[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on October 10, 2004]
Hi, folks! I've arrived safe and sound at the home of my friends in St. Louis. I'll be here until at least Wednesday.
I followed the Great River Road -- primarily Missouri highway 79 -- most of the way south. I have to say that I cannot recommend it as a bike route, even though it's promoted that way on state Web sites and signs all along the way. In fact I would actively discourage anyone from riding that route until it has a paved shoulder. I hear that Illinois' Great River Road is better for biking, and I would have crossed, except of course that I didn't have my Illinois maps anymore. I can be very pigheaded sometimes.
Once I reached the metro area, I had a difficult time getting into "St. Louis City" from St. Louis County... you'd think no one had ever tried it by bike before. I stopped for directions five times in two hours. But once I got into the city it was smooth sailing. My mood was improved by stopping to celebrate at a genuwine Waffle House. My friends, I have tried waffles and chicken sandwiches all over this country, and nobody compares to Waffle House. I may have to stop there again on the way out of town! :-)
Now I'd like to take the time to share a few stories from the last few weeks. Story number one: Both of the bicyclists who have invited me to camp in their yards -- Mike in Cincinnati and Mark in Peoria -- toyed with the idea of hopping on their bikes and coming with me, but neither did so. The day I left Sand Hill, I met someone who had no reservations about leaving her settled life and traveling with me. Unfortunately she was a dog. She ran along with me for about seven miles; I stopped every few miles and tried to convince her to go home, but she would not be deterred from this new and exciting lifestyle. Eventually I enlisted the help of another dog owner to distract her while I rode away. I was sorry to lose the companionship, and I have to wonder what sort of unhappy home life she was leaving, but I couldn't have a dog along with me.
Story number two: The nights I slept in the hayloft at Sandhill Farm, I kept hearing rustling and gnawing sounds downstairs in the barn. I was worried that some mouse or rat was getting into my food, so I checked a couple times but found no damage to my gear or supplies. But the morning after the story above, I was repacking the bag that sits behind my bike seat, and I happened to reach into the plastic bag where I keep my toilet paper and trowel, and I found a cache of acorns! Not just any acorns, either; somebody -- chipmunk? totoro? -- had very carefully selected about 30 perfect specimens of all the same type and size and placed them very neatly in that bag. I should mention that the outer bag was zipped closed except for an inch or two, so this must have been a very small creature. My food was untouched... I'm afraid this hardworking critter may have hoped -- dreamed -- that the bread and Fritos and mixed nuts would still be there this winter, along with the makings of a cozy toilet-paper nest. And I ruined it by thoughtlessly riding off with it all. I felt like such a cad. I left the acorns at the foot of a tree for the next furry woodland creature to discover.
Story number three: Ever since I wrote that positive writeup about Fairfield, people have been telling me -- in person and online -- that it is a creepy place, and had I stayed longer I would have picked up on that. So I'll share my one kinda creepy story about Fairfield: During the First Friday Art Walk, Lonnie and Brian and I visited a really neat used book store / coffeeshop / restaurant / performance space called Revelations. One of the performers was a singer that my friends thought highly of, so we stayed for a number of her songs. At one point she decided to sing "My Girl." A female couple came in the room, and presumably inspired by the sound of a woman singing a love song to another woman, they started to dance cheek-to-cheek. I don't think the singer saw them, but in any case when she got to the chorus she couldn't bring herself to say what it was that made her feel that way; she just let it hang, and her guitarist -- her husband -- awkwardly played the chords without her. When she did it again the second time, the disappointed couple walked out. The third time through, the singer improvised lamely, "What could make me feel this way? I don't like to say... It could be any number of things... I've got sunshine..." Now, first of all, that song is pretty innocuous... it could just as easily be about a daughter as a lover. Or a man named Mike Earl. Or the singer's hairstyle, which was curly. Second, even if the words "my girl" were objectionable, they don't rhyme with anything in the song, so she could have said "my boy" or "my man" or "my dog" and nobody would have minded. But third, everybody knows the words, so when she didn't sing them we were all thinking them anyway. The next morning I asked Brian whether Fairfield is a GLBT-friendly place, and he said the Maharishi had spoken out against homosexuality at some point, and so the University had been known to ask people to leave on the basis of sexual orientation. But this was off campus, off hours, and it was just a song, for pity sake! I have to wonder whether the singer got picked up by the Thought Police after the show. What if she'd sung something really incriminating, like "The Wanderer?"
So that's my one and only bad impression of Fairfield. I could, however, say a lot more about any of the three communities I visited, so please ask any questions you may have! --Ben
St. Louis, MO