Wednesday, January 28, 2015

One-Way Gateway - From St. Louis International Airport to the Gateway Arch on Foot - Part 4

This is the final installment of a four-part series.  If you’re just joining in, here’s the first, second, and third installments.

Part 4

The Arch is massive up close.

While exploring the periphery, I noticed the Hyatt across from the park. 

If you look carefully, each of its towers’ side rooms have windows that are angled to face the Arch.  The rooms inside must have a slant to them to provide as many rooms as possible with an unobstructed view of the Arch.  Makes for a great pic right from your hotel room, I guess!

The entire Arch was surrounded by a low, brightly-colored, plastic construction fence, presumably to keep people away from going underneath the Arch or because they had some kind of lawn treatment going on.  While I was resting my legs, a Park Ranger’s patrol car came rolling up, toggling its siren every couple seconds.  The Ranger got out of his car and pointed to the other side of the Arch.  There were maybe a half dozen high-school aged kids who’d crossed the barrier on the other side and were strolling carelessly along.  The Ranger shouted at them to turn around.  They didn’t.  The Ranger climbed over the plastic barrier, his hand firmly on his hip holster.  He called out again and pointed.  They still didn’t move.  Passerby were watching to see what would happen.  After an inaudible conversation that lasted about a minute, the youths retreated, though not before we all thought they were about to get themselves arrested.

More than tired from the walk, I was hungry and thirsty.  Although my hunger had abated from earlier in the morning, it had returned now that the clop-clop-clop of my feet wasn’t distracting me.  It was about 2:00 PM, and I had to be back at the airport about 4:00 for a 5:30 flight, so it was about time for some lunch. 

Before I left, though, I wanted to see what was beneath the Arch.  I approached what appeared to be a ticket taker at the entrance to the underground compound and asked him what was down there.  He politely advised me that there was a souvenir shop and some exhibits; I asked what I assumed would be a futile question: “Are there any more rides to go to the top?”  He kindly repeated a response I’m sure he’d given all day, and perhaps all year.  “Nothing for the rest of the day.”  Eh, it would have been time consuming and expensive.  That’s it.  No big deal.  I’m over it.  It’s fine.

Off to find some vittles!

Thankfully for me, I already had a place in mind that came recommended.  My father, who’d introduced me to a number of great restaurants in Louisville and abroad over the years, had been in St. Louis for a writer’s conference just a couple weeks before I went, and his suggestion for lunch was a place called Caleco’s, an Italian sports bar kind of place close to the Arch.

Right at the corner of Broadway and Chestnut, Caleco’s looked like a local favorite.  I went in and got a seat at the bar; when I’m by my onesie, I don’t mind grabbing a stool.  The bartender, a friendly guy probably not more than a year or two older than me, took my order.  What was I in the mood for?  Pizza?  Well, that’s always a winner.  I asked if he had any local pale ales on tap, and he obliged with a list of what he had on tap, including the favorite local brew, Bud Light.  I chuckled and he looked surprised; he told me most people don’t get that joke, which in turn surprised me.  Instead, I got a Schafly Pale Ale, a more well-known local brew you can actually get in Louisville at many liquor stores. 

Before I knew it, I’d downed half the beer and promptly asked for a glass of water in addition, realizing that chugging a beer after 15 miles of hard walking pretty much punches my ticket to Sicksville.  He had my food up in a jiffy, though, and it was a fine lookin’ pizza!

I veritably inhaled my pizza, justifying my unhealthy lunch with the satisfaction of a lengthy, calorie-burning walk.  A couple sitting around the corner was talking with the bartender about the big marathon being held in the city tomorrow and the 10k in which they were running that afternoon; apparently, the lady always has a beer before a race, which sounds awful to me, but there you go.   

Overall, I’d give Caleco’s an 8.5 out of 10; not revolutionary, but thoroughly solid with good service.  A bit pricey, too.  Anxious to get on my way to the airport, I paid my tab and started out. 
I’d had my entire meal, from sit-down to the door, in about thirty minutes, so I actually had a few minutes to kill before my 3:00 planned return trip to the airport.  I wandered back the way I came and spotted several other famous St. Louis landmarks, namely the St. Louis Cardinals’ Busch Stadium.

After a disappointing postseason, Busch Stadium was uncomfortably quiet.  The bartender had told me that, despite St. Louis’s multiple professional teams, the Cardinals were the only ones anybody really cared about.  The NFL’s Rams hadn’t done well in a while, and I have no idea about the Blues’ record in the NHL. 

In general, actually, I found the whole downtown area pretty quiet.  It wasn’t teeming with tourists except at the Arch, and in general, lots of the buildings looked pretty well rolled up.  Admittedly, during a weekday, I’d say it’s as busy as any other Midwestern city, but today, I was surprised at the peace, especially given the pleasant fall weather.  Perhaps the national coverage of riots and demonstrations in defense of Michael Brown have shooed away the fearful.  Between you and me, I kind of wanted to see one myself.  This kind of thing is history in the making, both locally and nationally.

Although I’d actually planned to take the MetroLink at the 8th and Pine station, closer to Caleco’s, there was actually a station right here at the stadium, aptly named “Stadium.”  While certainly not as complex or interesting as a light rail station in New York or Hong Kong, it was nice to see how low-profile it could be, much like the Rock Road station I’d encountered that morning. 

I was getting my ticket at the automated machine before descending to the train level.  A man approached me and kindly asked if this train leads to the airport.  I told him that it did, and he seemed grateful.  We got our tickets and wandered down to wait for the train.  We struck up a conversation; his name was Vince, and he gave away his nationality not with his words or physical traits, but through the clothes he wore.  He was wearing a bright red Spanish football club warm-up suit.  I asked if he was from Spain, and he confirmed that he was.  As the train came rushing to the platform, we considered whether this was the correct train for us, decided it was, and hopped on.  Although signs abounded saying a conductor would come by to check our tickets, no one ever did.

As the train lurched back into motion, he told me that he was in town for the marathon as well, and that he’d had a good run that morning in one of the shorter side events.  I joked with him, saying I was about to brag about my 15-mile walk to him, now realizing that it looks pretty juvenile compared to a 26-mile run.  He was a Spanish teacher who’d taught his native language in Iowa for the last several years. 

Suddenly, I realized we’d gotten on the right train, but it was terminating at the wrong place.  I gestured to him for us to stand up and exit, and we did so just in time.  We sat at the platform and continued our conversation; he expressed his displeasure with the way soccer/football players are compensated, saying that giving so much money to these young men was foolish.  I agreed, citing the exorbitant salaries of MLB players as an analogous American problem.  I brought up the legendary home run race from my youth, where St. Louis local Mark McGwire and Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa dueled for the fate of the home run record, made some forty years earlier by Roger Marris; as baseball isn’t much of a sport outside of the US and places like Japan, this whole event was news to him.  Eventually, the right train rolled into the station and we hopped on, bound for the airport.

We rolled along in the new stock, stopping every couple minutes to admit and discharge passengers.  After a couple of stops, we passed Rock Road, where I’d been just hours earlier, trudging along on my journey, unaware of the things I’d encounter between then and now.  After passing the local university stops, Vince disembarked.  We shook hands, and I wished him the best of luck in the marathon the next day. 

I relaxed my eyes and let myself by swayed by the train’s course.  The airport was a long-distance stretch from the next-to-last stop.  We finally came to a halt at the final location, and I gathered my backpack and headphones.  The gentleman behind me was fast asleep.  I’m not sure where he intended to get off at the final stop or if he was just riding it for a couple hours, but I stirred him awake in case he wanted to get off. 

An enclosed escalator took me down to the lobby level of the airport, where I emerged in a neat little terminal.

The swooping ceiling was unique; it swung low, making me feel like I was in a painted cavern more than an airport terminal.  I wandered over to the small Cape Air counter and checked in.  Maybe my weight will have changed?  Eh, wishful thinking. 

Now officially checked in and ticket in hand, I set out to explore a bit.  KSTL has three main concourses, divided fairly firmly by airline.  However, each of the three terminals has its own security checkpoint.  The terminals were segregated enough that, once you’d gone through security in one, you were firmly confined to one terminal.  As you’ll come to learn, this is very unfortunate for me, as I love to wander through the whole airport while waiting for my own flight, not just in my own concourse.  Although I considered going through each security checkpoint separately to explore the airport (I had time), the TSA agents turned someone in front of me away for reporting to the wrong checkpoint.  Thus, I was consigned to the same concourse at which I’d arrived eight hours earlier. 
I sailed through security without a problem around 4:15 and, as I do in any terminal, I started my exploratory walk. 

Concourse C was a healthy walk, perhaps a quarter mile from one side to the other.  On a Saturday afternoon, it seemed fairly tranquil, with a few flights headed out and coming.  Several touristy shops lined the corridor, along with some food outlets and vending machines.  Just like about any other airport, really.  The concourse wasn’t terribly distinct, as this photo might indicate.  However, it does have one intriguing bit of recent history to its name.

Back in May of 2011, if you’ll remember, Missouri was ravaged by several tornadoes over the course of just a few days.  KSTL happened to be directly in the path of a severe, EF4 tornado.  That’s the kind of tornado that picks up Dorothy’s house, y’all.  As the twister tore across the runways and terminals, glass shattered and planes got pushed around like toys.  Structurally, the airport remained pretty intact and it has since been restored.  So, although not particularly glamorous, this place is sturdy.

I put on my headphones and lapped the concourse several times.  There goes a flight to Dallas, there goes another one to Seattle, and here comes one from O’Hare.  I even racked up my pedometer to a healthy 40,000 steps.

The farthest end of the concourse had been closed from disuse; even in this well-funded and highly-visible area of St. Louis, there was still decay.

Deep in the back of the closed section, this former Great American Cookie was being gutted.  The lights were on; someone had been working on it.  Despite the normally polished interior of the airport, this section had the whole “flickering lights, dimmed overhead lamps, boarded-up doors” thing going on.  It felt like a rundown mall more than an airport concourse.  Casually, I wandered back to the more populated section of Concourse C, grabbed a snack and a soda from one of the casual cafes, which lowered its metal gate behind me as soon as I left, and resigned myself to a seat at C7.  I caught myself watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show where he visited Paraguay.  It was difficult to follow, though, as the closed captioning I was relying on seemed to be about thirty seconds behind the action on-screen.  The attendant called for our flight number, 1261, and I was ready to go.  I lined up, but there wasn’t anyone in front or behind me.  I wasn’t on this plane alone, was I?  Oh, wait, there she comes.

A single other passenger and I boarded the same elevator from this morning and descended to the tarmac.  She wasn’t on the flight this morning, so I didn’t recognize her.  Her name was Nikki, and she was on her way to Owensboro visiting family from out west.  She was about my age, a little younger, perhaps, but this is the first time she’d been on a plane this little, and she was shocked. 

In we went, and the same captain who flew us in this morning was at the helm again, though this time without his co-pilot.  While commercial flights are required to have at least two pilots aboard, there must be an exception when you’re flying just two people.  Maybe “three passengers or less” was the cutoff.  Our captain gave us the same safety spiel, and I snagged a spot right behind the copilot’s seat. I had half a mind to ask to sit in the co-pilot’s seat, but I chickened out.  Either way, I got a great view of all the controls and what the pilot was doing, which made the aviation geek in me happy.  He taxied us out just as quick as we rolled in this morning, and he had us on Runway 30L, ready to take off where we’d landed that morning.

A pretty sunset was on deck for our in-flight entertainment.  I watched the pilot’s hands flurry over the knobs and dials, getting us set up for our flight. 

Slowly the sun set behind us, and the three of us soared into twilight.  Our return flight time was slated to be shorter, around an hour flat, so it wasn’t long before we were descending back through the clouds.

I watched as we got closer and closer to Owensboro on his GPS and we were still going nearly full speed.  He made a hard left turn, lined us up facing north, and deployed the flaps and landing gear in one motion, bringing us in for a smooth approach.

He taxied us up to the unlit terminal in Owensboro, and we disembarked.  The same lady who gave me my ticket this morning was there to greet me, and she ran into unlock everything and turn on some lights for us.  Through the “jetway” we walked, and we emerged in the terminal, equally as empty as when I’d gotten there thirteen hours earlier.

I bid Nikki a fun visit with her family and made my way to my car.  In the front seat, I found my directions which I’d indeed left there that morning.  A turn of the key and I was on my way home, where I safely arrived about 100 minutes later.


What a fun, cheap, and enlightening trip!  The day was full of surprises, on-the-fly changes, and fulfilling experiences, just like any trip should be.

This trip was one of the cheapest I’ve ever done, and certainly the cheapest that included a flight.  Here’s a breakdown of my total travel-related expenses.

Airport Snack
Gas Money


That’s $165.00 for a full day of fun, some great pictures, and a month of posts!

What’s your favorite place to go in St. Louis?  If you had just one day, what would you choose to do?  Where would you eat, and how would you get there?

In February, I'll be doing a walk I've been planning for months, and I'm excited for you to go along with me!

Until next time, keep going!

- Matt

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