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King Shighway

July 18, 2014

Kingshighway

If you’ve been following The Hamster and the Highway since our first road trip, you might remember that the two days we spent in St. Louis on that first trip turned out to be one of the highlights of both of our lives. In the three years since, we’ve often fantasized about moving there, only to be snapped back to reality by a wife and daughter (or in Sam’s case, a mother and sister) who prefer to stay put. All I can say is that they don’t know what they’re missing.

Ever since we started planning this trip we’ve been excited to come back to St. Louis, but a little unsure of what to do when we got here. We did so many fun things last time, and we wanted to do them all again, but this time we had just one day, and as much as I loved everything we did the first time we were here, I was hoping to do some new stuff, too.

The first step was getting there. Doing so via Route 66 turned out to be more difficult than expected because there’s a fair amount of construction being done around St. Louis, especially in the downtown area, which meant road closures and confusing detours. Eventually we made it to the Chain of Rocks Bridge, a major Route 66 landmark that connects Illinois to Missouri and is one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world (it’s about a mile long). I would have liked to walk across it (the views are reportedly very scenic), but that would have meant walking back, too. Instead we simply parked on the Missouri side and gawked.

Chain of Rocks Bridge

Thanks to the All-Star Game, the Cardinals are on vacation until Friday night, so a ballgame was out of the question. Just like we did in Chicago, we figured that a stadium tour would be a good consolation prize. Unfortunately, too many other people had the same idea and all of today’s tours were sold out. Instead, we puttered around the outside of the stadium, which was great fun for both of us for a very odd reason.

Sam’s favorite hobby, by a wide margin, is silliness. This has been true since he was a toddler, and it shows no signs of letting up. He makes up silly songs, he speaks in silly accents, he makes silly faces, and, more relevant to today’s activities, he poses in front of every statue by mimicking the position of the statue. Ordinarily this is not very difficult, but today it was an unprecedented challenge. Right outside Busch Stadium there are statues of every Cardinals player whose number has been retired. The Cardinals have retired a lot of numbers. And these statues do a fantastic job of depicting each player in the act for which he was most famous. One is sliding, one is running so fast he looks like he’s about to fall over, and one is completing a throw in midair. It took Sam about half an hour to recreate each pose, most of which was spent laughing at the impossibility of the task and at his failed attempts. Here’s what we ended up with:

Dizzy Dean

Dizzy Dean

Enos Slaughter

Enos Slaughter

Ozzie Smith

Ozzie Smith

Red Schoendinst

Red Schoendinst

Stan Musial

Stan Musial

Lou Brock

Lou Brock

Bob Gibson

Bob Gibson

Cool Papa Bell

Cool Papa Bell

George Sisler

George Sisler

Rogers Hornsby

Rogers Hornsby

Speaking of silliness, I should probably explain the title of today’s post. There’s a street in St. Louis called Kingshighway. It should probably be two words, but because it’s not, Sam read it as “King Shighway” when he first saw the street sign three years ago. He started talking about a fictional King Shighway being very shy, and within a few minutes the two of us made up a silly little song about this shy king, whose shyness led him to invent sleeves. Brooklyn also has a Kings Highway (it’s two words there); I cross it every day on my way to work and often think about our song, and sleeves, and St. Louis. And at home whenever anyone mentions sleeves for any reason, Sam immediately bursts into song. Needless to say he was pretty happy to see the sign for Kingshighway today, and we spent more time than I care to admit singing the song and discussing King Shighway’s shyness and his sleeves..So you see, mocking statues is actually Sam at his most serious.

Anyway, when we finally finished with the statues we visited the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum, which was much more interesting than either of us expected it to be. Sam especially loved the broadcast booth, where you can record your voice calling any of several famous moments in Cardinals history. Sam, of course, made it silly, singing ridiculous commentary and then cracking up when it was played back for him with the video. In fact, he was so amused with himself that he recorded the playback, which would love to share with you but I don’t think he’ll let me, so you’ll have to settle for a still photo.

Sam in the broadcast booth

We also both enjoyed holding the actual bats of past and current Cardinals players. When we visited the Baseball Hall of Fame on our first road trip Sam earnestly asked is Ozzie Smith was a rock star; this time Pzzie’s bat was the first one Sam wanted to hold.

Ozzie Smith's bat

I held Stan Musial’s bat before hitting an imaginary home run with Lou Brock’s.

Lou Brock home run

Since we were already immersed in baseball history, I figured it would be interesting to stop by the former site of Sportsman’s Park, the Cardinal’s original stadium. It turned out to be very interesting, but not in the way i expected. It turns out that the neighborhood that used to house Sportsman’s Park is now an absolutely terrible neighborhood, with half the homes and businesses completely abandoned and not even boarded up–just hollow shells of buildings on every block and if there had been a war. It reminded me of another famous road trip through a bad neighborhood in St. Louis:

We also made a quick visit to the St. Louis Walk of Fame, which was in a better part of town but was not much to look at.

For lunch we recreated old magic by going to Kohn’s, a supermarket with a few tables at which you can eat whatever you buy from the deli counter. The food was nothing special but we were there mostly to pick up food for Shabbat. The last time we were there, we got peanut butter brownies from the bakery counter that were so delicious that we still talk about them nostalgically every time we eat brownies. They were regular brownies with a thin layer of peanut butter spread on top; then the whole thing was covered with chocolate fondant and a little decorative squirt of peanut butter was put on the top. Today when I went to the bakery counter I mentioned the brownies to the woman behind the counter and asked if she had any. Her answer was the best sentence you can ever hear in a bakery: “A fresh batch just came out.” Since that moment the Hamster and I have been salivating, eager for Friday night when we get to eat the brownies.

By this point it was after 3 pm, and we still had two things we wanted to do before leaving town, both of which were repeats from our first trip: City Museum and Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. The former is a huge warehouse full of stuff to climb on and through and play with, and the latter is both a St. Louis institution and a Route 66 icon. I described both in great detail on this blog three years ago, so instead of going into it all again I’ll just point you there. But I will say that we enjoyed both today as much as we did then, which is to say immensely. In addition to all the stuff he did last time, on this trip to City Museum the Hamster found a giant hamster wheel, which was too poetic to pass up.

Hamster Wheel Hamster Wheel Rules

I should also note that we got to Ted Drewes at a little after 6, so I made the executive decision to call it dinner. Sam did not argue.

Ted Drewes Frozen Custard

Unfortunately, we had to leave St. Louis, as tomorrow we need to be in Oklahoma before sundown and there’s fun stuff to do on the way there. So we followed up our frozen custard dinner with a 3.5-hour drive to Springfield, MO, which was lengthened somewhat when we inadvertently veered off Route 66 for a little while at one of it’s many confusing turns. Most of the driving was done after dark, and the absence of street lights really hampers the ability to spot and visit classic Route 66 attractions. However, we were lucky enough to find this one as the sun was disappearing:

World's Biggest Rocking Chair

At more than 40 feet high and 20 feet wide, it’s the world’s biggest rocking chair. Why? Why not? This is America, where people make dumb stuff like this to get dumb people like me to stop by.

Meanwhile, Sam spent most of the drive watching National Lampoon’s Vacation for the first time, and when he got up to the St. Louis part he laughed and finally understood what I had been saying earlier when we were looking for Sportsman’s Park. And then we talked about how much fun the day was, and how much we love St. Louis, and how we owe King Shighway thanks for inventing sleeves.

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