I am inside of the Gateway Arch looking down at the city of St. Louis 630 feet below. On the east side, I have an eagle’s eye view of the boats in the mighty and muddy Mississippi and the numerous bridges across it, while to the west I can see the capitol building and the downtown business district of the city.
We started out this morning in Amish country and Jonathan only has us scheduled to cross four large states today: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. I can hardly wait to spend 12 plus carefree hours in the car bonding with my son, who’s found out that the best way to dispose of vehicle trash is to deposit it in my cooler. I’m especially pleased that this includes liquids, because it gives me the opportunity to mop up and clean out the inside of my equipment, and it surely needs it after a good soaking in old stale coffee. So we have that to chat about…
Our trip out of Ohio is marred by some unpleasant weather, but soon we find ourselves cruising through Cincinnati and on to Indianapolis, which seemed like nice enough places from our car, and the scenery in between them is of much bigger farms than in Amish country, with thousand acre expanses of corn and beans surrounding gargantuan barns and farm machinery. Unfortunately, we cross the state border west, and find out that essentially the entire state of Illinois is under construction, and the Interstate is a rutted goat path of a road narrowed down to one lane in most places, and even the mere presence of construction equipment is enough to bring traffic to a screeching halt.
I have a lot of pet peeves, but one of the biggest is rubberneckers, and I’d love to meet the imbecile who’s the very first one in line to lock up their brakes in order to see a work crew cutting the median grass or a big rig parked on the shoulder, because I just want to know if they’ve been living in a root cellar somewhere and have just seen such exotica as lawn mowers for the very first time, or, as I suspected, they are mouth breathing human guppies with no sense of driving etiquette and an acute surfeit of mental acuity. But of course that will never happen, because the goggle-eyed idiot who causes this mess is not the one stuck in traffic. He’s several miles ahead, blissfully unaware of the delays he has caused for everyone else, and probably driving 55 in the fast lane in a catatonic state of stupor that is only broken by the approach of his exit, at which point he will listlessly drift across every lane of the highway without providing the courtesy of a signal, and head to his assigned parking place at the superfluously named Home for the Terminally Stupid and Dick Cheney Fans.
In any event, we finally make it to St Louis, and the view of the Arch as you approach from the east is impressive, especially at this time of day, with the sun starting to go down behind the city skyline and the Arch’s curving parabola of stainless steel providing a suitable Wizard of Oz Emerald City effect. You can’t really get an idea of the size of this, the tallest monument in America, without viewing it from the west bank of the river, so we park on the levee for $4 and take a few pictures. From here, it towers over you, and you must strain your neck to see the tiny windows at the very top of the arc where the viewing station is.
The Arch is supposed to be a monument dedicated to Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, and there’s a statue dedicated to him in the Westward Expansion Museum located between and beneath the arc’s two bases, but soon enough it just became known as the Gateway Arch, an appropriate symbol of America’s expansion as pioneers explored the Wild West beyond the Mississippi River. As I stand here admiring it, I can see the genius in the simplicity of Saarinen’s 1963 design, which is both modern in materials and suitably grand in scale while still evoking the same sense of wonder that the Pioneers might have as they marveled at the vast wide open spaces of the West. As you stroll around the base, the stainless steel skeleton alternately shimmers and greys, then blazes bright, and the colors subtly shift with each passing cloud. It’s like an animate thing, and that imagery is buttressed by the organic but elegant shape of the Arch “legs”, which inevitably transport your gaze from the ground up, up, up the gently tapering stalks until your eyes rest on the impossibly thin central arc more than sixty floors above and the blue sky beyond. It’s a beautiful tribute to a great man, not to mention the Real Estate Deal of the Millennium. After all, we only paid $15 million for the land, an amount we piss away now in the time it takes you to read this sentence, and the good earth we bought from the French in 1804? is a whole lot more tangible than the benefits we derive from, say, Head Start for Illegal Aliens (I’d be willing to give them a head start before chasing them back to Mexico) or free condoms for tots, or PBS (Public BS) radio.
We head under the Arch and pony up (actually, I pony up…did I mention I’m paying for this whole trip?) $20 for the fee to take the elevator to the top of the arc, and I’m surprised that the elevator is like a little round pod that you must stoop to enter. There are 5 seats inside and I barely have enough headroom, so if you’re claustrophobic, this tiny capsule won’t be comfortable for you, and that feeling will be exacerbated when you hear the rubber band like sproinging sound as it transitions to different angles of ascent. There is a small window where you can view the inside of the building, but you can’t see much except a spiral staircase, which I guess is reserved for Olympic Marathon hopefuls and other masochists.
It takes about 4 minutes to reach the top, and of course you’re standing on a curved floor. There are about 10 windows on each side angled downward so that you must lean over them to get a clear view, and it’s one of the only times that you will be able to stare straight down at the ground from this height while essentially lying on a plate of glass. The effect is a little disturbing and dizzying, like looking at the federal deficit, but the view is certainly grand, and the trip to the top is worthwhile.
We spend a few minutes in the museum in the basement, which deserves more time. It’s cleverly organized so that you “explore” the west in concentric circles, earliest date first, with Thomas Jefferson’s statue at the epicenter.
Soon we must go, because we still have a state to cross, and it’s already after 5. So we say goodbye to St. Louis, but not before I point out to Jonathan that there is no rush hour traffic at all on the road, which is a disturbing sign for an economy that Ben Bernanke keeps saying is in a recovery. I’d like to “recover” some of the trillions he gave to his banker pals on Wall Street, because I’m afraid they’re the only ones who are profiting from the Fed’s policies at the moment, and the bald faced lies that they tell us about how Main Street is coming back are proven false by what I see with my own eyes. But I’m sure “helicopter Ben” is a nice family guy when he’s not out looting and destroying our grandchildren’s economic future.
We finally make it in to the Comfort Inn Kansas City ($97), which is actually in Kansas, so technically we’ve been in 5 states today, and I’m too tired to even retrieve the bottle of wine I’d forgotten in the car, and that’s a huge sacrifice for me normally. But not tonight. I’m happy just to crash.
Oh, one last thing. The Inn is fine, and here I’ll give Jonathan some credit, because he picked them all, and so far they’ve been winners. Good job, and good night.