I met James early on when I was just blogging about train rides on Tumblr. He's such a talented artist that it's kinda ridiculous, and his charm and kindness can seriously be seen in everything he does. After I found out about his weekender to St. Louis, I asked if he would throw together some words and photos of his experience.
James had some wonderful adventures around Chicago this past summer, some of which I was lucky to join. His writeup on his experience on the train and wandering solo through a wintery STL is so good. Enjoy!
Scroll, scroll, scroll, double tap on a majestic scene.
Command+T, t-u-m-b-l-r-dot-com. Search ‘wanderlust’.
It’s been a few months since adventuring out of my home of Chicago. It’s been a packed few months with recent projects so I knew a small trip would scratch that itch for some new views and energy. Pondering, I wondered what would make the best and most affordable weekend trip.
I quickly booked a round trip set of train tickets for $60 and found an Airbnb for $65 a night. This would be just the escape I needed for a mental cleanse—getting away to complete some writing, explore my imagination, and tighten up my website. I also wanted to challenge myself. No driving or car/ride sharing—just public transportation and my two feet.
My ride-in traveled along the heat of daylight, no napping to hide my boredom. Glancing at the speedy landscapes of pure flatness breezed past my window. I nibbled on a dry breakfast sandwich from the train's café car and sipped my coffee into a visual trance. Hours later we make it into St. Louis and found myself rookily stumbling around the train station, not as bombastic as Chicago' Union Station but not as sparse as Cleveland's digs. My general distrust of St. Louis' police had to be set aside to inquire about the nearest place to pick up a transit card. Finally, my first chance at riding their public transit, The Metro.
As trolley-styled trains go, I've fell in love with them ever since riding Portland's TriMet, quirky in their nature with electricity floating above the cars with wired magic. Quiet in movement but lively with their passengers, I made my way to my Airbnb' host house, a beautiful loft in the Locust District.
Freshening up, I decided to explore, using my intuition and a little help from Foursquare. Schafly's Tap Room served my need for local brews and barbecue while people-watching the locals. A fast talking bartender and a charming Chicago to STL transplant tipped me off to an improv show later that night. I typed it in my phone to save for later and continued to sketch at the bar, plotting my caffeine run and a chance to try the gooey butter cake everyone raved about.
Traveling to Park Avenue Coffee gave me the opportunity to inspect the bus system, which was more extensive than I expected. Routes winded and whipped between neighborhoods, announcing when certain busses transferred at various stops, which is something that I appreciated in comparison to Chicago’s measly announcement of only train lines. Making my stop in a quieter neighborhood a few miles west of downtown, I made a walk to retrieve my gooey butter cake, taking in the silence of the streets and ogling at storefronts.
On the way to The Improv Shop, I decided to become even more in-tune with the swirling nightlife that surrounded the energies of the bus. Greetings from bus drivers, chatting with folks that reminded me of family members, the familial scent of Black and Milds, all made me feel like home. Upon arrival, The Improv Shop proved to be a great place to laugh and cool down, sipping on cheap cocktails and chuckling at slap humor. I made friends with a gentleman in front of me who was born and bred in downstate Illinois and decided to move to St. Louis. His stories of taking the train to Chicago for Cubs games was a nice parallel to my trip for non-sports related exploration.
Saturday morning wrestled my stomach and was immediately in search of breakfast. I stumbled across The Mud House after taking two busses to the Cherokee District and ate my weight in eggs, potatoes, and bacon while enjoying the local coffee. While making progress on my book, I soaked in the atmosphere. A community meeting was burgeoning behind me with a comfortingly diverse table of four different communities discussing programming initiatives. A tweet about my location brought me to a friend’s art show at The White Flag Projects, Martine Syms, where she showed a video piece and a print installation. To my genuine delight, it was a bus, train ride, and 2 mile walk away.
A handful of folks told me that I had to check out Delmar Loop before leaving, so I hopped on a bus and train and I was greeted to a bourgeoning area full of concert venues, restaurants, and more bars than I could shake a stick at. Keeping up with my travel tradition of having pizza in every city I visit, I stopped into Pi Pizzeria and downed a thin crust.
While taking a bus back to my hosts’ house, I reflected on the weekend. While having some failed opportunities such as arriving at the Contemporary Art Museum on a closed day by mistake and missing some apartment gallery art shows, I marveled at the ability to get around the city nimbly and efficiently. A couple day passes got me around without a hitch, all the estimates were approximate, and never once did I crave a car.
My train back home left me in a state of twilight, pondering my experience. I did what I planned to do–make progress on my book, redesign my website, and explore other projects–but what opened my eyes was slow travel for the sake of slow travel. Choosing not to open that car sharing app and walking the extra few miles. Leaving online reviews behind and asking bartenders and café goers the places to visit. Walking around an area without a plan.
Every once in a while I’ll hop on a train and the conductor will give the stop announcements along with the phrase “sit back and let the rails do the work”. There’s a joy and trusting your gut, sitting back, and letting your intuition do the work. Sometimes, life is better without an itinerary.