Day 25: St. Louis, Missouri
Welcome to the Gateway to the West!
After a morning of driving (we managed to get out of the hotel by 10am! A new record!), we arrived in St. Louis (only two days after Andy had his ATO convention here), and got to spend all of four hours there.
We went to the Arch, officially known as the Jefferson Westward Expansion Monument, and had to go through an airport-style security system (our first security system since the Fed in Chicago), before milling around in the visitor’s center with the millions of other people that had descended upon the famous landmark.
The visitor’s center offered two gift shops—one replete with that ridiculous tourist merchandise that everyone/no one seems to buy, the other designed to look like an 1870’s general store, complete with employees dressed up in 1870’s garb. There was also a Westward Expansion Museum that had terrifying animatronic life-size versions of notable historical figures, such as Lewis & Clark and Red Cloud. The figures turned their heads, moved their limbs jerkily, and even blinked regularly, all the while intoning a brief, prerecorded paragraph about their version of settler-Indian dealings.
We then took the tram up to the very top of the arch (you get to go inside the arch, which both delighted and horrified me), 630 feet up above St. Louis. The trams are tiny cylinders with doors four feet tall, which rotate like Ferris wheel cars while on the way up to the top. It was terribly cramped with five of us—I can only wonder what it would be like if each of the tram’s five inhabitants were of the average American height and weight.
The view from the top!
It was really cramped in that tram.
Before getting on the road to Indianapolis, Indiana, we inquired about the best local pizza place and were directed to Imo’s, where they served us what looked like a pizza made on a gigantic, circular tortilla chip. Having now tasted Lou Malnati’s famous Chicago deep-dish pizza, St. Louis-style thin crust pizza, as well as (far too much of) Sergi’s, I Love, and Ario’s, I feel like a pizza connoisseur.
One more thing—while browsing the Arch’s gift shops, I came across a wide selection of Laura Ingalls Wilder-related literature, including a Little House on the Prairie Cookbook. There was a sort of “scrapbook” of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family photographs and letters. I must confess that, although I love and own the entire Little House series, having even dressed up as Laura for the fourth grade biographies project, I had never seen photographs of Laura or her family.
The photographs in the book, as sorry as I am to admit it, actually ruined a tiny bit of the series for me. I had always imagined Laura as a beautiful albeit tomboyish character, had always seen Pa and Ma as the ruggedly and delicately attractive paragons of character, respectively, had always thought Mary to be a fantastically gorgeous willowy blonde beauty whose blindness did nothing to slight her appearance. However, their photographs showed them to be perfectly ordinary people, and not half as beautiful as I had imagined them to be. Only Almanzo Wilder looked as I thought he would, almost like a 19th-century Ryan Gosling. I blame Garth Williams for his wonderful illustrations that put those images in my head, and I blame this Laura Ingalls Wilder scrapbook for ruining, in part, my childhood.