The Wild Kingdom

[For those not old enough to understand the relevance of the title: When I grew up, there was this program called Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and its longtime host was Marlin Perkins, who was the director of the St. Louis Zoo]

Today, we went to visit the St. Louis Zoo. This is a 55 acre zoological park. Some exhibits are oldish (if you consider the 1970s old—I remember some from my 1987 visit); some are new housed in old (such as the herpetarium); and some are new. My impression: On the whole, I like Los Angeles Zoo better, but there are some exhibits in which St. Louis excels.

So what impressed me? First, I always love the 1904 Flight Cage. Although there weren’t as many birds as I remember, this is still a neat thing. Second, the St Louis Zoo has a new Penguin and Puffin Area, a 41° enclosure where you can get up close and personal with the penguins (really… like inches apart!). We were also impressed with the Insectarium, which provided loads of information about insects, quite a few specimens, and a great butterfly house. Of course, we saw lions, and tigers, and bears (I can hear you say “Oh My!”).

What didn’t impress me? First, there was the woman with a shrill whistle, who kept whistling at the big cats to get their attention. For once, I wished there wasn’t a fence. I couldn’t see that much of an improvement in the bear spaces, and I found the primate house to be somewhat poor. I like the newer primate stuff the LA Zoo is doing.

After the Zoo, we stopped by the Missouri History Museum to hit the bookstore, as gf_guruilla wanted to pick up a cookbook or two.

We then visited a St. Louis institution: Ted Drews, the home of Frozen Custard. We had some concretes (seemed like soft-serve to me), and then drove down MO 366, which appears to be part of former US 66, based on the motels.

After that, it was dinner then back to the hotel.

Tomorrow’s plans: gf_guruilla, S&F, and Linda are going to visit the Eugene Field Toy Museum and the St. Louis Art Museum, while I go to visit the Museum of Transportation in Kirkwood MO. This should be fun, as they have 27 diesel or other internal combustion locomotives, 10 electrics, one gas-turbine, 45 freight cars, 31 passenger train cars, plus street, interurban and rapid transit cars. I plan to wear my OERM shirt and bring my OERM membership card!

Update @ 9:04 PM: It appears the Museum of Transportation has an active Volunteer Group similar to the volunteers at OERM. Further, it appears they are there on Fridays running their trolleys. Wahoo! Us trolley fans are the same under the skin. I’ve already written their webmaster about including OERM in their list of links of museums with active trolley lines.


History in History

Today, we gave gf_guruilla a down day, and I took Small and Feisty to see some stuff in Forest Park.

We started out at the Missouri History Museum. There were lots of interesting exhibits. We didn’t explore the Louis and Clark exhibit (we saw a lot of that at the arch), but did explore the special exhibit on the 1904 Worlds Fair. I found this fascinating, as it has a Las Vegas quality to me. Imagine: A gigantic exposition built up over a year, and then almost completely obliterated. From what I read, the buildings were constructed of something called staff, which was a mixture of plaster of paris, water, and hemp, put over wood.

They also had an exhibit on Seeking St. Louis, which traces the growth of the city, its communities, its organizations, its history. This is something I’ve never seen in Los Angeles—in fact, I can’t think of a single museum dedicated to preserving and cataloging the history and development of the entire City of Los Angeles.

After the History museum, S&F and I went over to the Jewel Box, an art-deco structure with lots of plants. The structure was interesting; the plants less so.

This afternoon, the rain hit (good), and Small & Feisty decided to be feisty, and is now screaming and screaming for attention (screaming “Nobody loves me” and “Nobody cares”, jumping on the bed and the floor (we’re on the 2nd floor)) [bad]. I guess I didn’t walk her enough.

Tomorrow, they are predicting that it will be less hot and less humid, so we’re going to go to the St. Louis Zoo. If Small & Feisty continues behaving as she is now, we’ll see if we can leave her in the monkey cage (just kidding… I think).

[Followup: gf_guruilla just turned on Full House. Now she’s quiet and watching. I guess that program does have a socially redeeming purpose.]

P.S. to ixixlix: S&F has expressed withdrawal pangs from the Karate Kid. As I’ll be working from home Monday, perhaps we can arrange something.

[Update: I just realized I didn’t explain the title. The Missouri History Museum is housed in the Jefferson Memorial, which was presented to the City of St. Louis by the Exposition organizers shortly after the exposition. Thus, “History in History”.]


Louisiana is near Mexico, but not Nevada

Missouri, that is.

Today, we drove out to Hannibal MO. For the roadgeeks out there, we drove out I-70 to US 61, and took US 61 up to Hannibal, where we picked up MO 79. We drove MO 79 back to I-70 to complete the loop, passing through Louisiana MO. Yes, there is also a Mexico MO and a Nevada MO. No connection to California PA. US 61 is a four lane divided expressway, mostly through farmland (corn and soy). MO 79 is part of the Great River Road, mostly along the river, through farmland and woodland, and numerous small towns. Quite an interesting ride.

As for Hannibal: Color me less than impressed. A small shopping area, with a few neat stores. A batch of museums, all trying to treat fictional characters from Tom Sawyer as if they were real. There was one interesting optics museum, and we did find a real-life soda fountain. There was one interesting aspect to the Hannibal MO: John Kerry was coming there tomorrow (Wednesday), so we got to see the advance work by his supporters and the Secret Service. One never thinks about a candidate’s visit and its impact on the local town. Some merchants weren’t bothered. Others mused about sending him a bill. Given he was speaking at 6:00 PM, it looked like it wouldn’t impact things much.

Some more highway observations: As we got out of the St. Louis area, the reflectorized signs changed to older button copy that reminded me of Los Angeles. Second, the roads in Missouri are in great condition, and put Caltrans to shame. [Begin edit] Lastly, there are lots of supplemental roads, which have letters in square shields, and appear to connect state roads. You can find more information at St. Louis Highways or the The Missouri Highway Page. [End edit]

Tonight was domestic. We went out for Missouri BBQ with Linda (and the waitress was actually familiar with Bear Pit out in Mission Hills), and then went back to Linda’s house and did our laundry.

Tomorrow is the last day of hot and humid, with rain predicted. We’re thinking the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park, which has a display on the 1904 fair.


“Luck Be A Lady Tonight…”

Last night, we went to the Muny Opera to see the musical Guys and Dolls. For those unfamiliar with the Muny: it is a gigantic outdoor theatre in Forest Park—the closest Los Angeles analogue would be the Greek Theatre or Hollywood Bowl, except that the Muny is (a) locally run, and (b) presents only musicals. The theatre, which according to the program seats 11,000, presents six musicals each summer. The last time I was at the Muny was in 1987, when I saw Big River; I also seem to recall seeing Desert Song at the Muny with my parents, probably in 1979.

Last night was Guys and Dolls, which is gf_guruilla‘s absolutely favorite show. The production was supurb. Sky Masterson was played by Jeff McCarthy, who played Officer Lockstock in Urinetown in New York and Los Angeles (my review). Sarah Brown was played by Catherine Brunell, part of the original cast of Millie. Nathan was Bruce Adler, a Muny regular who was on Broadway in Crazy for You. Miss Adelaide was played by Stacy Logan, another Broadway veteran from Sweet Smell of Success and Crazy for You (she can be seen on the PBS version). From this, you should get the idea that the cast was top-notch. The performance was top-notch as well; all three of us were thoroughly entertained. About my only comment performance-wise was that I kept seeing Officer Lockstock in Jeff McCarthy’s performance (which made the musical even more funny). The performances were great, the orchestra was great, the sets were great, the sound and mic-ing was great (which is rare on an opening night)… even the parking was great (and free—find that in LA!). About the only flaw was the air conditioning system. Recall: this was outdoor in St Louis in summer: thus, the temperature hovered between 80° and 90° with 80% humidity. Schvitz-city—we were limp by the end of the overture. We got home around 12:00 AM and were asleep by 1:00 AM.

One other observation about St. Louis so far: The people in this city are the friendliest folks I have ever met. If it wasn’t for the weather, we could see ourselves living here.

OB Roadgeekiness: One thing we had to drive through yesterday was the interchange at Olive Street Road (yes, that’s its name) and I-270. This is a SPUI (Single-Point Urban Interchange, for the non-roadgeeks). It was my first time driving a SPUI, and although I can see the economy, I found it a bit disconcerting.

Today’s agenda is to go visit Hannibal MO, which is about a 2 hour drive north of here. This is the boyhood home of Mark Twain, about whom Small and Feisty will be studying next year. In the evening, we’ll get together with our friend Linda and do laundry.


Missouri Botanical Gardens

Today (so far) has been good, albeit hot (90+°) and humid.

We started out by visiting Penzy’s spices, a really nice spice shop. We picked up a whole batch of spices, which we’re having shipped back home. gf_guruilla‘s job, when we get home, is to toss our old spices.

After Penzy’s, we went over to the Missouri Botanical Gardens, where we met our friends the H’s (who volunteer there). After lunch of Chinese food (we introduced them to dim sum), we took a tour of the gardens. Hot, hot, hot… but beautiful.

Tonight, the theatre; tomorrow, Hannibal.


A Delightful Evening

Tonight, we had a delightful evening. We joined my cousin Les, his ladyfriend Jean, and our good friend Linda for dinner at the Westwood Country Club in Westwood, MO, a suburb of St. Louis. This was an beautiful, elegant evening filled with lovely discussion, wonderful food, and just … well, it was undescribable. Small and Feisty was Small and Well-Mannered, and a wonderful time was had by all.

A gracious thank you to our hosts, if you happen to read this.

Tomorrow, our plans are to go to the Missouri Botanical Gardens during the day; in the evening, we have tickets for The Muny in Forest Park, where we’ll be seeing Guys and Dolls.


A Shopping Day

Today we got together with my “cousin”* Linda. After brunch at what passes for a Jewish deli out here (I prefer Weilers or Brents, thank you), we went out shopping for shoes for my daughter. A whole afternoon of taking a 9yo, who is fashion conscious (and over tired) shoe shopping. She also got some clip-on earrings, which she alternatively likes or hates. She’s happy. As for me, a day shopping for womens shoes… nuff said.

Tonight should be fun: We’re going to Westwood Country Club, and I’m seeing my Cousin Les, who is one of the few living close relatives left on my mother’s side. I haven’t seen him (or Linda, for that matter), since 1987, so that aspect of today has been fun.

[Edit 8/2 6:33 AM] P.S.: Something I remembered later. We also visited a Jewish Bookstore called “The Source Unlimited” on Olive St. There, I learned that the artist Rick Recht, who we like quite a bit, is actually a St. Louis boy. Evidently, he’s the Artist in Residence at United Hebrew, the oldest Reform congregation West of the Mississippi. Alas, we’ll miss his next Shabbat Alive concert, as it will be in September. The other large Reform congregation out here is Congregation Shaare Emeth, where my great-aunt was quite active, IIRC.

* “Cousin”, in the sense that she is the daughter of my mother’s best friend, who was like an Aunt.


Berries, Beer, Bouncing… Bushed

Today has been a delighful day. First and foremost: No headache!

We started out the day at Starbucks. Now, normally we think Starbuck is “for when you absolutely must have that high caffeine fix…but use lots of cream and sugar to kill the taste”. Well, here in St. Louis, the normal brew is a light brew. gf_guruilla likes a dark brew, so we started at Starbucks. I got a strong iced tea, and felt much better.

Our next stop was the Soulard Farmers Market, a collection of produce, flower, and misc. vendors. The produce was delightful, yet I still couldn’t figure out why California produce in Missouri (Strawberries from Watsonville, for example) was cheaper than California produce in California! We did pick up some home-grown peaches and nectarines, and saw some stuff you normally don’t see in California stores (such as green tomatoes).

We had a delightful lunch at the Soulard Coffee Garden. I was able to enjoy one of my favorite soups (French Onion), and again we had great coffee and tea!

After Soulard, we went to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tour. This was good, but some of the things I remembered were gone, such as the wooden escalators in the Bevo building or the tapestries. Still, I did something I rarely do: I had about 1/2 cup of beer (an amber bock, which wasn’t half bad). Small & Feisty really enjoyed the clydesdales.

When we were at the coffee garden, we had recommended to us an excellent museum: the City Museum. This is housed in an old 4-story factory building, and is made of material recycled from other buildings torn down. It is a kids delight, with a magical forest to explore, a 5-story outdoor climing structure, art centers (we picked up two books on paper cutting), and much, much more. S&F had a wonderful time and loved the really large slides. She even got me to crawl through the tunnels with her. gf_guruilla enjoyed the paper cutting.

For dinner, we went to the Route 66 Brew House at the St. Louis Union Station. Excellent food. For those unfamiliar with Union Station, the architect took the former train station and converted it into a shopping mall and hotel. There’s still quite a bit of history there.

We ended the day by getting some ice cream at Maggie Moos in Ladue. Of course, this had the effect of winding up Small and Feisty, and we’re presently fighting to get her to bed. Win some, lose some.
P.S. @ 10:15 PM: We just got her to bed. Yeah!