News of the Cities, From West to East

Today’s lunchtime news chum brings together three articles related to specific cities. So let’s go through them, from the West to the East:

  • Los Angeles. Mention the name “Felix” to people of a certain age, and a little ditty comes to mind: “Felix the Cat / the Wonderful Wonderful Cat / Whenever He Gets In A Fix / He Reaches Into His Bag of Tricks”. As people in Los Angeles, and they will think of Felix Chevrolet, a car dealer near USC with a gigantic Felix-the-Cat sign. Well, that sign is in the news, because what what once used to be a lovely neon sign has been updated to be an LED sign, and people are complaining that it’s just not the same thing. They’ve started a petition to bring back the neon (petitions being all the rage). For me, what is more worrisome is the trend. Neon has a lovely glow about it. Just imagine if all the wonderful neon in Las Vegas were replaced by boxy boring lettering (oh, that happened) or LED lights stimulating neon. Would it be the same?
  • St. Louis. In the heart of St. Louis is a wonderful quirky museum called the City Museum. It is an adaptive reuse of an old shoe manufacturing facility, and the place is just wonderful. I visited it quite a few years ago and had a delightful time. The museum includes cranes, old bridges, a human-sized hamster wheel, vintage opera posters, a room of preserved insects, a bank vault, a fish tank full of turtles (and one very friendly 39-pound catfish), and at least one alien dressed like Elvis in a coffin—all accessible via stairs, elevator, tunnel, or slide. The museum also houses an aquarium and an old-fashioned shoelace-making facility. I mention this because Mental Floss has a wonderful article on the City Museum, covering 11 uniquely awesome things about the museum. These include a 10-story slide, a school bus perched on the edge of the roof that you can go into, a ferris wheel on the roof, the world’s largest (working) pencil… and largest underpants… well, you get the idea.
  • District of Columbia. Ah, the lovely District of Columbia…. our 51st… oh, right. It seems DC is up in arms with the Dept. of Defense, insisting that the DC flag be flown whenever other state flags are flown. The request grows out of a complaint from a DC couple upset that state flags were flown for each of the graduates at a Naval Station Great Lakes graduation ceremony, but not the home flag of their son. The state’s district’s non-voting delegate to congress is urging the Senate to accept a provision of a House-approved defense bill that would require that the flags of the District of Columbia and the territories be displayed by the armed forces whenever the flags of the 50 states are raised. As for the DOD, they have encouraged military departments to display the D.C. flag but left the final decision to discretion of commanders. M’self, I think we should solve the problem another way. We have loads of “states” wanting to leave the union (well, really, people therein, although many cities want to secede from their states and remain part of the US). So why don’t we turn the tables around and add DC and Puerto Rico as states? Let’s encourage the people that want to live here!

A Day in the Park

Today was a day to visit Forest Park, one of the great urban parks.

We started at the St. Louis Zoo. St. Louis has a great zoo, but today’s visit seemed sad—the animals just seemed not to be enjoying themselves. Of course, the fun part at the zoo is not watching the animals in cages but the people outside of the cages. Lots of schoolkids, moms with their families, and tourists. What I like about the St. Louis Zoo is the history. Seeing the 1904 bird cage. Seeing the 1922 bear enclosures. Seeing the 1930s-era animal houses. They did have a nice exhibit on the zoo’s history, which I enjoyed.

After the zoo, we walked up art hill to the St. Louis Art Museum. This was very nice. They have a very broad mix, from mummies to columbian art, american, european, … modern, classic … art deco and art noveau … and even armor. It was a very very enjoyable museum, and Erin had a lot of fun sharing what she learned in AP Art History.

Our last museum was the History Museum. We didn’t spend as much time there, but did get to see the exhibits on the 1904 centiennial (which I had seen before, but I enjoy); the Lindberg flight (which never mentioned his antisemitism), an exhibit on a middle school named after Lindberg that went from Jr. High to Middle School to Early Childhood Education to Elementary School… and back to a Middle School. There was also a good exhibit on St. Louis’ history. This led me to bemoan the fact that there is no good museum with the history of Los Angeles and Southern California. There are scattered special cases, but nothing that brings it all together into a single story. Hmm, just like the city itself.

In the evening, we went out with my dear friend Linda to United Hebrew, the oldest Reform congregation west of the Mississippi. After services, we went out to a French restaurant for dinner, followed by FroYo, and then sat and talked for a while. A delightful evening with a friend I don’t see often enough.

Tomorrow is packing for the return trip home. We may do some more exploring after that, but we need to be at Lambert around 2pm to start our journey back to Los Angeles. You probably won’t see a post tomorrow, unless I find free WiFi in the Denver airport.


Washington University

Today, my daughter fell in love.

Let me clarify. It wasn’t with a young man. It was with a university. Washington University in St. Louis to be specific.

Today we visited Wash U. Wash U is a medium-size university at the edge of Forest Park in St. Louis. The undergraduate population is about 6K, about half of which are in the college of arts and sciences. The program is very flexible, permitting a student to design their own concentrations to meet their unique needs. It is intellectually challenging, and has a wonderful compact campus with a beautiful residence hall complex. It has history, dating back to 1853, moving to the current campus shortly before the 1903 St. Louis exposition. It is an entirely non-smoking campus. We spoke to two undergraduates and one of the history professors, and they all spoke about how great Wash U was: both intellectually, socially, and personally. It is not a party school: the only partying is at the frats, which are off campus, in university-owned buildings. There are options for significant undergraduate research, internships in DC, and study abroad programs. The history program has significant breadth in US history and other history subjects, and there is a broad Poli Sci program. There are also opportunities for Erin to do lighting design on campus. [Alas, I don’t remember a lot of the details they told us, as I was fighting a bad headache much of the day]

Wash U also holds a special place for me. It is my mother’s alma-mater, and it is in a city with which I still have a family and friend connection. This means that if Erin chose to go to Wash U and got accepted, she would have family and extended family in town. That would make us feel better about her being far away; hopefully it would make her feel better as well.

What are the drawbacks to Wash U? Well, Erin is worried about acceptance, but I figure that shouldn’t be a problem. It is about as expensive at Tulane, so we would need reasonable financial assistance. I figure that we apply for all we can apply for, and if it is meant to be, we’ll get acceptance and appropriate support.

Dinner was with my cousin Les at Westwood Country Club in St. Louis. As always when we visit Westwood, it was a delightful meal. I always enjoy seeing Les and Jean; tonight was no exception.

Tomorrow is our last full day on this trip. We plan to explore Forest Park, one of the great city parks in the world (it’s larger than NY’s Central Park!). We’ll visit the St. Louis Zoo, the history museum, the art museum, and who knows what else! The evening will bring Shabbat services at UH and dinner with my dear friend Linda.


On The Road Again…

Today was our last driving day. We left Louisville about 9am, and drove across both Indiana and Illinois, stopping only briefly in Mt. Vernon IL to have Steak and Shake (I keep wanting to write that in Cleartype, as that is was Illinois loves to use).

Upon arriving in St. Louis, our first stop was Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, one of the best things in St. Louis and on Route 66! After that, we drove over to Washington University to see where we park on campus and get an idea of the look of campus. After that, it was over to the hotel.

Dinner was over in the Delmar Loop area, the “trendy” area of St. Louis near the Washington U campus. We ended up eating at Pi Restaurant, a wonderful pizza restaurant with gluten-free crusts (in fact, we got our dinner for only the tip, as they came out after 20 minutes and told us they screwed up cooking the order the first time, dropping one pizza and burning the other… and thus they comped our dinner… but the remake was wonderful). We also took some time driving around Ladue, Brentwood, Creve Cour, and U City, finding the TJs, Whole Foods, and all sorts of creature comforts.

Tomorrow is our formal visit to Wash U. We already have the tour scheduled, plus liberal arts day, meeting with two history undergraduates, as well as one of their American History professors. Dinner will be with my cousin Les at Westwood Country Club. Les is my closest relative on my mother’s side (his mother was my grandmother’s sister), and I always enjoy seeing him.

P.S.: We got out of Louisville just in time. An apparent tornado touched down at Churchill Downs this evening, about 3 miles from where our hotel was.


Leaving on a Jet Plane

Our bags are packed. We’re ready to go. We’ll see Linda just once more. Then it’s drop the car, off to Lambert, and then good bye.

Today, we fly home. This has been a good vacation: seeing family and friends I haven’t seen in 15+ years; rebuilding associations. Visiting a good city. Having fun together as a family. But I’m ready to go home (as for going to work, well…).

Many people have asked: Why St. Louis? In August? Are you crazy. The answer is simple. My mom’s family is here (only one left), and she grew up here. I wanted my daughter to meet this side and learn about where she comes from, as she’s the last of the line (my mom’s mom’s sister had one child, who had no children; my mom was an only child, as was I (effectively—my step-brother died when I was 10). We did this. But now, much as I love St. Louis, Los Angeles is home, and its time to come home.

In a little over 12 hours (as I write this), we’ll be seeing ellipticcurve, and will be home.


Butterfly, How I Love It When You Flutter By

[For those that don’t get the title reference: It refers to a song by the children’s group Parachute Express (real-media-clip)]

Today, we went to go see the Butterfly House in Faust Park. This is a special butterfly enclosure with tropical butterflies, some of them quite exquisite. Lots and lots of butterflies. Flapping pretties. This makes two butterfly houses this trip. We also got to see part of a wedding; they regularly do weddings there.

Lunch was with the H’s, who showed us the new “big box” strip in Chesterfield. Sad. We also saw the construction of lots and lots of row homes in the county, lot line to lot line. Sad to say, these are the advance signs of the demon, ummm, the “Los Angeles”-ification of St. Louis. The Borg are here already: not only is there a Microsoft office in St. Louis, but every mall we have seen has been borg-ified by Westfield.

The afternoon we spent walking the “loop” in University City, along Delmar, doing some shopping. As we were sick of restaurant food, we stopped by Wild Oats in Clayton, picked up heathy food, went to Linda’s house, and cooked dinner. Yay! Healthy food! Yum, yum. Peach chicken (using the last of the peaches from Soulard Market last week), fresh broccoli and carrots, and brown/wild rice, with blueberries and raspberries for dessert.

I’m not sure there will be a post tomorrow: We’re flying back to Los Angeles! We are so looking forward to coming home. St. Louis is a nice place to visit, but… we miss our friends.

I hope everyone has enjoyed this travelogue. I know it will prove useful when we go to assemble the photo albums.


A Legacy of Art

Today, gf_guruilla (GFG) and S&F went to the Eugene Field Doll Museum and the St. Louis Art Museum. I joined them at the end of their trip.

According to GFG and S&F, the Toy Museum was nothing to write home about. Essentially, it was the home of a Eugene Field, the “children’s poet”, and had a few bisque dolls, but nothing too spectacular.

As for the Art Museum: First, the building is spectacular, dating back to the 1904 Worlds Fair. The reports are that the pieces they have are spectactular, especially in the modern art arena, but there aren’t that many from each artist. In other words, there is breadth, not depth. They are also missing some fairly important artists (such as Picasso), although it wasn’t know if they are in the back collection. They evidently do have a good collection of fibre arts. I joined them to see the 1904 art exposition. Again, not much to write home about. For a city of the size of St. Louis, what they have is nice, but for us, we prefer LACMA.

We went to a combo Mongolian BBQ/Asian Buffer for dinner. Quite good.

Tomorrow is our last full day in St. Louis (sob). We’re planning to go out to Chesterfield to the Butterfly House run by the Botanical Society. After that, we’ll get together with the H’s for one last time. Sunday, we return to Los Angeles, where ellipticcurve is picking us up at the airport.


Museum of Transportation

gf_guruilla likes to go to quilt shops. Me… it’s train museums.

Today, I went out to the Museum of Transportation (whilst the rest of the family went to the Art Museum—I may join them later, as I got done early). The capsule summary: A very nice museum.

The Museum of Transportation (StLMoT) has both strengths and weaknesses compared to OERM.

Strengths: It has a much more extensive engine collection, including some giant ones I haven’t seen before, including some a Mikado unit, a gigantic snowblower (UP #90081), the Burlington “Silver Charger” (CB&Q RR #9908), and the Rock Island “Aerotrain” (which looks quite a bit like the Disneyland Viewliner, except on a real train scale). It has a nice automobile and bus collection, and a segment of a motel that used to be on US 66. It has wonderful interpretive displays: some of the best signage I’ve seen in any train museum. Every car is labeled with its history on a clearly readable sign. It has numerous walkthroughs (including a milk car and a car that once held Nitric Acid), and quite a few engines have their covers off and parts clearly labeled.

Weaknesses: None of the mainline cars are operated, unlike OERM, where we regularly operate diesel and steam. It has a much smaller trolley collection than OERM (at least that I could see), with only three cars operating. The cars that do operate are much more modern. The grounds appear to be smaller than OERM, even with the proposed expansion. The bookstore is oriented more towards children than the railfan. I don’t know how much of this is the difference between public county museum (StLMoT) vs. being a private, volunteer run museum (OERM).

Would I go back? C’mon, its a train museum. You really had to ask?