Crash The Lou, an event I had been looking forward to for a long time, had finally arrived. Stephen and Kevin came to Madison from St. Louis back in July for our couch crash, and they really talked up St. Louis. They did a good job, too: eight people from Madison drove to The Lou for a weekend of fun festivities. Several of us stayed with Stephen and his roommates Aileen and Brion in their spacious town home. They were amazing hosts and put together one helluva crash.
After a quick bite to eat at Food Truck Friday in Tower Grove Park, we headed to the Balloon Glow in Forest Park. A hot air balloon race was happening the next day, and the tradition is to gather all of the balloons together and light them at dusk. The park is huge and thousands of people came to see the colorful display. A sort of VIP barrier prevented us from getting really close, but it was still nice to see, and I got to meet some of the other surfers.
The highlight of Friday night was the City Museum. If you ever get to St. Louis, you have to check this place out. Rather than being a museum in the traditional sense, this is a twelve story building that has been turned into a massive playground for adults and kids alike. I spent hours slithering through the caves, climbing up to the airplane fuselages outside, and even scaling a bell-shaped set of monkey bars on the roof.
As I was waiting in line for the ten-story spiral slide, I leaned against the rail, which was waist-high. I looked over the side, expecting to see the ground just below me, but there was about a one hundred foot drop-off into the abyss. I jumped back, heart pounding, and wondered how they avoided getting sued. Turns out they don't. In fact, they get sued all the time, mostly from people looking to make an easy buck. Please don't do this unless you actually get hurt and it's not your own damned fault! The museum is so much fun, I'd hate to see it close. Also, careful of which railings you lean against.
On Saturday morning I took an architectural tour of downtown St. Louis with a knowledgeable and energetic guide named Doug. He had tons of wacky facts at his disposal, like how the basilica has writing in four languages, the arch is as wide as it is tall, and how just about every big project the city has ever done cost the same amount ($15 million). We also walked through St. Louis' version of Wall Street, which included several old banks that had been converted into hotels. One of them had an angled floor so the tellers could roll coins underneath the lobby and into the money bin for safekeeping. I think the strangest building we saw was built with sixteen corner offices on each floor so practically everyone working there could feel special (and pay more rent).
After lunching on St. Louis' signature thin-crust pizza at Imo's, we headed back to Forest Park to see the hot air balloons. We couldn't stay long enough to see the start of the race, but somehow we got around the VIP barrier and were able to walk right up to them. Even more impressive than the glow from the previous night was feeling the flames as the balloon operators pumped in the hot air. I almost had to jump back it got so hot at times. You could tell these people really enjoyed their jobs.
Next on the agenda was a tour of the local Schlafly microbrewery. Our guide explained the four primary ingredients that go into beer (malted barley, hops, water, and yeast) and showed us how they created their beers, but after a short time he said “You guys just wanna drink beer, don't you?” Uh huh, yes we did. We got a sampling of four of their beers, my favorite of which was the milk stout.
The Friday night party was possibly the best event all weekend. There was a Rubik's Cube theme, meaning that you show up wearing the six colors of a Rubik's Cube and swap with other people until you're only wearing one color. I left my camera – and incriminating evidence – at home, but suffice it to say it was a lot of fun.
Finally, on Sunday we had a potluck lunch at a local coffee shop/bar in a really interesting neighborhood. I got caught up with friends old and new while indulging in many a culinary delight. At one point, a percussion band walked past the shop and somehow ended up coming inside for an impromptu performance. Awesome!
I'm really grateful to the couch crash's organizers (especially Stephen) for showing us a large part of the city they love. St. Louis has a bad reputation for its high crime rate, but I saw several neighborhoods being revitalized, and it still had the edginess I love in a city. It would be fun to go back and spend a few days walking around and photographing the interesting neighborhoods someday.