Breakfast is included in my room rate but as usual with breakfast timings it always ends too early, especially if you want a lie-in – which I do after a long drive the day before – but I didn’t have an option as I wanted the food I’d paid for! So I go down to the lobby about 15 minutes before service ends and it’s a madhouse. There’s some convention group staying in the hotel and the queue for food snakes all round the room, there’s no spaces at any tables to sit down and when I walk up and down seeing what food is on offer it doesn’t look that good anyway. Everyone’s queuing up for the hot food which is the usual American breakfast fare of eggs, crispy bacon, hash browns, pancakes, waffles and maple syrup all piled up on the same plate, so I decide to just have a bowl of cereal which means I avoid the line. So I get my nasty polystyrene bowl and plastic spoon – no china crockery or metal cutlery in this quality establishment – and fill it with some sugary crap and milk. There’s still nowhere to sit so I end up standing against a wall eating my cereal. I grab a muffin and coffee and luckily a table comes free so at least I can sit down to eat that before heading out for the day.
“All over St Louis” *
St Louis is famous for many things but the Gateway Arch dominates the skyline. As I walk into the centre of town I catch glimpses of it in the distance and it gradually gets closer and closer. And it’s more than 30 minutes walk from the hotel into downtown but at least it’s another glorious day, clear blues skies, sunny and warm, and I enjoy the (long) walk.
I’d decided last night to do a city bus tour again to see the sights and to get to the tour start point I end up walking quite close to the Arch. It really is quite stunning but I know I’ll get even closer later as one of the other leaflets was about the trip you can take up it.
The bus tour is very good and interesting, taking us all over the place: the city is a lot bigger than I realised and, as I noticed on the walk down Market Street towards the Mississippi, there is lots of good architecture around.
It dawns on me as we tour around that I did not do enough research on St Louis before booking the hotel because it really is a huge city – although I do feel misled about the ‘downtown’ location description, which is just plain wrong – as, per last night, it means I can’t simply wander about to find any music clubs later.
The leaflets I picked up weren’t any help music-wise but an internet search last night discovered some possibilities but the city is so big, and the city map in the guide book did not convey the scale of the place either, I’ll either have to drive or take a cab. I looked at buses as a possibility but as usual in the US these all stop running in the early evening. So at the end of the tour I talk to the bus driver – who was very good on the tour – to see if he had any tips to help me: and he did.
Tonight at Busch Stadium, which is in the heart of downtown, the Cardinals play the Dodgers in Game 6 of the MLB National League Championship Series play-offs, and if they win they will go to the World Series. He tells me that outside the stadium there’ll be a “pep party” – at least that what I think he called it – before the game, which is essentially a band and free booze. Big tip however is that there’s some Blues clubs in Soulard – which I’d read a little bit about beforehand but there’s no hotels in the area – and that the bars there put on shuttle buses to transport fans to the game then back to their bars afterwards. It’s quite a distance to Soulard from the stadium – well, it’s not walkable he says, but then Americans don’t walk anywhere – and he suggests I get a shuttle from the stadium to the bars, in other words going in the opposite direction to everyone else. He says the driver will take me because I want to go to their bar. So, I have a plan for later.
The Gateway Arch
I start to walk towards the Arch, which is right by the Mississippi. When you actually get close to it, it’s just simply astonishing. I need some food however as it’s lunchtime and I spot a food truck down by the river. I wander down some steps and at the bottom the river bank slopes gently away allowing me to walk right up to the water’s edge, and it really brings home the size of the mighty Mississippi. On the tour the guide had pointed out a bridge we went under and he told of the time a few years back – not too many though – when the river rose and nearly breached the top of the bridge’s base. Even on the bus it seemed way up high but down at river level I can see how high that point really is, and it’s mind-blowing how much this river can rise when it’s flooding. I’m sure it’s amazing to see but I also realise the destruction and chaos that it must bring as well.
So, here I stand at the truck serving food and just want something cheap and simple. Gosh. When did America lose the ability to understand (a) what the customer wants and (b) the customer is king. So, “No” says the lady serving, I cannot have a burger without fries. I do not want fries. Why should I pay for something I do not want? I do not want a lunch of crisps (chips) or a chocolate bar either. Or an ice cream. Which are the only other items she sells. She will not budge. I just want a burger – well I don’t, but that’s all they do – without the fries. I walk off. I think I swore at her. If I didn’t, I should have. She lost a sale because she wouldn’t reduce the price to remove the fries. Idiot. So it’s back up the steps and into the Arch.
The entrance to the Gateway Arch is down a slope into a large area underneath it, which is where I can catch the ride to the top. I buy a reasonably priced sandwich whilst waiting for my trip. The lift ‘pods’ that take people up the Arch only seat five, they’re really tiny and not for the claustrophobic. Up at the top the views are great; the windows are a little small and it’s quite crowded so I have to wait my turn to get real close to a window. After coming back down there’s a museum to explore – the Museum of Westward Expansion, about the explorers, pioneers and others who helped forge the USA – which is good but a little confusingly laid out I thought. There’s also a film about the Arch’s construction (Monument to the Dream – The Making of the Gateway Arch) and it’s really remarkable how they built it and when – it was completed way back in 1965! Well worth watching.
BB’s To The Rescue
So I head over to Busch Stadium for the Cards ‘pep party’ but it’s not much good – and the booze wasn’t free either apart from a small cup from the Budweiser horse & cart rig – so I wander around to find where the shuttles are. I eventually find them at the front of the stadium and hop on board the next one to turn up. Arriving in Soulard – and it’s a good 10 minutes on the bus, so not walkable – it’s hardly a buzzin’ music scene. I can see a couple of clubs but I expected the place to be crammed with music clubs. It’s not. I walk up and down the street but can’t see anything else. So just two clubs, great. Or not. And, guess what, due to the baseball no-one is playing any live music until after the game! But then on closer inspection the musicians that are playing later in both places are both some acoustic folk crap, not Blues at all. So about 15 minutes after arriving I decide there’s no point in staying: Soulard is dead tonight…
Before getting back on a shuttle I call up the music search on my phone I did last night to see if I can find any music clubs near the stadium – and there are, so it’s back on the next shuttle bus and I return to Busch Stadium. Obviously it’s a wasted trip to Soulard but I can’t blame the tour driver from earlier, and whilst he did say it was the district for music, he wasn’t to know no-one would be playing music until much later on tonight, or what type of music.
Google found BB’s Jazz, Blues & Soups on South Broadway, literally a stone’s thrown from the stadium, and after a short walk I find it. There’s another music place called Beale on Broadway nearby but I decide to stick with BB’s for now. Inside it looks promising with a stage at the other end set up with instruments on it. The place is packed out with Cards fans but I manage to get a stool at the bar and order food and beer. The staff are really friendly – in fact one bar lady looks after me very well all night, always catching my eye when I need another beer, helpful advice on the food, she really did provide excellent service. I also get talking to a few folks around me, there’s a really good atmosphere in the place, mostly from all the Cards fans who are really pumped up. A barman says the music will start soon…
The fans all leave for the game and suddenly the bar’s all quiet and pretty empty. And the music doesn’t start… I ask what’s happening and am told “it will start soon”. Well, it wasn’t “soon” it was about three quarters of an hour or so but at least the band didn’t wait until the game had finished, they just delayed starting a while until some more folks came in to fill the place up. First up is the Pete Anderson Band and it’s just about OK music-wise but the front man, Pete himself, who someone at the bar thinks might be half-famous for something, is a bit self-indulgent when it comes to playing his guitar, wandering off on turgid solos that, whilst technically amazing, just become boring after a while. After I got back home I found an interview online with him and he was quoted as saying it’s “my band, my call” which sums it up really and tells you all you need to know.
So during Pete’s set my eyes regularly turn to the TV screen to see how the Cards are doing, which of course with four and five runs in the 3rd and 5th innings respectively is ‘very good thank you’ and means it’s the World Series here they come. There’s fireworks over the stadium at the finish of the game and most of the bar empties to have a look. We all go back inside and then the fans start to drift back from the game, everyone’s obviously very happy, the place is heaving again and then the second band, Ivas John Blues Band, starts. The music’s R’n’B-ish and whilst good, and miles better than Anderson, they’re not brilliant but perfectly OK. It’s getting late, well past midnight by now and I’ve been out all day, so I decide to call it a night but outside it’s now raining and I’m quite a way from the hotel. Luckily I find a cab, even with loads of Cards fans still roaming the streets, and get back to the hotel to a nice warm bed.
* Sweet Little Sixteen by St Louis born Chuck Berry