TRANSLATION: MEMPHIS: The Memphis, er, St. Louis Blues Again 


It’s a surprisingly easy drive from here to St. LouisÑstraight up 55 and into the land of beer and brick. I’d never made the trip before, and when presented with the opportunity last weekend I jumped on it like the travel-friendly girl that I am.

One interesting thing about Memphis is how you can drive roughly five hours in any direction and land in a place completely different than if you had spun the compass another way. You’ve got Little Rock, New Orleans, northwestern Arkansas, eastern Tennessee, and of course, St. Louis, the proverbial gateway to the West.

To start, I’d never seen the easterly boundary of Arkansas before.

Immediately after crossing the bridge on 40, a friend of mine pointed out a "village" of sorts along the banks of the river where it is rumored that some of the area’s gypsy population makes home.

There you find a sea of broke-down cars, buses, and miscellaneous metal that I had never noticed before, and that somehow looked beautiful, the occasional retired carnival ride amidst the clutter.

Something is chilling about a half-carousel on the side of the road, rusting and fading rainbow colors in the light. It’s as if you can imagine the ghosts of children perched upon it and waiting for it to come back to life again.

Or maybe I was just feeling poetic since I hadn’t been out of the city in a while. Oh well.

Continuing on, we made our way through Missouri, land of the disturbing signage. Every mile or so we were directed to drink beer, to secure a DNA test to determine the identity of our baby’s daddy, and to avoid abortion at all cost.

Most of the anti-abortion ads were unfortunately positioned right before Smirnoff Ice ads, but what can you do? Perhaps the participation in "intelligent nightlife" prevents the situation that might land one with an unplanned pregnancy.

It is worthy of note, though, the way the temperament of a particular region’s population can be gleaned from the type of advertising and socio-political commentary that goes on along its highways.

As you pull into St. Louis from 55 North, you get your first glimpse of the famed Gateway Arch through the steam that billows off of the Anheuser-Busch plant. The passage to the west, it seems, is lined with barley and hops.

To celebrate, I proceeded to drink entirely too much beer.

Our journey to St. Louis was made to catch a band named Coalesce, and they played at a tiny little club called the Creepy Crawl on N. Tucker. Think the Map Room’s basement, but with a caged in bar for the over-21 crowd.

St. Louis itself reminded me a lot of Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, but crossed with a certain I-don’t-know-what from Memphis.

It’s almost too easy to imagine the city in its heyday, strange people in old-fashioned outfits bustling down the street. I spent a good amount of time sitting in the window of our room at the Day’s Inn, pushing my mind to envision it that way.

Though the city is indeed run-down in many sections, including the area in which we stayed, it seems that the demolition crews have chosen to keep a remarkable number of the old buildings standing. I wish that modern architecture would be this ornate.

Swirls of brick caught the light in every directionÑreds spanning from the color of a day old rose to the burnt sienna recreated by Crayola. It was gorgeous in that way that appeals to those enchanted by the past.

PlusÑand here’s a major bonusÑthere was a bar that had the decency to make available a pinball machine. I think every bar should have pinball, and if you know of such a place in Memphis, please tell me!

But I digress, as I’m known to do.

It seems that as quickly as we got to St. Louis it was time to leave, but I’m glad to have made the trip. The more you know about the places in proximity to your home, the more the identity of your home makes itself clear.

It’s a strange equation that involves geography, identity, and the passing of miles, and in spite of all of the beer, I think I learned something.


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