I had a handful of meaningless conversations last night at, of all places, Cardwell's in Clayton. We were on our way home from the Sheldon after an awards ceremony for Junior Achievement and I told Kevin that I would buy him dinner at Cardwell's, talk about our kids, have a nice dinner. I hadn't been there in a long while and Rich Gorzika, the owner, was kind of a hero of mine. He has been in business forever, a very respectable businessman keeping that restaurant open for many years. The food had always been exceptional through the years, it was time to try it again.
What a deal? It just happened to be Party in the Park, Clayton's spring/summer pretty people parade of pretentiousness. I couldn't help but convince Kevin to stop so I could give him a bit of St. Louis "Country Day" Culture on the skids. I thought it absolutely hysterical when he was suddenly asked what High School he went to and he replied: Soldan. Very funny, the dude asking had gone to Burroughs and didn't even get it, he was so immersed with his own story telling. We actually had an interesting conversation or two with this guy and others. I was glad we went.
It was an absolute spectacle and anyone who "gets" St. Louis singles culture of the wealthy or wannabee wealthy can certainly understand. Party in the Park is an institution, a part of St. Louis culture that captures, for a brief time, a cross section of what life is about for a certain group of people--that this group evolves yet remains static, year after year. Except me, of course, because I know what it is all about and as the night progressed, it became my study, for this blog--a poor rationalization, I know, but go with me on this. When I got home my wife and kid were studying for a vocabulary quiz, and I told them I had been at Starbuck's to avoid a confrontation, for the full effect and experiential integrity purposes.
I have never been so entertained and have come to the conclusion that some things never change--the same people were milling around trolling for men/women, like they were 15 years ago, when I was running bars and restaurants, on that same corner, different day, different year, same people. I caught eyes with a few of my old acquaintances. Some would pause and reflect, try to remember where they might know me from, then move away, to the next male of female of strategic interest. Many had been replaced by youthful, more beautiful men and women of today, a lot more boobs, fake boobs on the women, the men blown up like balloons from health club memberships. I am thinking that a significant percentage of tanning sales in the St. Louis metro area was represented there, in the 2000 square foot patio, some of the elders looking like that neighbor lady in the movie "What about Mary" with Cameron Diaz.
For years I did the happy hour gig as a job, after coming to St. Louis in the mid 80's to manage Houlihan's at Union Station, then the Galleria Houlihan's. I was a manger for Gilbert Robinson, bar manager, doorman, host, whatever. I ran the happy hours during the happy hour years, for all the pretty people. When Cardwell's opened, the fickleness of the "Pretty Happy" crowd, as I referred to them, changed, and the corner of Brentwood and Maryland became the hot spot after years at the Station and the Galleria. As a result of the fickle nature of the business, I eventually became the manager of Ramones Jalapeno, and my buddy Pedro Beltrenena, another restaurateur, ran Cardwell's, right across the street. We would collaborate on many things, did some business together in catering through the years, we cut our teeth back in those days. What we both understood well, was the social patterns of the "Pretty Happy" crowd of Clayton and Ladue, many still working it, 15 years later.
Pretty happy is all they were then and all they are now. I waited until this morning to reveal what I had experienced to my wife. I was with her sister after all, bumped in to her 10 minutes after arriving. She had the pulse on the whole crowd. She works at the St. Louis Country Club, after all.