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Issue #225, Epic Road Trip, July 18, 2018, Kentucky and St. Louis, Missouri

July 18, 2018 I’m sitting in the shade of the car on a gravel parking lot at the St. Louis RV park. We arrived here around 4:30 pm after about 4 long hours of driving from our last spot in Nashville. The drive was one of the more intense ones of the trip, not only because my right ear was squealing loudly, but the number of semi-trucks seemed to multiply as we churned through Kentucky as well as a corner of Illinois. We did have a nice lunch spot down by Lake Barkley in Kentucky, overshadowed by the towering Kentucky State Penitentiary, (the ‘Castle on the Cumberland’, erected by Italian stonemasons in 1884). The peaceful calm of the lake contrasted to the gothic, castle-like structure of the prison, the only place in Kentucky that has an execution chamber. A baby doe stood behind a tree watching me as I peed at the edge of the forest.

While we drove, Paige and I listened to Barack Obamas speech from South Africa, made on the anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday, a welcome contrast to all the bullshit that Trump has been spewing, whose meeting with Vladimir Putin displayed treasonous imbecility. Obama’s measured appraisal of history up to the current day - while never even mentioning Trump - was a relief to listen to, his warnings profound.

In St Loius, the RV park did not seem like such a great place to hang out all evening, so we took an exploratory adventure to the St. Louis river front, where we visited the St. Louis Arch. After walking through the beautifully landscaped park area, we reached the base of the magnificent structure and shelled out $70 to ride the unique trolley to the top, enjoying animations along the way projected on the walls. Each trolley was a small enclosed capsule that seated 5 and ascended the inner scaffolding of the arch, climbing on steeply arching rails. At the top, we hopped out into a narrow corridor with rectangular windows through which we could view the enormity of St. Louis, both it’s cityscape off to the west and the Mississippi river directly below, the shadow of the arch stretching across the brown expanse of water.

It was a real thrill being up there, but soon enough we were back down, exploring some of the exhibits beneath the arch on ‘Westward Expansion’, including an exhibit about the architect who designed the arch, and what it took to build it. Most interesting was the final ‘Keystone’ that had to be put into place to join the two segments of the arch together. A replica of this keystone enjoyed a central spot in the museum underneath the arch.

To my dismay (and by family decree) we only skirted the other exhibits, which seem to have especially good explanations on how the town of St. Louis served as a base for the westward expansion of the country. After all, this was the start of the Oregon trail; the launching point for so many families on their march towards California - including the Donner party - so once again, it was meaningful to set foot on the ground whereupon these historical changes had taken place; furthermore, as a monument to Jefferson, the arch symbolized his involvement in the purchase of the western part of the country, so it connected the dots a bit more for me.

Our tummies were growling, so we decided on dinner somewhere in downtown St. Louis, debating whether or not to eat at a loud sports bar with microbrews, or a more peaceful asian place called Bamboo something or other. We opted for quiet, and the kids ordered meat plates; Phoenix had pork shish-kababs and Orion chose his current favorite, Sweet-and-sour pork. I had sesame Chicken, Paige also had a dish with chicken. It was a fun meal, as we were seated in view of the street with the diminishing light of day still fully enlivening our table.

Catenary curve
defines the St. Louis Arch
gateway to the west

man-made creation
modeled by the way
a chain hangs in space

way over budget
we decide that memories
are worth the money

of concrete and steel protects
the humans within

safe inside the arch
we stare through tiny windows
at the ground below

gateway to the west
architects and engineers
craft an apt symbol

geometric curve
elegant simplicity
with a skin of steel

with another arch
we would be celebrating
McDonalds instead

solo/group kukai
jonathan machen