St. Louis: Gateway to America – Hockey, beer and birthdays

First of all, let me start off by apologizing by my blatant ignoring of this blog.  I know you all hang on my every word and countdown the hours between posts.  I’m sorry for wandering off like a small child with no warning.  I will do my best to make it up to you, and I offer you today’s novel of a post to help the healing process…I hope you enjoy!

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Several months ago, a friend approached me with the idea of taking a short road trip for his birthday.  The idea was as follows:  drive to St. Louis where we would capitalize on a sports package deal through a Hilton hotel to get tickets to see the Blues take on the Detroit Red Wings.  (He was born in Detroit, raised in Indiana, and thinks that makes it okay to cheer for the Yankees of the NHL.)  The package included an overnight stay, two game tickets, a souvenir, and free breakfast the next morning.  Not a bad deal at all!  A couple of days leading up to departing for the Gateway City, we came across the information that St. Louis would be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day that same weekend.  That meant that our hotel was smack dab in the middle of the parade route.  On top of that, there was some kind of 5k/10k/mini-marathon/dogsled race all located in the heart of the downtown area making navigating and parking a nightmare. 

The morning of our trip, all 6 of us loaded up into a couple of cars and headed out, beginning from different starting points…at six a.m.  On a Saturday.  It was decided that it would be a good idea to get to our destination early to avoid the mad rush of primetime paraders, runners, and traffic.  A little over an hour into the drive, we came to realize through the wonderful technology of cell phones that the second car was closing on us quickly.  I immediately began scanning my rear-view mirror for a sign of them, although none of us had any idea what kind of car we were looking for.  Approaching the exit for our first pit stop to grab some breakfast, a small sedan blew by us.  I looked over just in the nick of time to realize who it was.  And much to my relief, there were no bare asses pressed against the windows like hairy Christmas hams.  Whew – dodging bullets!  Shortly following a brief stop to scarf down some croissan’wiches, it was on through Illinois.  That’s when the voice from the backseat spoke up to inform me of the sole upcoming attraction to see on the drive – an enormous cross positioned right next to the freeway for all to see in Effingham, IL.  Indeed, it was big and impressive. 

Effingham cross

We eventually made it to the Missouri state line and immediately saw the arch breaking the hills on the horizon.  For those of you who have never driven around St. Louis before, the interstate highway system breaks off and rejoins with itself on an almost random basis.  Confusing as that is, we made it straight to downtown St. Louis with no problems.  After making a couple agreed upon turns to find a parking lot, we found ourselves crossing another bridge to East St. Louis.  (That’s back to Illinois.)  After a quick U-turn, we made a return visit to the downtown area and finally came across a parking place.

Then it was decided that we should meet up together again at the arch.  We walked along the river for several minutes, and reconnected with our party at the base of the famous landmark.  I took the photo opportunity for what it was and snapped several shots of the gleaming stainless steel reaching far into the sky before it got bored and plummeted back to land.  I tried to zoom in as close as I could to the porthole windows at the top, imagining to myself that there was someone at the top zooming in right back at me.  The sightseeing lasted all of about 5 minutes.  Seriously.  No time was wasted in the underground museum/gift shop, and it had been previously decided that there would be no time spent going to the observation deck at the top of the arch.  Why waste time in awe of a national landmark?  Pfft.  Only suckers care about boring architecture. 

The Arch

On to the more important stops of the trip – the famed Anheuser-Busch Brewery.  We arrived at the massive, sprawling factory just in the nick of time for the next tour.  We signed up and were handed our tour tickets featuring the likeness of the Budweiser dalmatian.  We even had the luxury of 10 minutes to wander around the lobby and snap some pictures of displays featuring all products that come/have come from that wonderous locale.  Our first stop on the walking tour of the 7 acre plantation was at the stalls for the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales and the very same dalmatian that was featured on our tour tickets (not sure of the factual basis of that last part). 

Budweiser Clydesdales

Budweiser Dalmatian

Clydesdale's stalls

Then it was on to the aging cellars.  This mammoth building contained 6 stainless steel containers each with the capacity to hold 3600 barrels of beer, with chips of beechwood in the bottom to add flavor and natural carbonation.  You know, because carbon is good for you…or something like that.  Next stop: the mashing tanks.  No, for real.  I’m not altering the sequence of the tour for better story telling.  We saw the aging tanks before we saw the tanks where they blend the ingredients together.  I think they do that to keep people disoriented so they can’t steal the process and make their own Bud clones at home…or something like that.  We stepped out of the Brew House and saw the Malt House across the street.  Mmm, malt.  (I prefer chocolate.)  Cadi-corner from the Brew House was the School House.  Seriously.  There is an old-time schoolhouse on the grounds of the Budweiser plant.  It was the same school that the founder attended, and when people realized that it may not be the best idea to have a school smack dab in the middle of a beer brewing behemoth, the company bought it and the founder put his office in his old classroom.  (What a fool – I would never willingly go back to school!)  Then it was down the hill and across the railroad tracks to the bottling plant. 

Malt House

Brew house

School house

To top it all off, we ended up in the hospitality suite sipping down fresh brews.  We had our choice of 6 top shelf selections that were brewed right in the very buildings we had just walked through.  And it was all free of charge.  God bless America!  It was while we were leaving the bottling area when my biggest fear was realized – Skynet is real and very much alive.  We toured a SEVEN ACRE brewery and counted 8 human employees including the 2 tour guides and 3 shuttle bus drivers! 

From hops heaven, we decided we needed sustenance e-mediately.  (That means food.  Immediately.)  We returned to our previous parking areas and roamed a nice little stretch of bars and grills.  We settled on a placed called Hannigan’s for lunch, after all it was a St. Patty’s Day celebration!  When in Rome, right?  Think about it.  A couple of members of our party decided on angry shrimp po-boys, but only if they really pissed off the shrimps first.  Yes, shrimps.  Apparently making that demand meant that our food would be delayed while they tickled the shrimps and really got them agitated for us.  Or so we assumed.  Turns out it just meant they were waiting for our food to get cold, hard, and nasty before bringing it to our table. 

Following our unsatisfactory entrance into the food scene of St. Louis, we made our way to the hotel to get checked in, unloaded, and liquored up for the ensuing hockey game.  During confirmation of our reservation earlier in the week, we were granted the option of an e-standby upgrade possibility.  That meant that we had our pick from several upgrade options depending on availability upon our arrival for a small nominal fee.  Naturally, we opted for an upgrade for a better view of the arch and river for only five extra bones.  We strolled up to the counter, got our room keys for the upgraded room (YES!), and a St. Louis Blues hockey puck as our promised souvenir.  However, our game tickets were nowhere to be found.  We were told to head on up to our room and they would bring our tickets to us once they uncovered their whereabouts.  Before departing the front desk though, the concierge informed us that they had just installed a new elevator system and gave us a few instructions.  Whatever, it’s an elevator, how tricky can it be?  Turns out I should’ve paid more attention to his detailed computer programming lesson on how to call the elevator!  This thing was the most horrid system I’ve ever seen or heard about.  After waiting for what was probably close to 15 minutes, the elevator finally arrived to take us to our room on the tenth floor – but not before uncontrollably stopping on almost every other floor first.  As we entered our room, I instantly ran to the window to fling open the curtains and see the view that we had paid extra to witness.  We got a front row view to a big black skyscraper that was covering half of the arch.  Oh well, it still wasn’t a bad view of the city’s skyline. 

Our "upgraded" hotel view of the arch

Soon thereafter we got a call from our friends, and our presence was requested in their room for my buddy’s birthday surprise.  We rolled into their room only to find that they had an almost identical view, although for free!  Damn.  Then we noticed the cake sitting on the desk decorated with the Red Wings logo.  Although it looked disgusting, I can’t deny that it was some of the best yellow cake I’ve ever had in my life.  It was getting close to game time, but first we decided to venture back out into the city to find a LQ.  (That’s shorthand for “liquor store.”  Just let it go.) 

We got back in time for a couple of my friends to slam back some drinks just before we headed back out onto the town to make our way to Scottrade Center.  We had since found out that our tickets would be waiting for us at Will Call.  Upon entering the arena, we were all handed a second souvenir – a framed canvas portrait of some no-name Blues player who had gotten a hat-trick in some meaningless regular season game the previous season.  Talk about random!  It was a nice gesture though.  We eventually made our way to our most righteous seats.  We stepped into the inner bowl of the seating area right along one of the corners.  Naturally I assumed we would get stuck in the upper nose-bleed sections since our tickets were purchased through a reduced priced package, but I could not have been more wrong!  St. Louis doesn’t hold back on rolling out the welcome mat!  Before the puck was dropped, the Blues mascot (Louie the Polar Bear?) took to center ice with quite an elaborate stage setup, putting on a demonstration of live-action Angry Birds…of course with a comedic ending.  Once the action picked up, St. Louis jumped out to a quick lead, much to my satisfaction and the dismay of my colleagues.  Louie even managed to make his way to our section and assault my friends who were all decked out in Detroit garb.  My joy didn’t last too long though.  The Blues folded, giving up 3 consecutive goals going into the third period.  I couldn’t take losing this game and having to hear about it for the rest of the weekend, but it didn’t look like I had much choice in the matter.  That’s when the Blues came out gunning to start the third.  They played hard, fast, and aggressive, ultimately storming back and tying the game at 3 at a pretty rapid rate.  That left all too much time remaining on the clock though.  Detroit managed to weather the storm, and in the end St. Louis suffered a soul-crushing collapse losing 5-3.

With a raspy voice, shredded throat, and almost completely hoarse, I hung my head all the way back to the hotel and tried not to draw attention to myself in order to avoid further embarrassment.  Luckily, the focus quickly shifted to our growling digestive tracts.  Earlier in the day we had spotted a place that I swore was called Greco’s (which naturally turned into Joey Greco’s.  Not ringing a bell?  Google it.)  Turns out the place was actually called Caleco’s.  And it was a bar and grill that featured an italian menu.  Peculiar, I know.  It was around midnight though, and none of us seemed to give a crap…we just wanted food to shove down our collective gullets.  The food was acceptable – nothing great, but not bad.  Until we were done, then things got bad.  Real bad, real quick!  We paid our check and instantly headed for the door to scoot back to the hotel.  I’ll spare you the grisly details, but know that we barely made it back in time.  You’re welcome for the visual.  (WINK!)

Sunday morning was time to check out what the free breakfast voucher had to offer.  Surprisingly, we discovered a nice little spread – fresh fruit, toast (American and French), biscuits, sausage gravy, sausage links, bacon, scrambled eggs, cereal, chocolate milk, coffee, orange juice, and probably some other junk.  Not too shabby for a free hotel breakfast, huh? 

Unfortunately, that was the beginning of the end to our getaway weekend.  We checked out of the hotel without incident, loaded up the car, and hit the road.  After a few hours of driving and trying not to fall asleep, we approached the gigantic cross.  We oohed and awed all the way by just for good measure, and just around the corner is when I noticed that my friend in the backseat was a bold-faced liar.  Along the right side of the road, we passed what was bound to be a second tourist stop along our journey – a Harley Davidson shop.  Being a biker, I always notice bike shops.  Especially ones that are built out of a barn.  Literally – check it out. 

What you can't see is the grain silo built into the barn.

Daylight savings time came and went, one time zone over, and a minor case of diarrhea later, we pulled into the driveway.  Who would’ve imagined that one overnight road trip could take such a toll on your internal clock?  We were beat.  After all was said and done though, it was well worth it.  We all had a great time celebrating another countless birthday.  Now it’s time to figure out where the next destination will lead us.

Thank you, that is all.

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