Musing on the “Gateway To The West”

 

I’ve lived in St. Louis for more than a decade now. Truth be told, it never really felt like home. I’ve made amazing friends and have plenty of spots in the city I’ll always think of fondly. I don’t write this as an assault on the city that I’ve lived in, but as a meditation on why I’m so happy to be leaving. The otherness I felt here, instilled a definition of being “at home” that is vital to my ability to travel and not get homesick.

This city is strange, and I say this not only as someone who tried very hard to NOT be from here. I lived in Baltimore just long enough to ascribe the title of “home” to it, before I came here and made life hell for my parents complaining about being here. There’s an odd duality to being in St. Louis. The city doesn’t sprawl out the way others do. In most there isn’t really a defining line where the city ends and the suburbs begin. St. Louis has tried to blur those lines over and over, but for whatever reason never really managed to do it. There is an undercurrent that likes those strictly drawn lines, as evidenced by the common greeting of “where did you go to highschool?”. It’s asked not out of interest, but as a way of shaping the conversation before it starts, of classifying the person you’re interacting with. I won’t go into the detrimental aspects of this, but I do want to talk about something good that came of this odd little tic of St. Louis locals.

Not being from here, and being asked that question early on made for some interesting self-growth. I was homeschooled most of my life, save one year of private catholic school. Not having a short hand answer that most of the people I met had (“Oh, I went to Eureka HS, Marquette, Fox, ETC”) forced me to explore myself in a way I likely wouldn’t have in any other city. I had to have explanations for all the weird b’more habits I brought inland with me, and that forced me to read about my home cities history and find the origins of things like “hon” and “Down ocean”. Simple phrases I used daily, that I wouldn’t have questioned otherwise. It also meant that I lived here, but if I wanted to feel home, but not concede to being “from” st. Louis, I had to create that sense of belonging internally. This is the greatest thing living here has imparted to me, this ability to be in any city, or part of the world and feel comfortable. It’s allowed me to have experiences with locals I meet that I likely wouldn’t have had if I was missing someplace. Secondary to my internal sense of comfort, is a curiosity about other places that wouldn’t have come about without being dropped into such a drastically different city right as I started to figure myself out.

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This town is a good one, and it’s taken me a long time to admit it. There are things about it that I love, and things I don’t, but I challenge anyone to find a town of people who’re prouder of their city (just don’t tell them I admire it. If I hear one more person tell me how great the cardinals are, I’m going to raid Busch stadium like an invading barbarian horde and raze it.) They have an ability to take all the cultures that float down the river to them and make it their own. Toasted ravioli might be the most midwestern idea I’ve ever heard, but christ is it a stroke of genius. Even folks I disagreed with about some of my most deeply held beliefs were always polite and welcoming. Sometimes to a frustrating degree for this Eastern kid. (You have no idea how much pent up argumentativeness is is inside me from having a disagreement interrupted by being offered food, or a beer.)

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For every memory of sadness that came from being landlocked, and not near my family or the places I loved, there is a memory of good times, with good people who’ll always be close to my heart. I met my best friends here, and that means leaving a small bit of myself in a city I railed against for years, and you know something? I was wrong. So incredibly wrong. This place formed me just as much as Baltimore did, arguably more so. The people here offered insight when I needed it, and shaped the path I’m taking by doing so. I’ll never admit to being a St. Louisian, but I’d be lying on an unforgivable scale if I didn’t admit to the fact that I am going to miss the hell out of this strange, bifurcated city. You have so much pride over such strange things (The arch is the most pointless piece of architecture in the country, and most St. Louis natives admit it happily to each other, but don’t you dare say it’s pointless if you’re not from here. You don’t know rage until you see someone defending that stupid silver rainbow that they probably went up in once, and never thought about again until this fight for its honor ensued.)

I’m going to miss you St. Louis, not enough to ever come back permanently, but enough to visit on occasion and eat all your weird food. Except your pizza. You can keep that weird cardboard.

 

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