Thursday, April 10, 2008

Leaving St. Louis

I ended up in St. Louis. In 1986 I moved back here in order to take a job at the newly remodeled Union Station in Downtown St. Louis. I was a manager at a restaurant there, Houlihans Old Place, owned by Gilbert/Robinson out of Kansas City. I had intended on moving to Kansas City from Houston, but they sent me here to work at what was one of the busiest in their chain of 600 or so restaurants. I had gone to school in St. Louis in 1981-82, but left town broke and sick from, of all things, a food borne illness outbreak that really put me under for a while.

My school was not the traditional kind, I was a culinary student at Forest Park, St. Louis Community Colleges. I had no job when I arrived for school, no place to live, my car was a broken down 1965 VW peace mobile. I was the earthy type I suppose, for lack of better funding. I still tell my wife and kid how I drove the car for 6 months without breaks or a starter, only using the emergency hand break to stop. The only way to start the car was to jump start on a hill. It required planning, to say the least. When the car stopped for good, I took the bus, in the cold, along with the others making their way through the world with what some people say is of little significance. They all seemed happy to me.

I lived in Maplewood, on Lyndover, in a one bedroom apartment complex. Maplewood was depressed and nothing like it is today. It was rough and you had to watch your back. I remember the White Castle that still sits on the corner of Big Bend and Manchester. One day I went up to grab a bag of bombers and the police and fire department had swarmed the center of the intersection. Some psycho had poured gas on himself and lit himself on fire. The image of that has stayed with me to this day. The dark oily stain of the fire remained in the middle of the intersection for years, as it has in my mind, a memory of what my past was like.

I grew up in a smaller town, never had the taste of urban culture, or cultural diversity as was the case in Maplewood. I got a job in a private club, cooking for rich people. I was an apprentice chef, the kind of like you see on TV nowadays. The chef was a jerk, like on TV, but he made me part of what I am today. I got "meat duty" often because I would yawn in the kitchen. Meat duty was a day in the meat box, 40 degrees, carving down veal, tenderloins, other cuts, as punishment for not being "on". I made 3.25 and hour and made things work for a short time.

When I returned to St. Louis in 86, after leaving the first time, I was a changed man. I had lived and worked in Kansas, Arizona, LA, Houston, Dallas. My skill had brought me what was soon to be called home, St. Louis. And I started my life as it is today, met my wife, had my kid, bought my house, started a business, a blog.

So, like it or not, I suppose it is my history, a big piece of fabric that connects to the other pieces of my life. It's an adventure and one that I own. I can't change it and is part of me. My family and friends rely on my history to interpret theirs, to transition into others, and so on. There is legacy by simply living and making your way through life, regardless of any wish to control it. There are meaningful things that stay with me and the others, tattoos that can't be changed or removed without bitterness and an abundance of negative energy. There are memories of the good and bad, the struggles, the choices. It is life.

I find St. Louis to be imperfect and suppose I wish I could leave someday for better weather etc. There is a long list of things that bother me, challenges that that have become a pain in the ass, things that require energy and focus that are distractive and unsavory, I want to flee, in a way. But isn't that the way life is? We find ourselves in a performance, pretending we are living life for the right reasons while our head is down grinding our way through the bullshit. What we don't understand is that, while in the "gu", if we stay with it, if we overcome adversity, persevere, adapt to change, seek out the small things that make life interesting, we better our little world and the community begs us to stay and grow with them. Our cards are our cards, and it is how we play the hand that determines our condition. The only reason I would flee is to find perspective, to recall the memories of what has been my life in St. Louis, Missouri-that which I have made the best of, and that which I call home.

My wife asked me the other day, "why and the hell don't you ever stop and ask for directions when you are lost"? Apparently it really pisses her off when I do this. I just keep driving and driving and driving until I figure it out. I tell her, "in my world, everything is an adventure, therefore, I am never lost". I am always intrigued by what comes my way and how I relate my past experiences to the new patterns that emerge in situations that I am unsure of. Over time a logical and intuitive decision making process comes about and I find my way. I reference the patterns often, grinding my way through unsure-ety. But without familiar ground to call home; a clear understanding of the world around me, there is no clear reference.

So I won't flee. And if I do, I won't bash the city (people) and place where I have spent so many years shaping and molding and making my both my life and the community better simply by being a part of it. I will flee for the right reasons. To take from the old and enhance the new in a positive light.

To cast a shadow over St. Louis or Missouri is to look in the mirror and ask yourself why.

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