Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Upper MUNY Parking Lot

I try to live my life in a way that when someone comes up to me and says, "I've got this go-kart, do you know anyplace we can use it?" The answer is yes.

For basic go-karting, donut spinning, motorcycle learning, stick shift practice and general parking lot sessioning I recommend the Upper MUNY Parking lot. It's close, huge and rarely used as a place to park cars. A perfect place to ride and drive things of questionable legality.

The thing that makes a parking lot good for motorsporting practice is size. The Upper MUNY is a big parking lot. The surface is not perfect. But it offers plenty of room to dabble with chaos.

By car, the approach is winding. Adult trees conceal the lots' true size until the next to last moment. At the moment of reveal, she is stunning. Long enough to blur the edges on a sweltering August afternoon. Long enough to use as a quarter mile drag strip for slow vehicles with small wheels.

At the Upper MUNY you feel atop a plateau, vistas to various styles reveal themselves at the cardinal directions. A moat of mature oaks and turf grass immediately below. It was surreptitiously designed by some unknown genius of the drug-soaked 1970's civil engineering underground as a playing field for things with wheels and motors. Two of the best three things.

The Upper MUNY Parking Lot

Reverse Angle

People Know

I'm not letting you in on some great secret. Ask around. People know the upper MUNY is a dialed spot. Those beer bottles didn't empty and break themselves. That Spiro-graph of cauterized rubber isn't from parked cars. This lot has seen the business end of fat meats. J's were done, and the fuzz knows it.

Relax man, the cops have other stuff to worry about. Not gonna waste their time on five beer-spitting low lifes racing a go-cart in an empty parking lot. They're gonna be happy we're not giving each other blow jobs in the woods, or shooting rich white ladies.

Since this whole thing was conceived as a guide to St. Louis, let me fill you in on some the details. The Upper MUNY is one of two parking lots for the Municipal Theater in Forrest park. For those of you not familiar with St. Louis, the Municipal Theater, or MUNY, is where old people go on summer nights to sit. Their Cadillacs and Buicks wait patiently in the lot. Anticipating the return trip west.


Once a year, after 40 days of penance, the Upper Muny Parking Lot gets its moment to shine.

The Easter Car Show is a St. Louis tradition. Held Easter Sunday on the Upper MUNY parking lot it's the place to see interesting cars and St. Louis' car people. Originally organized by the old rich guys with British roadsters and shiny Model A sedans, The Easter Car Show now belongs to St. Louis. We took it over by driving hose clamped together Donks and Hyundai Tiburons with $5000 stereos and $50 airbrush murals, and parking them proudly next to whatever trailer queen the banker in the Hawaiian shirt brought.

Do yourself a favor and go to the Easter Car Show this year. Don't sweat seeing the Concourse D'Elegance, the real show is what the spectators bring. Two years ago Cole and I watched a fire breathing pro-street Camaro get loose right into the lower MUNY's stone retaining wall.

The Lower MUNY Parking Lot

The man with the Camaro made one critical mistake. He chose the wrong parking lot. The Upper MUNY is the lot for getting loose in $50,000 street legalish race cars. The Lower MUNY is for getting romantic with some guy you just met behind Steinburg Ice Rink.

Monday, February 22, 2010

My Friend's Cheap Car

I don't know how much my friend, The Driver, paid for the Party Van. No amount would be too much. *

How Much Does Perfect Cost?

I'm starting to think the two most powerful words in the English language are white van.

The Human Crumple Zone is one of the areas inside the Party Van. Take off your hat and come in. It is in front of the rear bench seat, just behind the cockpit, from the sliding door to the wall. If you want, you can use the un-lined Spanish Conquistador's helmet. No one will think less of you. There might be fireworks. There will be shouting.

The Human Crumple Zone is the perfect classroom, laboratory, dance floor, arena and abattoir. Feel free to leave something behind.

Deep In the Crumple Zone

In the party van you can do anything, but it must be done with vitality.

The first step is letting go. The Driver has done this many times before. He does it well. I would say he is in control, but he knows there is no such thing.

The Driver**

What should you know going in?

It's going to be fun.
Trust Me.


"Driver, begin!"

The music is making you punch the ceiling with ecstatic metronomic gusto. The dance floor is moving at 70 miles an hour, maybe sideways. You aren't alone. Gravity is there. And The Driver. And whoever you brought. It's raining. The rain is punching the ceiling from above.

Don't bother inviting the rain to your party. It's already there.

The ceiling is made of metal. But It feels good to punch because of the head liner. Ice in a Styrofoam cup.

This is the beginning. Explore.


* This picture, and the detail shot, are not of The Driver's actual Party Van. This is someone else's Party Van that I found. An "older" slightly Hoosier Party Van.

** This is actually the driver.***


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Porter's Fried Chicken

If you could have any super power what would you choose?

Invisibility is perfect for watching girls get undressed. But when you choose invisibility you've declared yourself a creep. Flying would be amazing. But it draws a lot of attention, and flying in St. Louis in the winter requires so many layers that sometimes it's just simpler to drive. Invincibility is boring. Time travel is an especially wriggly can of worms. It makes never being born dangerously easy.

I've known my ideal super power for a long time. It came to me one day in High School.

My super power: Every meal I ever ate would be the most delicious thing I've ever eaten, just slightly more delicious than the last thing I ate.

Simple and practical. I love to eat.

The fried chicken at Porter's is not the best thing I've ever eaten. It's just the best fried chicken. Infallible. Porter's made me understand why there are places like KFC and Lee's Famous Recipe.*

The Best Fried Chicken

On paper Lee's Famous Recipe should be my favorite restaurant. But in the real world, tip-toeing the Shrewsbury-Maplewood border, there is a fried chicken joint called Porter's. It's in the perfect nobody of a strip mall, right between the laundromat and the pool hall. The name of the strip mall is painted on a rock out front.

Porter's Fried Chicken


Pool Hall

I get the two piece or three piece special depending on hunger. Special means all breasts. Slightly more expensive.

The first time you come in the girl at the counter will explain that all the meals and snacks come with mashed potatoes, slaw and a biscuit. But if you want, for an extra 40 cents, you can get fries. The second time you come she'll ask, "Mash and slaw?" The third time she won't need to ask. The fourth time explain it to someone else.

Catfish Dinner with Tartar Sauce

What makes the perfect chicken place? Porter's does it with a skyline of of white cardboard boxes waiting to be greased-thru by hot salty chicken. And a Lions Club of Webster used eyeglass collection box. And a bowling league trophy. And the occasional fried feather. And greasy floors and Thrifty Nickle classifieds. Phone in orders encouraged.

My buddy John's family has Porter's every time one of his 6 siblings has a birthday. Maybe the parents birthdays too. Fourth of July. Sunday nights. Family reunions.

John was the one that brought me to Porter's. And he was with me the day a representative of the St. Louis Tall Club tried to recruit us. He was also there when three of use fought vicious hangovers to get our Motorcycle Permits at the DMV branch across the street. After a restorative fried chicken lunch, resplendent with perfectly mixed Cherry Pepsi in a 24oz Styrofoam cup, we got our permits. We saw Shady Jack in line at the DMV, he got his motorcycle permit at 15 and a half. I got mine at 28.

Lets get down to brass tacks.

The reason Porter's is so amazing is that it made me realize that I don't need a super power to love fried chicken. I just needed proof of its existence before I could accept that there is such a thing as good fried chicken. Now, I can even kind of enjoy bad fried chicken. It's a powerful feeling.

* As a matter of fact, the next business down Big Bend past Porter's and the pool hall is a KFC. There is only Shrewsbury ave, a creek/drainage ditch and a thin parking lot in between. Mr. and Mrs. Porter are not sweating it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ramp Riders. Part 1 of at least 60.

I'm a pacifist.

That's something my mom taught me to say when I was a kid. I still say it. It was part of her lesson on Ghandi, and Jesus, and The Way Of the Peaceful Warrior, and counting coup. I believed her. It was tougher to take a punch and not give one back.

Then I got older and I wanted to learn to fight. I wrestled anyone who would wrestle back, Cole, Dad, Karl, whoever. Jeff Gaskin beat me everytime. I love wrestling, but it's friendly. Wrestling is play fighting.

I learned to fight at Ramp Riders Skatepark. 3001-3 Locust street in mid-town St. Louis. On the Northwest corner of Locust and Garrison. Just behind the Harbor Light.

Ramp Riders sometime between 2000 and 2003

The first thing Ramp Riders taught me was the importance of having a clubhouse. A clubhouse is a place to go that your mom has no idea about. A Tattoo shop would make a good clubhouse. Garages are the best kind of clubhouse.

When Ramp Riders was our clubhouse, we called it The Park. It was in a hot zone of perfect clubhouses. The Harbor Light, the building immediately to the North was the ultimate club house for people who spent their entire lives boozing and driving everyone else away. The only people left to abuse were a group of people so devoted to the idea that everyone is worth saving that they formed an army.

For the Salvation Army no one is beyond saving. Anyone can stay at the Harbor Light so long as they can scrounge up $2 per night. Two dollars was easy to find in the ashtrays and cup holders of the cars outside Ramp Riders, and the winos figured out surprisingly quick how big a rock has to be in order to go through a car's window on the first try.

Blood And Fire

Our clubhouse was an old, two and a half story brick building. It was built to be a coach builders building. Factory and showroom in one. My bike brought me to The Park. The one that Tom and Wayne, Squints, Andy and JJ were building with wood, sweat and drywall screws in between legendary games of gay chicken.*

We should start making plaques

Tom and the guys were building the park as fast as they could get wood. Save some money, buy some wood. See if you can get your buddy at the lumber yard to cut us a deal, or at least forget to scan something.

Then when the wood showed up they brought it in and attached it to the first thing they built, the box jump with the grind-ledge down the middle. Actually, the first thing they built was the mini ramp. But they built that in Tom's backyard when he was spending a lot of time at home in South County.

That all happened before I was there. Before The Park opened. Cole found Ramp Riders first. He heard the streets whispering that someone was opening a skatepark in St. Louis. So he rode down there and looked in the mail-slot. It looked dark and dirty.

Then he went back to look in again and Tom was there. Tom was stoked that a 15 year old kid would ride his BMX bike from Ladue to Mid-Town to look in the mail slot of his unopened skatepark... for a second time. He told Cole to come back on Opening Day and bring some friends. When Tom extended that invitation, the clubhouse opened for me.

These photos are definitely not from opening day. They are meant to set the scene.

Cole and I were there on opening day. Our parents helped us buy Emperor's passes numbered 1 and 2. Unlimited access to the park for one year. Cole was number one.

Cole and I weren't new to bike riding when we found Ramp Riders, we had both been riding bikes everyday since we were 3 years old. But Ramp Riders taught us the language, culture, and history of Freestyle BMX.

And just like that we weren't two brothers riding alone in Mid-County.

At The Park we met the dudes that were doing the same things at the same time in Bridgeton, South County and Belleville. Now we were part of a tribe. A group people that got off on fighting with gravity and using our bikes to show the world what we thought of it.

I learned to fight with the Ding-A-Lings and the Sprockets and The Mud Butts. And with Tom and The Waterlilies and the skateboarders. We were all fighting together against fear, and gravity, and expectations.

Those days were a frenzy of physical pain and ecstatic joy. The pain came from finding out for yourself that gravity is never going to concede. The joy came from successfully cheating a physical force. The uninitiated think that gravity is a law. I know plenty of people that can bend that law unrecognizable with a BMX bike.

This is only Part 1 on Ramp Riders.

I have to wait for the internet to get bigger before I can tell you about everything the clubhouse that Tom built meant to me. All the friends I made there. How I learned to be myself. Learning to understand fear.

Ramp Riders became my second home. My second family. My home where it was OK to hang my old shoes from the power lines out front. My home caddy-corner from the car wash that the Ghost Dogg Riders Motorcycle Club used as their clubhouse (The third awesome Clubhouse in the hot zone). My home where I got to have raw hamburger fights, and blow the lids off of old washing machines with quarter sticks of dynamite, and prove that a bucket brigade can put out a fire in an overgrown vacant lot. It was also where I learned to be a teacher, and where I learned for myself the importance of letting yourself be a student.

Ghost Doggs

When this lot was overgrown, litter-strewn and on fire. We put it out with buckets.

Ramp Riders was also my second job. Where I got interviewed by a newspaper reporter on my very first day.* Where I sold giant pickles to kids so filthy that their sweat left visible tracks down their cheeks. They would hand me a sweaty and crumpled dollar bill and I would put a fat pickle in their dirt black hand.

It's where I taught myself how to program a cash register. The top of every receipt read "Ramp Riders: You Are Not Special."

Where I had to explain to parents on Beginner Night that the Ghost Doggs always held drag races on Monday nights and it was nothing to be alarmed about. Where I learned the importance of giving your all to something you love.

Ramp Riders is where I learned that I didn't have to learn to fight another person. There are bigger things to fight against, things that you will probably never beat. But you will learn a lot if you try.

To this day I've never punched somebody as hard as I can.

Maybe I should start with whoever turned our clubhouse into a high end women's boutique that sells organic beauty products instead of leaving it as a filthy, sweat-drenched museum.

3001-3 Locust now. Stealing change from car ashtrays has never been more satisfying.

*Gay Chicken is a game straight dudes play. The idea is to do something so gay that your opponent can't let himself top it. The best game I ever witnessed ended with JJ's hand down Wayne's pants. JJ was squeezing Wayne's naked dick and Wayne EVENTUALLY had to quit when he started getting hard!


Monday, February 1, 2010

My Friend's Cheap Car

St. Louis is a lot of things. It's a beer town and a baseball town. The museums are free. We get all four seasons. Gas stations sell beer. It's got history. It's affordable. It's got potential galore.

There are beautiful buildings like The Cathedral Basilica and The Central Branch of the Public Library. Our Symphony kicks ass. We have our own kind of pizza, and our own cut of ribs. We invented an entirely new kind of cheese. Not to mention toasted ravioli.

But, there are a lot of things that St. Louis is not. St. Louis is not Progressive. It is Authentic, and multi-faceted, and Real. But not progressive. In progressive cities round the world intelligent, well-read, locavores, ride their bicycles to work. And they stop on the way for an Organic Fair Trade Cafe Latte at their friendly, neighborhood, coffee roaster and brunch spot/general store. Then they finish their brisk and invigorating ride to work. They lock up their bike and swipe in to their totally modern, LEED Platinum Certified, Architecturally significant building. Before hopping into the office's unisex shower room with adjoining steam and sauna, and doing some brief and totally spontaneous bikram yoga with young Ms. Rose Sherpa, the new Nepalese intern from the famous Sherpa family of mountain guides. The very same Sherpa family that is renowned for being on every single successful ascent of Mt. Everest of all time! And then these progressive people do some meaningful, engrossing and totally admirable work before calling it a day and going home to spend time with their beautiful and unconditionally loving families.

St. Louisans aren't progressive in the same way as those people. In St. Louis, we drive to work. And a lot of us do it in cheap used cars.

My Friend's Cheap Car will be a recurring series on One Guy's Guide to St. Louis, in which I will examine My friends' Cheap Cars.

Shall we begin?

Cole's 1990 2wd Toyota Pick Up

This is Cole's truck, Travis. In the interest of full disclosure let me explain right off the bat, that in addition to being one of my very best friends, Cole is also my younger brother, and one of the coolest people I know. So it's possible that my love for my brother is influencing the way I feel about his truck. You'll have to be the judge of that.

I love Cole's truck.

I've always had a close relationship with Cole's vehicles. My first car was his first car too. And my second car was really his car that he let me use. Even though it was my mom's hand me down station wagon, and it never really belonged to me, Cole and I loved his wagon so completely that we named it the Death Wagon. And we had our talented buddy One Shot a hood mural.

Does the idea of a 1996 purplish gray Ford Taurus station wagon with skull on the hood do anything for you? Well what if I told you the skull was wearing an eye patch, and Pirate's hat? and that there were crossed swords beneath him. And a cut noose around where his neck would have been. And that on top of all that was a top rocker that read DEATH. And a bottom rocker that read WAGON.

The Death Wagon Hood

As we all know nothin lasts for ever, even Ford Taurus station wagons. And after a few years Cole bought a Crown Vic and we started scouring the bowels of St. Louis for under utilized non-purpose built skid pads, which we sessioned heavily upon the arrival of the very first snow flake. The crown vic is gone now too, but we still remember its 4.6l engine and rear wheel drive whenever a fellow motorist skirts the tires.

The story of Travis the truck begins on a very very hot summer day in St. Louis. Cole has been looking for a used car for several weeks.

"There's a Brat for $800 in Belleville," he says stomping down the back steps in partially unlaced high tops.

"Oh Yeah?" I say looking up from scanning the grass for any nuts, bolts, springs, washers, raspberries, buds, or quarters that might have rolled off the picnic table. "Does it have the jump seats?" I ask.

The jump seats in a Subaru Brat were a pair of color matched plastic racing seats that got bolted down facing backwards in the bed of the little Japanese car truck. Cole and I have discussed the brat's rear facing jump seats on many occasions. often while playing the 'what cars would you buy with unlimited money' game. During which Cole would usually call me lame for maintaining that I would only buy one car. A 1984 Toyota Starlet rear wheel drive hatchback with a 5-speed. I would shoehorn in a bigger more powerful, corolla motor and then have it painted in some deep Easter egg faux-livery and thrash the living shit out of it around town.

Cole on the other hand could always come up with at least 25 different cars he wanted. And would tell me why he wanted them, and what they represented to him personally and to the greater car world without hesitating a second.

"Not Sure," Cole answers, "The ad is pretty vague. It was an old man's car but he's dead, or can't drive or something. I talked to his daughter who said we could come out now... So are you coming?"
"Can we stop at a gas station?"

So I got up from the picnic table in Cole's backyard and we drove to Belleville on a hot ass summer day in the Crown Vic. The one with dark blue vinyl seats and no air conditioning.

As you might have guessed, since this post is about a Toyota pick-up, we didn't buy the Brat. It didn't have the jump seats, or most of the bed, or some of the frame, or most of several rear suspension pieces.

So we turned around in Belleville and drove back home. With the sun in our eyes.

Back at Cole's, drinking a glass of water, I decided that it couldn't be that hard to find a decent car or truck, or car truck. One thing to lead to another, craigslist to cell phone to google maps, and we were on our way to St. Peters.

With us on the drive to St. Peters we had the $660 we had planed on giving for the Brat. Visions of cherries danced in our minds.

The truck was parked on the street in a subdivision where every road ends in a Cul-de-Sac. It was red. With the perfectly uniform loss of clear coat that old Toyotas are known for. An overweight man in his 60s answered the door to his home, inside the thermostat was set in the 60s.

We're here about the truck. We talked to your wife.

He introduces himself.

I'll spare you the description of the truck.

After we test drive and look the truck over, Cole tells me he wants to buy it. We devise a plan. The fat man who has been outside for 5 minutes is dripping sweat. The Craigslist ad was asking $1000 for the truck.

"Well... Between us we have 660 bucks," we say.
"Well I'd have to get at least 800..."

Is all he can say before I blurt out,
"You got a deal!" and vigorously shake his soggy hand.

Then we adjourned to the air conditioned kitchen to attend to the paperwork. The story of the truck unfolds as signatures are laid to paper. The truck belonged to their daughter, but she's pregnant now, under less than ideal circumstances, maybe in the military, and she needs a bigger car.

Just as we seemingly wrap everything up and the Title nears Cole's hand, the wife remembers that they need to get the license plates off the truck.

The license plates are fastened to the bumpers by whatever rusty and half stripped hardware was within arms length of the vice grips that proud day in 1990 when the plates for the new truck showed up in the mail. The old man hands Cole a flat-head screwdriver. Cole looks at him quizzically then kneels down on the scorching hot pavement.

A few minutes pass. "Do you have any other tools?"

A trip to the garage and another few minutes. The old man is leaning over Cole offering thin advice and a light showering of sweat.

After a few more minutes of laying full long on his side on the pavement, with the little pebbles pressed and clinging to the perspiration on his left forearm, and some grunting, the second plate comes off.

Cole hands the man his tools and reaches for the title.

The fat man says one last thing. "And by the way... the truck's name is Travis."