Oh St. Louis… what an introduction we had to one another.
Last weekend, my family of five loaded up in our trusty Ford F-350 and dragged our travel trailer—our preferred method of travel—across two state lines en route to a family wedding in St. Louis, Missouri. I’ve never been to St. Louis, I love to see new cities, and I was eager to add another state sticker to our travel map of the US, but I don’t think I was fully prepared to trade in the country life for the city slicker one. I’m rusty in the ways of the world outside the farm.
We left a few hours behind our self-imposed schedule Wednesday night in an attempt to get as close to St. Louis as possible. Tom’s sister, father, and grandmother were all flying in Thursday afternoon and so we wanted to be there and settled in early so that we could easily go to meet up with them without much stress or rushing around. Oh what a noble idea indeed. We had the great pleasure of parking our lovely travel trailer cousin Eddie style in one of my best friends driveways just about twenty minutes from all the goings on of the wedding weekend (this was perhaps the absolute best part of all of St. Louis, my friend Sarah).
Wednesday night, we made it as far as Kentucky before we decided to pull in for the night. As is the case on our road trips, we don’t so much have a plan but we rely on luck and google. Google hooked us up with a perfectly fine, non-fancy RV park with showers and a playground—winning at life. We slept in a touch and got on the road Thursday morning. I should have known that things were beginning to take a turn when we pulled up to a Starbucks whose hours said they were open, but whose hand written sign on the door disagreed. We popped into Walmart to get a few things we had forgotten like pumpkin donuts and we were on our way to Missouri! Well, after a second stop at a second Starbucks, because, well… road trips.
We arrived to St. Louis later than expected, but still early enough to try to squeeze in a little fun before we were running late for our dinner with the arriving family members. We headed straight to the arch because my family is a family who scratches off National Parks on a map and the arch is the smallest National Park so clearly it was a must do.
We found our way into downtown St. Louis and it was about 200 degrees. Mind you we still had our giant trailer behind us so we were quite a sight to see navigating the city streets. And wouldn’t you know it, there was just not any RV parking at the St. Louis arch! Not a lick, which is strange, because it might be the ONLY National Park that doesn’t expect a boat load of freaking RV’s to be coming through to visit.
We finally found this long stretch of sidewalk in front of the arch that very clearly said ‘Bus unloading… NO PARKING!’ but hey, we don’t have a lot of options! I mean, are you going to come this far and not see the dang arch? You’re not! So we parked our truck and trailer along the no parking zone (for the record, we did check with another RV driver who was pulling away who had also just parked in the same place and he confirmed that it was our only option), and we loaded our dogs up into the camper to hang out in the cooler temperature with some water and a queen bed to get hair all over.
We made a run for it. Like seriously. We just decided to go see the arch as quickly as we possibly could and hope for the best. Luckily, we were able to snag the last five tickets for the most upcoming trip to the top of the arch, but the guy behind us was not nearly as thrilled about it. As we were getting out of line, $50 worth of tickets in hand, I saw a teeny, tiny little caboodle type cart where if you bent your body in half you could fit inside just enough to grab a seat with five of your very closest—and hopefully smallest—friends. The sign beside it suggested that this wonkavator was meant to take my precious family to the top of this arch. Now, I don’t know what you imagine when you think about going to the top of the St. Louis arch in regards to methods of transportation to the top—yes I recognize that it is an arch and that would limit your options some—but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine such a metal cube of doom.
“Is that what we ride up in?” I quickly asked my husband. On some level I think I thought they had one there in the lobby as an example of the early, primitive way that they used to transport visitors to the top. Surely that could not still be the way that we get up there!
“Yep,” He said, all knowing, as if he didn’t think that maybe he should have drawn my attention to that minor detail approximately $50 ago.
I’ll be honest, it was almost enough to send me straight into an anxiety attack right there on the spot. I’m not necessarily clostrophobic—at least it’s not something that I would list as one of my obvious fears—but this thing would startle you. No, I don’t even have a picture of it to show you for reference because when I was in it, the only thing I was doing was praying and conserving oxygen.
So we go through the connected museum to kill some time—about 20 minutes—and all the while I am fully giving myself the most epic of pep talks. ALL the positive self talk is going on. All the negative what-ifs like, “What if we get stuck in there?” “What if it breaks down and the door won’t open?” “What if I pass out?” “What if I freak out?” “What if there is an earthquake?” “What if there is a bomb?” “What if I suddenly need to diarrhea?” Don’t worry… all of those thoughts were being calmly forced out of my brain while I tried to read some of the placards to my kids about the history of the Westward expansion.
Finally, it was our turn to head towards the doom buggies. As we got in line, my 6 year old, Merit, who turns out is the only other rational person in my family, starts to freak out about getting into the tiny vehicle. Y’all, he hasn’t even seen the tiny vehicle yet. He still thinks it’s some kind of elevator because that’s what NORMAL people would think takes you to the top of a highly visited National Park. We watched some video projected on the cement wall in the waiting area—a video that I am not sure had anything at all to do with the arch or Westward expansion or any of that—and all I can do is think, “LET’S GET THE HELL ON WITH IT!!”
We file into our lines and eventually find ourselves face to face with a four-foot by one-and-a-half foot door. This was going to be worse that I thought. The man running the operation let us know that the alarming freight train sounding commotion behind the door is merely an echo and the tiny cart is really only moving 3 miles an hour. Let me tell you that this was both a relief and a reason to panic. I’m glad it wasn’t moving as fast as it sounded, surely, but at 3 miles an hour… how many hours would I have to be in that thing before I reached the top? Turns out it’s four minutes up and three minutes down. Yes, it goes the same speed both directions. I think it’s a jet stream thing.
Just as the door opened up, and the clown car of people started to pour out of it (defying mathematics I assure you), my son Merit started to really lose it. I couldn’t even get mad or roll my eyes… I was right there with him. I immediately jumped in the metal bubble and my other son and daughter quickly followed suit. I have to be honest, for as much as I was building this thing up in my head—how tiny it would be, how claustrophobic it would feel—it was much, much worse in real life. My husband finally picked Merit up and literally squeezed his protesting body through the narrow hole taking up absolutely all of the rest of the space on the inside (an experience I’m sure Merit will tell a lovely therapist someday). As quickly as it opened, the metal door shut closed behind us and locked us in—as if this thing was going underwater, I kid you not.
Pro/con thing here: The door was see-through. It’s glass. So I could see the wall, the stairs, the void of the elevator shaft, all of it through the window as we tipped and turned up the arch. Imagine the Farris wheel at Disneyland—the one where the cars are free to rock and tilt as they will—and then picture way scarier! Merit was just beside himself; Eyes as wide as saucers, screaming ‘I’m scared!’ over and over again, and I’ve never seen that kid less interested in phone bribery. No game, no video, no nothing was going to distract him. And with every deep sob he took, I wondered if he was leaving enough oxygen for the rest of us.
It was a long four minutes, friends. It was rough. But the door opened at the top and we all survived. I was SO thrilled to get out of that thing and immediately wondered how long I could reasonably stay at the top of the arch before I would have to get back in that death trap and head down. Turns out not very many minutes is the answer.
The first thing I noticed: There were WAY too many people shoved into WAY too small a space up there. Surely there was some arch fire code being overlooked. Second: The windows up there are hardly windows; think airplane windows, but sideways and then imagine a long diagonal wall that you’d have to lean onto (as in lean out over thin air) in order to even see out the small window. Also like on airplanes, there were not nearly enough windows for people aboard. I took one look out a window, realized we were very high, and I was literally leaning out where there was no ground below me, I took one picture, and I was absolutely over it. I couldn’t even really stand all the way to my full height up there because the top of the arch… well… it’s small. Everything on the arch is small.
That would have been plenty for our first introduction to St. Louis, BUT that’s not where this story ends folks. As we were at the top, trying to keep our kids from dying by leaning on a wall that could break out from underneath them (it was actually quite sound in real life but you never know), we saw a man poking around our truck and trailer down below. Literally, there was a guy taking pictures and peering in the windows.
My first thought was that they were going to call the police on us for leaving our dogs in the camper. Yes, it was a hot day, but yes, campers are designed for people to live and sleep in. If you know me, you know my dogs are just about as important to me as my kids are, so clearly it was a fine and safe situation. However, we’ve had this problem in the past and the cops have been called. So now we had to get our butts back down on the ground as quickly as possible and that meant… back in the death trap.
My heart was pounding and the anxiety seemed to be tripling by the minute but there was just no time to mentally prepare to get back in the wankavator, so when the doors opened, I just jumped right in. Merit didn’t scream this time, although he did hold on with white knuckles, and that was tremendously helpful because now I had the stress and anxiety of knowing my dogs could be on the verge of being confiscated.
In the cubby we made a plan. Tom was going to run like the wind as soon as the doors opened and I was going to manage the kids to the car as quickly as possible behind him. As soon as that door slid open, Tom was gone and I was alive and well and on the ground again. Arch checked off the list, never to be visited again, and no one died or passed out.
Turns out, the guy poking around our car was a traffic cop giving us a parking ticket. Well, two tickets. One for the truck. One for the camper. And of course we knew we were in a no parking zone, but what choice did we have? Miss out on the death trap National Park trip? NO WAY! I was just relieved that my dogs were safe, my kids were safe, and we were ready to get the heck out of there.
As we pulled onto the freeway to head to my dear friend Sarah’s house, we both got a text message alert asking if we had made a charge at a nearby gas station. Of course, I had been up in the arch within an inch of my life so no, I had not made a charge.
“Where is your purse?” Tom asked. I looked at my feet. The homeschool bag, my Ipad, and my purse (all together in one bag) was gone. But wait… there were no broken windows. No pried open door. How did they get in?
Tom left the truck unlocked.
Welcome to St. Louis.
As I write today, I’m in an airport in Denver, which is to say I knew that I would be getting on a plane in just a few short days and now had no cards, no ID, nada. I’m grateful I had a passport because there was no time to weather the DMV upon returning from St. Louis before I had to leave again, and the banks were able to rush me replacement bank cards, so that was nice.
Although it was terribly annoying to cancel everything, and the kids are super bummed to be without an ipad, everything is replaceable and nothing of real value was stolen—praise God. That didn’t stop my sweet husband from taking a quick tour of St. Louis to each destination where there was an attempted (and denied) charge on our cards to ask and see if he could acquire any security footage of the perpetrator. No such luck.
“I just want to go home,” Tom said. And if it wasn’t one of his cousins getting married that weekend, I believe we might have just headed for home right then and there. But alas, we did not. We had a delicious dinner that night with Grammy and other family members. I drank wine.
Friday we got up ready to see St. Louis with fresh eyes! My father in law invited us over to their hotel to swim for a bit before we all had to get ready for the wedding. On our way there, wearing only swimsuits of course, Tom reported that someone had puked in the pool and it would be closed until the next day. You know what, that’s a great analogy for our St. Louis experience—someone puked in the pool.
The wedding was fantastic, except for the fact that it magically rained an unpredicted and yet torrential rain for the exact thirty-minute time period that the ceremony was meant to be outdoors in the courtyard. Instead, we sat at our dinner tables. Always an unfortunately wedding twist.
Saturday, finally, was the day of redemption for St. Louis. We spent the day with my bestie and her family while we wandered around the zoo which was FREE!! And my girlfriend was a member so the parking that would have been $30 for our giant truck was FREE!! And it was raining a touch so it was not hot and the St. Louians were scared off and there were hardly any crowds. AND the zoo had a Starbucks and it served alcohol, but not just any alcohol, pumpkin flavored beer kinds of alcohol. So needless to say, the day was a massive success. And we topped it off with a beautiful dinner with all the extended family and one of the better B-B-Q joints I’ve been to!
So St. Louis… you won some, but you lost quite a few too. I’m not exactly eager to return—except to visit my Sarah—but don’t you worry, I’ll be all the wiser next time I go. I’ll be locking doors and avoiding arches, I can tell you that much right now.