We had driven over 6,000 miles on our trip across the country, through Rocky Mountain National Park, the Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier, Banff, and the Badlands. Now we were moving back to east, starting with our stay in Billings and continuing to Sioux Falls. There we did laundry in a local laundromat for what we hoped was the last time before we returned home. On our journey, we had noticed several laundromats from Wyoming to South Dakota that seemed to be paired with casinos.
Leaving Sioux Falls, we headed south. As we passed Omaha, we crossed the path to Colorado that we had taken a few weeks back.
On July 19th, a month and a day from when we had originally left Richmond to travel to Michigan, we made it to Saint Louis.
By this time, we were far enough from the National Parks that our extremely dirty car was definitely standing out. In parking lots, people would give our car (and us) judgy looks as they passed, as if there was something wrong with a one inch accumulation of fly corpses on a cartop carrier or with a license plate that was obscured beyond recognition by bug cadavers and caked-on dirt. Ignoring these judgmental individuals, we made our way to the free zoo in Saint Louis, one of the places McKenna wanted to visit.
Because we had been in the car most of the past two days, we had failed to notice the escalating humidity as we traveled out of the mountain and desert regions of the West. In St. Louis, we felt the full force of this humidity, which sucked all of the oxygen out of our lungs and sent many of the zoo animals into hiding. Fortunately, the people running the zoo were prepared for our discomfort.
The zoo closed early that day for some kind of event, so we drove to the hotel in St. Louis rush hour traffic, taking about 20 minutes to go six miles. Checking into the hotel was easy; finding a place to park our car with its massive cartop carrier was a bit more difficult. Most of the nearby parking garages only had a 6’2″ clearance, which we knew from experience would not be tall enough, and unloading all of the crap in the cartop carrier to take it off was a deal-breaker. Eventually, we found a parking garage about a block away that had just enough clearance for the car.
We took our luggage to the nearby hotel. For 31 days we had been living out of suitcases, a situation that hadn’t driven us insane due to a remarkable invention: packing cubes.
Words cannot convey the debt of gratitude that we owe to the inventor of this simple innovation. During our trip to Charleston over Spring Break, Laura and I realized that keeping every kind of clothing in a single compartment in a suitcase would probably lead to a level of frustration that would dissolve our marriage, so, when we returned home from that trip, I sought advice from a source that I knew would have all of the answers: the Internet.
Having a container for shirts and a separate container for underwear is one of those things that I didn’t know how awesome it would be until I experienced it. As a bonus, the wise Internet also provided…
Our well-organized luggage now established in our hotel room, we headed to dinner.
St. Louis is known for its barbecue, and there are a number of nationally-reknowned barbecue restaurants in the city center. I had tried to work out a scheme to somehow persuade and mislead the rest of the family into going to two or three of these places in one evening, but I finally discarded this unwieldy plot and chose a single place: Sugarfire Smokehouse.
Not only is Sugarfire known for its barbecue, but it sold foods guaranteed to earn McKenna’s buy-in.
We entered the restaurant just in time, as the entire population of attendees from a nearby convention filled the restaurant just after us, consuming all of the barbecue that was left that day like a plague of locusts. The barbecue was awesome, especially the brisket, and the Texas Hot barbecue sauce was tasty and not too hot. Filled up on delicious pork, we left to explore the city. As with all cities, some parts were a bit strange.
Bypassing the city’s oddity’s, we saw some of the things for which St. Louis is most famous.
Right on the Mississippi is a large park where the Gateway Arch is located. The Arch, seen up close, was much larger and more impressive than I was expecting.
Having seen the Arch from the outside, we decided to go to the top, something we had all forgotten was possible until we reached the park around the Arch.
Using our National Park pass, we bought discounted tickets for the Arch tram.
Soon, we were ready to ride to the top. The “tram” was tiny, almost like a space capsule, complete with a tiny door.
A quick four minute ride later, and we were at the top.
After getting out of the capsule, we walked the few steps to the top for awesome views of St. Louis.
Totally by accident, we had gone to the top of the Arch at the perfect time to see the sun set and the city light up.
There was no limit to the amount of time we could spend at the top of the Arch, but each new tram brought more people up. It was good form to give others a shot, so we got into line for the descent tram.
Since the Arch was a National Park, McKenna could earn a Junior Ranger badge there, and, between the time we had spent in the Arch museum and the tram, there had been enough time for McKenna to complete the Junior Ranger book.
There was definitely more to see in St. Louis, but we had reservations to see the caves in Mammoth Cave National Park the next day. It was time to say goodbye in our dignified way.