Friday, March 25, 2011

World News

St. Louis can be tough nut to crack. Ask anyone who has spent some time in a downtown hotel without a Cardinals game to attend and nary a 314 area code in their personal Rolodex. Through visiting eyes our fair city can look hollow.  A hard gray shell-- the meat inside presumed to have dried up around the turn of the last century.

St. Louis isn't hollow. Nor is it dried up. But it takes a good nose, or some expertise to locate and access the choice bits. It also takes some time, as you will have to cover some distance.

For whatever combination of reasons St. Louisans of generations past decided to build our city outwards. Taking the idea of a Gateway City to heart they pursued their own personal manifest destinies and made for themselves homes, then villages and cities, in the green expanse just past the far edge of what had already been civilized.

And so the City of St. Louis begat it's inner ring suburbs. And like rabbits, Maplewood and Afton and Normandy begat Hazlewood and Chesterfield and Fenton. And here we are. A medium sized city with with 92 downtowns. One in The City of St. Louis and 91 in St. Louis County.

For those not familiar with St. Louis County, its is composed of seemingly countless little cities.  Some of them almost look like real cities. They have crosswalk signs with countdown timers, and Thai restaurants. Others look exactly like decrepit suburban strip malls. Regardless of how they look, each municipality apparently gets to put its city limit sign on the side of Northbound 170 between Page and Natural Bridge. Their City Halls can be red brick, limestone and columns, or cut-rate drywall, fluorescent lighting and drop ceilings. Either way, if you live under their jurisdiction, your gonna end up seeing their address in your checkbook eventually.

Downtown Clayton is the Washington DC of St. Louis County, both another municipality and the seat of the County government.  In Clayton, their has been created a 1/3 scale model of the perfect Midwestern police state. Where, by night, cologne'd white people enjoy food from chefs who could maybe be a contestant on a second tier cable cook-off show in two or three years; And by day, people work in banks and/or bail their cousin out of jail.  It has a telling prevalence of European automobiles, a jail, a 10 meter diving platform and an excellent news stand.

World News is the big city news stand of my youth, where after dark the register was manned by an new wave rocker of the makeup and hairdryer tradition. Where they sold pornography and laffy taffy, and let you hang out for while.  I used to go there on dates. You can too. If she's not into obscure Italian fashion magazines just buy her an ice cream bar and move right along.

Browsing racks of magazines has long been a hobby of mine. Before the Internet a good news stand was the place to check out glossy photos of interesting things. Now most people carry little computers around in their pockets so Google image search is rarely more than a few steps away. Even so, the news stand is not irrelevant.

The Internet is mostly written by soft drink companies, 15 year old girls, and content providers.  Magazines are put together by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. They are trustworthy in a way that the Internet isn't. The editor of Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder isn't into it just for the money; he's just into it. Same goes for all these magazines, and the large man behind the counter. He'll special order you any magazine he can figure out how to get his hands on. Don't be afraid to ask.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gus' Pretzels

This here blog is a one man operation. It's just me. I've got no editor, research department or fact checkers. I'd imagine this is coming as no surprise to you, esteemed reader, but since there is no one here to draw lines through my sentences I'm saying it anyway. Sometimes while working on a post I do some actual research, a lot of the time I don't. But I promise that nothing I say is an outright fabrication. Even this...

My buddy Tony's dad beat up Gus from Gus' Pretzels.

Gus Jr. to be precise. Apparently he said something inappropriate to, or about, Tony's mom. I wasn't there so I don't know the details, but I'd like to think that once Gus Jr's teeth were sore and nose bloody, it was all water under the bridge for Tony's folks. They're the kind of people for whom past fisticuffs with the proprietor of a pretzel shop is hardly a reason to stop enjoying his cheap and salty wares. Why let one hiccup ruin a good thing? Gus makes a stellar pretzel.

I've previously mentioned my Mom's struggle to feed my siblings and I only scratch-made food when we were young. She was successful for many years. But time has a way of wearing down all things, even good intentions. Children go to school, and while they're there parents of their classmates bring in cupcakes on birthdays. Hawaiian Punch is served in mouth wash cups with a graham cracker for snack. On the last day of October it is made sufficiently clear that raisins are not the same thing as candy.

My first encounter with Gus' Pretzels was in the backseat of my Mom's station wagon. She was driving my sister, brother and I home from a dentist appointment early in my grade school years. Half a block south of the intersection of Jamieson and Fyler she pulled the car up to the center median and gave a scruffy looking man a few dollars for a bag of pretzels shaped like cartoon cigars. She gave one to each of us, a spontaneous reward for our courageous behaviour at the dentist. That pretzel, if slightly stale, was delicious even to a mouth tasting faintly of blood and fluoride.

That first roadside pretzel was a turning point, a pragmatic change of strategy. Mom's first admission that she wouldn't be able to keep the world at bay forever. The new plan was to grant us limited access to some acceptable foodstuffs from the world outside her kitchen, if only to keep Mountain Dew and nacho cheez at arms length for a few more years. By the time I was in middle school my dear mother started buying frozen Gus' Pretzels at the grocery store for after school snacks.

Truthfully, when it comes to pretzels, I'm not to picky. If its a twist or stick of salted bread I'll eat it with a smile on my face. Add a puddle of mustard and mug of cold beer and you're nearing perfection. But Gus' hold a special place in my heart. What's not to like about stand alone pretzel shop? Especially one that been around since 1920. The economy has taken its share of spills since 1920. It makes you wonder how Gus' has survived, especially considering that its 2011 and a pretzel stick still only cost 55 cents.

Location. Location. Location.