The leaving of St Louis
This journey seems more than usually well stocked with pivotal moments. We have enjoyed several so far – starting at Itasca, the first hundred miles, reaching Minneapolis, reaching 1,000 miles, passing halfway. So now we have left St Louis and begun our journey to the lower Mississippi and the south of the US. We knew we must be getting towards the south when we enquired of a passing tug whether they could pick us up on their radar, as we had fitted reflectors for the purpose. The skipper replied (imagine the very broadest southern drawl) “well I can see two dots on ma screen, so that must be y’all”.
I feel I must write a few lines in praise of a slightly maligned city, especially so recently with the conflicts in Ferguson, a suburb of St Louis. I admit at the outset that I have spent very little time in the city and even less in its downtown area. However, I am a strong believer in the power of subjective assessments of new towns and particularly the folk that live within them. I saw some gorgeous architecture which suggested some former glory. Sadly, too many of these buildings had boarded windows and the sense of slightly faded grandeur was prevalent. And yes, there were headlines about violence in the city and there were panhandlers aplenty. But I sensed something splendid about St Louis. I believe it is a city which is comfortable in its own skin. Its inhabitants are funny, friendly, proud without arrogance and I sensed a strong multi-racial mix, recent headlines notwithstanding. This city’s biggest enemy is not race, it is lack of commercial energy and the attendant poverty. The population has declined over the last 20 years, but a strong soul remains. Were I to need to build a manufacturing plant or needed a willing, able, workforce, I would happily come to St Louis and help rebuild this rock of a town. Here is to St Louis, an unexpected gem of a city that needs our respect and our presence, not our disdain or pity. A great place.
Oh, and should the mood ever take you and you felt the need for barbecue, especially ribs, then waste no time checking reviews elsewhere and head straight for Pappy’s Smokehouse. Barbecue nonpareil. We ate like kings. As a perfect exemplar of why St Louis is a city full of soul, we found an open air, wander through, entirely free Jazz festival in Old Webster, a little local suburb. Fabulous music and food, with the legendary Freddie Webster playing sax as few can or ever could.
To illustrate also how this project has it’s own magic, we were driven to our hotel by an immigrant driver. I sat next to him and chatted as we drove. He was highly articulate and clearly well educated. After a while, he asked why we were here and I told him. It transpired that he was from Ghana and here to complete his education and that of his two children. When I told him that Ghana, and especially Richmond, was the source and inspiration of this trip, he immediately began contacting the large Ghanaian diaspora throughout the states and, of course, gave us the ride for free and donated $20. Once again, humbled by the kindness of strangers.
I said my goodbyes to Julie this morning as she trekked back to the UK and her perennially crammed diary. She is with me every step and every stroke, not one of which I could do without her. We also waved goodbye to her dad, Harry, who also joined us for the rest days.
We set off in a fast, swirling current through tow barges, cranes and tugboats as we enter the un-dammed section of the Mississippi and its turbulent stream. Mike Pasternak re-joined us as well as Simon Irish and Dan Adams (the nicest man in the world – check it out as it should be in Wikipedia or the Guinness Book of Records) flew in from Minneapolis and steered us brilliantly. After a slightly later start, we flew down the river, albeit without the promised tailwind and reached Festus, Mo in good time. We will need this stream as we have some long days ahead, culminating in a day for just me and Paddy which is 52 miles….. A very cold Sam Adams and some Pappy’s ribs in order that day!