Listen To Your Mother…Or Me. Either One.

Eat your vegetables. Put on a coat. Tie your shoes. If you don’t clean up this hell-hole-hurricane-disaster-zone-stinking-landfill-of-a-room, I will clean it for you…and give all your earthly possessions to homeless Brazilian Pygmies who don’t have bedazzled password journals.

I think we can all agree, though sometimes begrudgingly, that it is usually best to listen to your mother. In fact, listening to your mother has become such a universally good idea that 39 cities have decided to devote an entire show aimed at giving motherhood a microphone. One of those cities happens to be my hometown, St. Louis. And I am honored to say that I have been chosen as one of the mothers you should apparently listen to.

Yes, I am officially a cast member of the Listen To Your Mother St. Louis 2015 Show, which will happen on May 9th! Continue reading “Listen To Your Mother…Or Me. Either One.”

Keeping Up With the Joneses: Neighboring Cities Flaunt Their Goods

It is a new year, and many people may already be thinking about the travel adventures they will have in 2014. I know a handful of people who have locked in a Disney trip, and others who are planning trips to the coasts. But what about the middle of our great country? After all, good things usually happen when people meet in the middle.

That’s why when Kendra Thornton approached me to co-write a post about fun places to visit in our respective cities, Chicago and St. Louis, I thought it sounded like a great idea. The two cities have a long history of being friendly Continue reading “Keeping Up With the Joneses: Neighboring Cities Flaunt Their Goods”

Is It Newsworthy to Love the Midwest?

There was an article that caught my attention yesterday, mostly because it was shared multiple times on Facebook by not just friends, but also by local businesses, attractions, and radio stations. It was a piece that ran in The New York Times called “Loving the Midwest” by Curtis Sittenfeld. In it, Sittenfeld explains how she and her husband, who came to live in St. Louis in 2007 by way of a job, evolved from being critical transplants to residents who have grown to accept the city as home. A home they could stay in forever. A home that is indeed a really great place to raise a family.

As many of you might know, I am a born and bred St. Louisan who loves the city that has raised me. And everyone sharing the article on Facebook were also proud St. Louis residents, both natives and transplants. As I scrolled through my news feed, I caught glimpses of words like “vindication” and “finally.”  It was like this virtual communal sigh of relief. See? We haven’t been lying. St. Louis really IS a nice place to live. I mean, if  The New York Times is willing to run the article, then it must be true. New York is the ultimate authority on everything after all.

st. louis map heart
Photo from http://urbanreviewstl.com/2011/02/be-my-valentine-st-louis/

But unlike so many others, the article didn’t inspire such a warm and fuzzy feeling in me as to make me share it on my timeline as well. Don’t get me wrong. I think Sittenfeld did a wonderful job highlighting many of the reasons St. Louis is a fantastically livable city, especially for those raising families: friendly communities, a unifying love for our sports teams, a city that is pretty easy to access from one corner to the other, and the insanely numerous attractions that are both incredible AND free, or at least affordable (which also makes St.Louis a great place to visit. There are cities my family has visited which could change their mottos to City X: Where nothing is cheap or easy. And if its easy, its really not cheap. And if its cheap, its wrong.)

revenge of the nerds
Look who’s cool now!

But as I counted how many times this article was shared in my news feed, all I could think was, Why do we need The New York Times to tell us what we already know? It’s like in every teen dramedy when the cool kid finally sees the nerd for the pretty rockin’ person he or she truly is. But isn’t the real lesson of those movies the realization that the nerd never really needed the cool kid’s approval at all?

Maybe I am bringing a little bitterness to the table. I can own that. But I would bet that just about every proud St. Louisan has heard our great city lambasted by an outsider at least once. A few months ago while in New Jersey, I was having a conversation about music, and I made the comment that St. Louis sometimes gets bypassed for various concert tours, despite the fact that we have a lot of stellar venues for live music. This man, who did not know me, responded, “Because St. Louis sucks. That’s why.” He made this incredibly informed statement having never visited, but because “that was the word on the street.” Maybe he had heard about that bogus list that put St. Louis as the third most violent city in the world. Oh, and he also provided the very solid reason that “St. Louis is in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the country.” Well, you got me there, bud. I guess we can blame it all on Lewis and Clark then. The whole time he was talking, I couldn’t help but think that my city was getting dissed by a guy from New Jersey. Hmmm…people in glass houses? You would think someone from New Jersey would be more sympathetic towards a native from another place with a bum wrap. Or maybe making fun of someplace else just helps ease the pain of  years and years of getting bullied by New York.

Some non-natives may not outright criticize St. Louis as Mr. Jersey did, but on more than one occasion I have experience attitudes of superiority from transplants from the coasts. Like Sittenfeld described of her and her husband’s attitudes on first arriving in the city after living in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia, coastal transplants seems to find a lack of sophistication in our city because we might not have the raging nightlife or fast-paced energy or as many hybrid cars or…whatever. And that subtle, veiled feeling of being a tad superior for having lived elsewhere before comes across in comments like, “It’s funny how hardly anyone uses your mass transit system,” or “People sure have an interesting way of saying forty-four around here,” or “Why does everyone care what high school you went to?” or “With a crust that thin, can you really call it pizza?” We sense it. And it makes us feel bad about our own city, while in our own city, even though we shouldn’t feel that way. We listen too much to people who don’t know St. Louis like we do, and that is what leads so many of us to become the “self-hating Midwesterners” that Sittenfeld mentions. We are right to love our city the way it is, and we really don’t need anyone else’s approval for doing so.

It is nice that Sittenfeld wrote the piece out of love for the Midwest. And it makes me happy that she and her family have found their place here; though it doesn’t surprise me at all that they did. St. Louis really is an easy city to love. Which is why my Facebook friends and all those local businesses, attractions, and radio stations shouldn’t have been surprised that praises for our home made it to The New York Times, so surprised that they felt the need to make sure everyone knew the cool kid had noticed us. After all, if the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a piece about what a great city New York is, I doubt anyone in New York would even notice. Because they know they are fabulous. And we should know we are as well.

St. Louis Arch heart
Photo from: http://thequilterskitchen.blogspot.com/2009/11/give-thanks-with-grateful-heart.html

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St. Louis Reads Because We Can

It is called vindication. And it reads like the sweet, smooth words of Jane Austen, the biting and truthful wit of Mark Twain, and the timeless universality of William Shakespeare. I should know, because I am from St. Louis: the eighth most literate city in America.

st. louis arch
By StLouisArchMultExpEV-4.72.JPG: Kevin McCoy StLouisArchMultExpEV-1.82.JPG: Kevin McCoy StLouisArchMultExpEV+1.51.JPG: Kevin McCoy StLouisArchMultExpEV+4.09.JPG: Kevin McCoy derivative work: Darxus [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
After ranting about a bogus report that St. Louis was the third most dangerous city in the world (see my post “Lock Your Doors: There Is Danger in The Lou“), I was a little over the moon this morning to hear that my beloved city finally fared well in one of these lists our society seems so enamored with making. And this one is actually legitimate, unlike the one that ranked us among world cities dominated by war and drug cartels. Apparently, a Central Connecticut State University study found St. Louis to rank among the top ten literate cities in America, according to a CNN article.

So we might shoot you, but at least we will be able to read the story when it makes in the papers the next day.

Every English teacher in the city should be proud right now. All those painful book reports we graded, all the groaning we let roll off our backs as we assigned homework chapters and summer reading, all those lessons in sentence diagramming, all the class discussions that resembled pulling teeth and exercises in non-sequitur thoughts more than literary dissection…they have all paid off.

It is nice to see our city rise to the occasion and succeed in an arena inspired by natives such as T.S. Eliot, Kate Chopin, Tennessee Williams, Eugene Field, Marianne Moore, William S. Burroughs, and Maya Angelou, instead of just being known as the home of rappers Nelly and Akon. That is a different kind of literacy, though I am sure we would probably rank pretty high on that list as well. I am going to say that makes us well-rounded.

Now if only we could figure out how to pronounce Gravois, mostaccioli, wash, and fork, I bet we would get bumped to #5 on the list.

We Read Because We Can

It is called vindication. And it reads like the sweet, smooth words of Jane Austen, the biting and truthful wit of Mark Twain, and the timeless universality of William Shakespeare. I should know, because I am from St. Louis: the eighth most literate city in America.

st. louis public library
We dig the library in The Lou

After ranting about a bogus report that St. Louis was the third most dangerous city in the world (see my post “Lock Your Doors: There Is Danger in The Lou“), I was a little over the moon this morning to hear that my beloved city finally fared well in one of these lists our society seems so enamored with making. And this one is actually legitimate, unlike the one that ranked us among world cities dominated by war and drug cartels. Apparently, a Central Connecticut State University study found St. Louis to rank among the top ten literate cities in America, according to a CNN article.

So we might shoot you, but at least we will be able to read the story when it makes in the papers the next day.

Every English teacher in the city should be proud right now. All those painful book reports we graded, all the groaning we let roll off our backs as we assigned homework chapters and summer reading, all those lessons in sentence diagramming, all the class discussions that resembled pulling teeth and exercises in non-sequitur thoughts more than literary dissection…they have all paid off.

It is nice to see our city rise to the occasion and succeed in an arena inspired by natives such as T.S. Eliot, Kate Chopin, Tennessee Williams, Eugene Field, Marianne Moore, William S. Burroughs, and Maya Angelou, instead of just being known as the home of rappers Nelly and Akon. That is a different kind of literacy, though I am sure we would probably rank pretty high on that list as well. I am going to say that makes us well-rounded.

Now if only we could figure out how to pronounce Gravois, mostaccioli, wash, and fork, I bet we would get bumped to #5 on the list.

Lock Your Doors: There is Danger in The Lou

Huh. I just heard on the radio this morning that St. Louis, Missouri is the third most dangerous city in the world. You heard me correctly…the WORLD. The home of the World Series Champion Cardinals is nestled between Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and Port-au-Prince, Haiti. We also safely beat out Mogadishu, Somalia (#5); Grozny, Chechnya, Russia (#8); and Muzaffarabad, Kashmir, Pakistan (#10). That’s right. My city is more dangerous than one embroiled in the Afghan war.

Wow. So I guess the fact that I have safely survived thirty-four years without so much as mace in my purse means I have way more street cred than I ever would have imagined.

Or this could simply be a case of irresponsible journalism. Surprising, I know.

st. louis arch
Does this skyline look dangerous to you?

I was curious to see this report that one of our local radio stations broadcasted as I drove my daughter to school this morning. I apparently did not realize how lucky I was to have made the trip without encountering a car bomb or a car-jacking. So I typed in the keywords, expecting to see a rash of trustworthy news sources citing some legitimate study done by a governmental statistics agency, or something along those lines. Instead, I got one result at the top of the list from a website called Urban Titan, whose tag line is “All Things That are Weird, Bizarre, Strange and Unusual.” And the article about the ten most dangerous cities in the world was written by “Nataly.” Just Nataly. Apparently she is such a renowned expert that she does not need a last name.

That is just for starters. The “article” was riddled with typos. And when I was finished reading the “article,” I could click on one of the numerous ads on either side to educate myself on the ten most controversial cartoon characters, the five most bizarre deaths during sexual intercourse, and how drunk girls like to “experiment.” This is hard-hitting journalism, folks.

Not only that, but as part of the explanation of why St. Louis, Missouri is on the list, the author claims that 65% of our crime occurs in East St. Louis. Hold it. East St. Louis? You mean that city that shares our name but is a completely different city? The one with its own mayor, and…oh yeah, its own STATE? As in East St. Louis, ILLINOIS? Granted, I will admit that East St. Louis is considered to be within the family of “the St. Louis area.” We certainly claim its successes for our own, such as Ike and Tina Turner and Miles Davis. But when taking statistics for something like the most dangerous cities, it can only seem fair to include the stats strictly within the city limits, and East St. Louis does not fall within those limits. If they are going to be lax about parameters, at least throw in the stats from suburbs like Manchester and Frontenac to give our median a fair picure of the area. Even still, I would question if East St. Louis as its own entity would be able to keep up with some of the world’s most violent places.

But I think what bothers me the most is that some of our own St. Louisans brought this story into the limelight by discussing it on their radio show without really checking the validity of the story. The original article on Urban Titan was posted in January of this year, which means it went virtually unnoticed in our media for almost a year. Why? Because had it been a legitimate study, it would have made news. But it’s not. And now our own fellow citizens are perpetuating an idea that St. Louis is really worse than it is…which really is not that bad at all. I am not denying the fact that we have crime, and more crime than we should. But it seems that polls like this one and the recent Men’s Health poll on the saddest cities in America (in which we came in sixth) do nothing but create overall unrealistic images of cities which can be a danger to tourism and commerce. And for what?

I guess the only thing we in St. Louis can do is hold on to the fact that we know we live in a great city with a rich history. The Gateway to the West. The home of the Arch, interesting architecture, fabulous museums, copious and tantalizing restaurants, cozy neighborhoods to raise families, Forest Park, ground-breaking music, the eleven-time World Series Champions, and some damn fine beer, among many, many other things. Oh, and the best tasting city water in America (see: http://www.stlwater.com/bestwater.php).

As far as I’m concerned, the rest is just fuzzy math. Then again, most math is fuzzy to me.