Ol’ St. Lou


View at a Cardinals game, May 14.

A mere three readers said they wanted to hear more about my vacation, and I can’t blame the rest of you, so I’ll limit this to my blog. St. Louis, the nearest big city when I was growing up, has a certain mystique for me, but it’s not a city too many Californians would choose as a vacation destination.

As with any big city, there are interesting things to see and do, and St. Louis is old enough (founded 1764) that some of them are quite old. This visit, in fact, I visited Cahokia Mounds, an Indian site that is thousands of years old. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a village that at its heyday, around 1250 AD, had a population of roughly 20,000, comparable in size to London or Paris of that era. (The traffic must have been terrible.) It’s also got the largest manmade earthen mound north of Mexico.

Other activities this time were more modern, at least relatively. Ted Drewes frozen custard (since 1930) and Carl’s Drive-In (since 1959) are reliably great. The Delmar Loop has been named one of America’s 10 Great Streets. And the Public Library, after a recent $70 million renovation, has been restored to its 1912 Beaux Arts glory while updated where appropriate. It may be more impressive than L.A.’s Central Library.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg that is St. Louis. Every visit I do a few new things and a few old favorites. Sometimes the new things become old favorites. There are plenty of intriguing-sounding places I still haven’t been despite numerous visits. For one, U.S. Grant’s home. Or places I want to return to, like Crown Candy Kitchen, where the 14-slice BLT has become nationally famous since my last visit; I go for the ice cream.

The moral is that you can go to almost any city of size, not just the obvious ones, and find beautiful, inspiring, tasty, fun things to do.

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Low-key battle of wills

A call came in to my desk Tuesday afternoon. The caller identified himself and said he’d recently stumbled across an old blog post of mine about “how to know you’ve lived here a long time.” I allowed as how I vaguely remembered it.

“Here is my question: Are you a person who is SERIOUSLY interested in local history?” the man said.

Something about his intensity put me off, I guess. We had a halting back-and-forth about whether he’s ever read my work (he repeated that he had merely stumbled across my blog post and immediately picked up the phone to call), how he had once set linotype for the Progress Bulletin, how he didn’t like to waste his time.

“Are you a person who is SERIOUSLY interested in local history?” he repeated briskly. “It’s a yes or no question.”

Oh brother. He had a self-serious “do I have an age-old conspiracy for you!” air about him, perhaps a complaint worrying him for decades like a pebble in his shoe, and the odds that whatever he was selling I would buy were growing poorer by the second.

I told him I do from time to time write about local history, and to my mind, yes, I’m serious. Evidently this answer wasn’t sufficiently enthusiastic.

“You just missed out on a great story,” the man informed me with a mixture of pity, disappointment and triumph.

I sighed and said, “Whatever, man,” then hung up on him before he could hang up on me.

If it turns out he knew where all the bodies are buried, and it’s not Bellevue Cemetery, I guess I blew it.

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Back from vacation

What, you didn’t know I was gone? That was the point. I wrote three columns ahead and produced a few blog posts while away to fill the gap. Spent last week in ol’ St. Lou visiting the folks. Today I’ll be back at my desk in Ontario. What did I miss?

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Childhood mishaps

In Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” which is a journalistic exploration of where our food comes from, he mentions being an accident-prone individual. He says, parenthetically, that “childhood mishaps included getting bitten in the cheek by a seagull and breaking my nose falling out of bed.”

Ha ha! But we can all sympathize, right? I never had either of those things happen, and in fact made it through childhood without breaking any bones, but three accidents quickly came to mind.

I once poked my head between two bars in a wrought iron stair railing and couldn’t dislodge myself for a few scary minutes.

Attempting to carve a soapbox derby car from a block of wood with a pocketknife, I cut my hand because I was carving toward myself, not away. (The project, only a few shavings in, was abandoned.)

And when a moving van was in our driveway, I walked into the edge of the loading platform while bouncing a basketball and cut my face about an inch above my eye. I still have a scar, but it could’ve been a lot worse. Yikes!

Your turn. What physical mishaps, the more absurd the better, occurred to you in childhood?

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Back at work

Had a relaxing week off, a mix of errands, trips to L.A., friends, entertainment and chores. Highlights included a stair walk in Malibu and lunch afterward, dinner at the Ethiopian restaurant Meals by Genet in L.A., lunch at the Nickel Diner in downtown L.A., triumphing at Scrabble against a friend whom I hadn’t played in years, receiving a whopping $270 in trade credit at Amoeba Music (which, if I use it sparingly, may mean I’ll shop free the rest of this year) and reading one super-slim book each day: 10 days, 10 books.

Sunday, by the way, marked my 16th anniversary at the Daily Bulletin. Huzzah!

Now I’m back at work, readying for an Upland council meeting tonight. Although I’d kinda like another week off — especially with the forecast predicting warmer, drier weather this week than last — I’m also glad to be back at it.

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Humor, heart

The other day on my Facebook page, reader John Bredehoft happened to ask if any of my billboards were still up, and I had to break it to him that those came down probably a decade ago. A couple of days later, out of the blue, a friend sent me a photo of that billboard which she’d found on the Internet while, she said, doing a Google image search for “clouds.” Huh.

The “Humor and Heart” slogan (dig the court jester!) jointly promoted my column and another’s, who wrote more heart-warming stuff.

I hadn’t seen that billboard in years and, in fact, didn’t have a photo of it, at least not handy. What I did have was one of me in front of it, taken by my then-colleague Tom Zasadzinski, whose name, even years later, I can spell from memory. (You’ll notice that I put the wrong hand on my chin. Either that, or I had the wrong hand on my chin in the billboard.)

Here are both photos for posterity. The billboard was up circa 1999 and maybe for a year or two beyond, on Central Avenue at the Montclair-Chino border, and maybe somewhere else too. Of course I took a lot of ribbing about it at the time, and also very recently when friends weighed in on the photo. As one commented: “Wait. Which one has the humor?”

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Forgetting is also easy

I made a point of going to a Fresh & Easy on Tuesday night because I had a coupon to save $10 if I spent $50. It’s not easy for me to spend $50 at a grocery store but I boosted my total with a $12 detergent, even though I won’t need more for a month. When the time came to pay, I scanned various other coupons I had, saving $4.

It was only as I was leaving that I remembered my $10 coupon. D’oh. I spent $50 for nothing!

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