Monday, July 25, 2011

No, I am not dead.

So I am back in California, it is my first day back at work and I am not loving it.  Sorry for the death of the blog so early.  It was due to a combination of lack of pictures, lack of time, lack of Internet, and my computer having audible death rattles.

I will post some of the pictures I took soon, but it seems a bit ridiculous to tell the tale of my adventures now that I am settling back into the monotony.  The rest will have to be stories to share over a beer (unless I randomly get bored and feel like writing, in which case I may just pop on here again).

I would, however, like to thank all the marvelous people I met or already knew that hosted me.  You are all wonderful and there are so many that I cannot bring myself to list you all for fear of forgetting dozens. 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Touring St. Louis

So Sean took a shower and we headed out.  He gave me a tour of the city, showed me the arch, and we tried to go see the graffiti wall.  From what I hear, it is the longest stretch of continuous graffiti in the U.S. but sadly, there was no way we were going to see it.  The graffiti wall is also a flood wall.  Remember the apocalyptic storm?  It completely submerged the wall.  So, with that idea out of the question, we just started driving around.  It turns out that Sean knows a lot about the history of St. Louis.  He showed me a bunch of buildings left over from the 1904 World Fair that St. Louis hosted.  He also showed me the poor neighborhoods.

The bad neighborhoods are insane.  Apparently, the city got grants to build up the poorest neighborhoods of St. Louis, so the apartment building themselves are gorgeous, red brick buildings and they look like something you would pay a fortune for but it is all Section 8.  There are shooting constantly, and you simply do not go to those neighborhoods.  The other thing that I learned is that while the red brick buildings are beautiful, the occupants cannot afford air conditioning so the buildings turn into brick ovens.  Overwhelming numbers of people suffer and die from heat exhaustion because these beautiful red brick buildings are nothing more than giant ovens for the poor.

The next thing he showed me was the Cathedral Basilica that boasts the largest collection of mosaics in the world.  Here is some photos, though they don't even come close to doing it justice.

 Next he took me to the gallery of the owner of the City Museum.  He has a regular gallery space, and then a huge yard where he has live music and small parties.

After that tour we grabbed some chinese food with the best hot and sour soup i have ever tasted in my life.  We went back to his place, had a beer or two and played some old 90's arcade games on his Wii.  I am happy to say I finally beat two of my old favorites: Sunset Rider, and The Simpsons. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Okay, so now I can go to St. Louis.

Fast forward about 5 hours of drive time, and I was in St. Louis.  My wonderful combination road photographer, DJ, and navigator girlfriend is not with me in my travels from here on out so you wont be seeing as many pictures of the drive anymore.

I got to St. Louis, parked my rig, and immediately walked to St. Louis City Museum to meet up with my long lost friend Sean and was introduced to his wonderful girlfriend.  She went back to work, Sean gave me a brief summary of the museum and then turned me loose as he headed back to work as well.  The following mass of pictures is what I found:

 At the very top of this picture you can see a spiral slide, much like the one in the center but that one is not an actual slide.  The real slide is covered with a grate and about 4 stories high.

After lots of exploring, I went to try and find the caves again so I could go on the slide.  Innitially it had a 2 hour line,  and I was not about to wait around for that.  I go in the elevator, and took it to the 4th floor.  I thought this was where the caves were, but when the elevator doors parted, they revealed a combination thrift store and bar.  Yes, at the top of an artistic playground...and yes, I was surprised too.  I realized I made a mistake, so I hopped back on the elevator and took it to the 3rd floor.  I, yet again, was mistaken.  When the doors opened, I found myself in a a 200 person wedding party.  Here I am, smelly from being on the road for days, wearing a Black Flag t-shirt, and a pair of holy old jeans that desperately need to be washed (maybe thrown away by my families standards) and am surrounded by well dressed and perfumed rich people.  I decided that this is definitely not my scene, and retreated back to the elevator.  Screw it, lets check out that Thrift Bar.

I returned to the floor from which I recently retreated and order up a beer.  The bartender, whose name I later found out to be Sara, asked if she could see my camera.  We started chatting, asking me where I was from and such.  She ended up being a really nice girl and I ended up hanging out there and having a couple beers for quite a while.  She wrote me out a detailed list for both St. Louis and Louisville (her home town in Kentucky) of places to see, places to eat, etc.  After an hour or two, I got a text from Sean saying he was off work and we should hang out.  He had invited me earlier in the day to go see Clue on the big screen for a midnight showing at some historic theater in downtown St. Louis.  I said goodbye to my new friend Sara and told her to give me a call if she ever found herself in Sacramento and needed a couch to crash on.

I went over to Sean's place, but by the time they were ready to go see Clue, I realized there was no way I was going to make it.  I was just way too tired from the previous evenings lack of sleep.  So, I bid them farewell, and retreated for some badly needed sleep.  At least I thought.

I started to settle down in my van, and go through my routine.  One thing I forgot to mention is when I suffered through the storm in Kansas I completely forgot to roll my windows up.  Slipped my  mind entirely so I awoke to a flooded passenger side, and cup holders full of water.  Luckily all my electronics were secured.  But it was hot now, so no way it was going to rain.

As I was settling in for the night, I noticed there was a hell of a lot of activity around me.  Across the street was a suspicious car parked in the exit of a parking lot, completely blacked out.  It was right across the street so I kept an eye on it.  Then I heard something so I peeked through the front curtain separating the cab from the back, and saw an elderly couple pointing nervously in my direction as they walked up their porch.  From their angle the car I had been keeping an eye on was in line with my van, so I figured they were talking about them and not me.  As I write this I realize how ridiculously paranoid I sound.  However, my paranoia happened to be well justified.  Five minutes later a cop car comes hauling ass around the corner with its high beams aimed at my rear window.  Meanwhile, that car I had been watching?  As soon as the cop flew past them they casually pulled away, whistling and twiddling their thumbs all the way I suspect.  Meanwhile, I have no idea if I am screwed or not.  There are parts of the U.S. where sleeping in your car can result in you spending a night in jail as well as getting slapped with a hefty fine.  One of the cops walks up to the rear windows and shines in a 2 foot I waved.  He told me to step out of the car.  I told him to hold on a moment, I just needed to throw some pants on (shit, this was looking bad).  I pulled on my jeans and opened one of the side doors.  It was a younger cop and an old guy that looked like he just plain refused to retire.  I pictured a real life recreation of the Lethal Weapon scene when Murtaw was supposed to retire.  On his last day, his family bursts in on him with a cake while he is bathing, and he tells them he cant do it.  This is exactly what I pictured...only this dude looked alarmingly similar to my Grandpa John instead of Danny Glover.  But I digress.  Anyways, the officers tell me that they are responding to a call from the neighbors about possible drug activity.  I couldnt help but chuckle a little bit.  I told them I had nothing of the sort, the most dangerous thing I had in my van was a bottle of Jamison's.  John, I mean the the older officer barked "What the hell are you doing scaring the neighbors?!" 
"I am sorry officer, that was certainly not my intention.  I am just settling down for the night to try and get a little bit of sleep.  My friends live in the apartment complex on the corner."
"Dont you apologize to me sonny, apologize to them!" 
"Well, I think at this point they would probably prefer me not to wake them at midnight to apologize."

The younger officer was very nice, asked the usual questions, and poked fun at his older counterpart for freaking out even though he owns an RV and travels as well.  The retiree was poking around the one open door and trying to see through the window, looking for something I was doing wrong.  Knowing I had nothing to hide, and being too tired to care about exercising my rights, I opened the second side door to his visible and audible surprise and said "Go ahead and take a look around Sir.  Like I said, I was just turning in for the night here if that isn't a problem."
"You have a good  night son, and good luck fishing." (he noticed my two fishing poles strapped to the side.

I wont deny that I was surprised at how well that had gone.  Now that they were gone, I settled down again.  No less that ten minutes later, it started to rain.  Then pour.  Then it turned in the great floods and I wondered if Noah had thought that the torrential downpour sounded like the B.C. equivalent of somebody dropping bombs and laying heavy machine gun fire into his boat.  Because that is exactly what it sounded like inside my van.  It was absolutely deafening.  By the time the massive electrical storm began, I was starting to get worried.  Again, being a California boy, I didn't know what to make of this.  I was half expecting to hear a tornado siren, but I sincerely don't think I could have heard it from inside my van.  I was in tornado country, during tornado season, and this was the worst storm I had seen yet by far.  I sent a text to Sara from the City Museum bar and asked if I should be concerned, and she said absofinglutely.  There were flash flood warning everywhere.  I turned on the radio, and they were telling a dozen areas to evacuate, and if they could not do so safely that they should remain in their homes and await rescue crews.  Being from out of town, I had no idea where these areas were.  Sara insisted that I come and crash in the spare bedroom of the house she was watching while the owners were away on vacation.  Being moderately freaked out by everything I was hearing, knowing that Sean would not be home until 3am (I found out the next day that the storm trapped them in a Walgreens, and they didn't even go to the movie), and due to the fact that there was no way I would be able to sleep in my van with how loud it was I graciously accepted.

I drove over to her place, and she had the guest bed all made for me and she offered up the shower.  I slept like a baby that night, and am still blown away by midwest hospitality.  Thank you again Sara, still amazed you were such a wonderful hostess.  Especially since I was a complete stranger.

Woke up early in the morning, had some tea with Sara, and then headed to Sean's while Sara headed to work.  After relaxing for a while Sean gave me the grand tour of St. Louis, which I will go into later and post all the pictures.