. Louis. The bus traveled through Arkansas between Memphis and Missouri. Arkansas … is flat, and has lots of agricultural fields. I was surprised by how many anti-abortion billboards there are in Arkansas and Missouri – for example “Abortion: A Baby Can Live without It.” I also saw a billboard for something which I am 90% sure is a pregnancy crisis center (as in, the kind where they tell pregnant people lies to manipulate them into not seeking abortions).
I remember, shortly before I began this trip, I saw a comment on the internet along the lines of this “When I visited St. Louis, I was amazing by the layers of suburbs, starting with new ones, then going to old ones, and then when I got into the city, it looked like a city in collapse.” Of course, I believe absolutely everything I read on the internet, so I was curious what it would look like to me. Did I see boarded up buildings in St. Louis (the city, not the county)? Yes. I also saw plenty of buildings which look like they have new windows. Granted, I did not get to see too much of the city, but what I did see did not look apocalyptic. On the contrary, I thought the vast number of century-old brick buildings was beautiful
Anyway, I journeyed thousands of miles across the United States just so I could meet someone in St. Louis. Well, not quite. I could not justify going all the way to St. Louis just to visit someone, but it was the starting point for my travel itinerary, and I figured I could justify visiting her if I also did a lot of tourism along the way.
Because of the personal nature of this visit, I’m going to keep a lot of details private. However, I will say that my host actually lives in an exurb in St. Charles County. The Missouri River divides St. Charles County from St. Louis County, which itself is separate from St. Louis City. Until very recently, St. Charles County was all farmland, and there are still a lot of small farms around, however, there are also many new housing developments.
Anyone who paid attention to the news in late 2014 knows that Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, and that this sparked massive protests in Ferguson, a town in St. Louis County. If you want to know how St. Charles County fits into the politics of police officers shooting young men in the St. Louis metropolitan area, I suggest reading “St. Louis and the Geography of Fear”.
My host, of course, picked me up at the train/bus station in downtown St. Louis. As she was driving me out of the city, she explained to me the various rings of suburbs of St. Louis going west. She says that the city is really poor, mainly because it is full of poor black people who can’t help being poor (note: I am not claiming that this is accurate, just that this is what she told me). The first ring, she says, is where a lot of teachers and nurses and people like that live. The second ring is full of rich people with old money. The third ring has a lot of churches, hospitals, and financial and/or law firms. The fourth ring has lots of malls and shopping centers near the highways, and houses a little further from the highways. She also told me about some tech companies located in the fourth ring. The fifth ring, according to her, is St. Charles County.
The house is right next to a conservation area, and the forest extends up to the back porch. Because it was winter, the trees were barren, and I could see all the way to the ridge where the next set of houses are. I even saw a deer from the window of the guest room.
My host loves living next to the forest, but says of her neighbors “they are all such gun-toting Republicans it is not even possible to talk to them” (in case anybody is wondering, my host was a Clinton supporter). She does, however, talk to at least one of her neighbors, and I met him too. I’ll call him ‘J’. J grew up in ‘South County’ i.e. the souther portion of St. Louis County. He says that St. Charles County has changed a great deal, and he likes it, because it used to just be full of ‘cow towns’ and now it has some respect. He also told me that, though he is not sure of other parts of the United States, that St. Louis society is full of ‘lines’ (note: he never defended the ‘lines’ – in fact, I suspect he wishes the ‘lines’ were not so sharp defined – he merely described them). People stick with people like themselves and in their own areas – white people stay in their place, black people stay in their place, gays and lesbians stay in their place, people of various religions stay in their place, etc. When I mentioned that the Missouri Botanical Garden offers a discount to residents of St. Louis County, but that wouldn’t include my host who lives in St. Charles County, J said ‘that’s one of those lines. The Missouri River is an important line.”
A few year’s ago, my host’s son lived in ‘The Grove’ which I gather is some gentrified neighborhood in St. Louis. J said that ‘The Grove’ is nice now, but that ten years ago, her son would not have wanted to live in ‘The Grove’.
My host generously brought me to the Missouri Botanical Garden, which is supposed to be one of the best botanical gardens in the world. But it’s winter, and plants tend to die back in winter in Missouri! However, they had a special winter show of LED lights in the evening called ‘Garden Glow’. We both thought it was very well done.
On the last day, when I had to return to the train station in St. Louis, my host brought me to the St. Louis Arch. The tram was not open, but I still got to walk around it. I also visited the Old Courthouse, which is most famous for being where Dred Scott had his first two trials, which eventually brought him to the Supreme Court (for those who are not familiar with American history, the Dred Scott decision was one of the events which spurred the onset of the Civil War). I did not have enough time to go through all of the exhibits thoroughly, but I found the exhibit about slavery in St. Louis interesting. St. Louis had a large free black population, which meant that slaves in St. Louis had a lot of contact with free blacks. There was also a large influx of Irish and German immigrants, which made labor so cheap that it became cheaper to hire people and pay wages than to buy and keep a slave.
As the train left St. Louis station, it stopped for a few minutes just before the bridge over the Mississippi River. It allowed me to get a good look at the Crunden-Martin buildings, an obviously abandoned factory. I was looking at Building #5, and thinking about how it looked like I could see the structural beams through the windows, and that it looked like the roof had collapsed (though I could not see the roof itself), and how odd it was I could see the interstate highway on the other side of the building through the windows. Therefore, while I was on the train (with wifi) I had to look it up – what I found was this, this, and this.
Because I was mainly visiting someone I knew, my experience in St. Louis / St. Charles was different from in other places I visited during this trip. Like every other stop, it had offered me another look at USA society.