Saturday, September 1, 2012

2 years

"Give it two years."  That was what a friend said to me when we moved to St. Louis.  "You can't really expect to feel at home any place until you've been there for two years."

Our two year anniversary of living in St. Louis came and went (quite unceremoniously) near the end of August, and I didn't feel a flash of brilliance, a sudden sense of belonging after two years of being an outsider in a city with which I can't quite reconcile myself.

The way I feel about St. Louis is kind of like how I imagine it would be to have a weird uncle you don't really like.  Maybe this person annoys or bothers you, but he's family, so anybody who's not related to you and dares make a derogatory remark about him is going to have hell to pay.

I complain about St. Louis all the time, but I'll be damned if anybody else talks down about it.  The crime rate, the dilapidated appearance of the downtown buildings as you whiz by on I-64, the crime rate, and did I mention the crime rate?

Well, there was only one shooting on my running route last week, and nobody was injured, so that's something I guess.

Aside from all the crime, people here are uncommonly nice.  Freakishly nice.  Even in places where you don't expect people to be nice, such as the benefits department at work, the post office, and the driver's bureau.  When we first moved here, I had the feeling that it was just the people I worked with who were nice, but then I found that this niceness extended to the entire university, and even beyond that, to what appears to be the entire community.  I've never encountered that anywhere else in the world, but I've always imagined it's how Wisconsin would be.

I'm suspicious of this niceness, though, because I suspect that beneath it all, the person at the grocery store or library or auto repair shop who is exchanging seemingly genuine "Hellos" and "How are yous" might legitimately be the kind of nut job who would vote for this nut job.

And beyond that, the niceness completely breaks down once anybody gets behind the wheel of a car in this city.  I follow the local news on Twitter and every day, I swear, there are at least 8 fatalities on the interstate just because road rage, privilege, and the "mine is bigger" mentality takes over when people are attempting to merge or change lanes.

Don't get me wrong, all the road idiocy is hardly confined to the city's over-used interstate system.  At the corner of Delmar and Skinker, I have seen, on no less than two occasions, someone make a RIGHT turn from the LEFT turn lane, on a RED light, while talking on a cell phone.  

I have never, ever felt so unsafe walking anywhere since living in St. Louis, and I'm not talking about the fear of getting shot or robbed.  I am honest-go-god scared to be a pedestrian in this city.  Green lights and walk signals are meaningless.  Cars barrel right through them.  In fact, I came the closest I've ever come to getting hit by a car just last weekend at mile 3 of my 14-mile run, when an SUV didn't think it necessary to stop or even slow as I crossed the intersection (on a green light!).  When I am driving and I do yield to pedestrians, the driver behind me generally honks and makes wild gesticulations.  I assume profanity is involved as well.  At least it is on my part.

Yet St. Louis is a haven compared to the areas beyond--that is, rural Missouri.  The people are probably really nice there too, but I don't feel welcome as a vegan, feminist, environmentalist person who supports LGBT rights.  While we were driving to a state park recently to take a family camping trip, I felt nauseated at the sheer amount of political signage proclaiming that our current president is a Muslim (he's not) and urging passers by to reject the idea of health care for all.  Last fall, a couple of grad students even reported to me that they passed through an actual clan gathering (and by clan I mean clan with a k) while on their way to the Ozarks.


Of course, it isn't all bad, and I'm even getting a little mad at myself for being so negative in this post.  St. Louis seems to be a place of great opportunity, of great potential.  There are genuinely many times that I'm excited to live in a big city (yes, I consider St. Louis to be big), because there are a lot of things to do here (even if they are way too over-crowded and there is never any parking available).  Forest Park has got a lot of free museums (the Science Center, the Missouri History Museum, the Art Museum) where I can take Will, and honestly, I often think about how he would never have had so many of these amazing experiences if we'd stayed in Urbana.  While I miss Strawberry Fields and the Co-Op, here I've got Whole Foods and a produce delivery guy who is also a stand-up comedian.  St. Louis is also a thrift store shopper's paradise, ranging from "upscale" places like the Scholar Shop, to the Goodwill Outlet, where you can buy items (clothing, shoes, used candles, broken lampshades, picture frames, and boxes of expired cake mix) for 79 cents a pound.

Plus, St. Louis seems to be on the Indigo Girls' tour circuit, so it's got that going for it.

I don't know what the future holds.  Sometimes I dream about moving to Eugene, Oregon, or going back to Nicaragua and living up on the volcano with the hippies who are into permaculture.  But I also feel like I've barely scratched the surface of what St. Louis has to offer.  I really don't get out much, what with the full time job, the toddler who still takes a 4 hour nap in the afternoon, and the ultra marathon training schedule.  I know I would miss this place if we ever left.  I guess all I can do is give it more time.

Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

let's ALLLLLLLLLLLL move to some where FAR far AWAY from all this STUPID bickering and name calling, that WE call OUR GOVERNMENT!!! we'll start OUR own family gathering....... maybe it's TIME 'to rethink' the future !!! Heaven help us all if the PAUL RYANS and THE AKINS of the WORLD start RUNNING THE SHOW!!! Let those WHO HAVE THE SAME MENTALITY , bask in the SLIME of it all!!! do beeeeeeeee very careful in your CRIME INFESTED CITY as you dash about. and WATCH out for the IDIOTS in their MONGO SUV's, WHO can't DRIVE AND USE HAND SIGNS at the same time!! it makes my heart race just thinking about it!! thoughts are with you.. hugs to all!!luv mama