Sadly, flying has become more of an annoyance than an adventure. I'm not surprised most of the airlines are struggling, considering their attempts to sneakily ding you with constant, unrelenting fees stacked on hidden fees. Fortunately we deliberately packed light so all our luggage was carry-on, and I always travel well-stocked with good books. Also, my ears — my traveling Waterloo, as it were — behaved pretty well this time: a little discomfort but no real pain or popped eardrums.

After about ten hours of wearying travel I now only remember sensory snapshots: silent relief that I'm not at all claustrophobic as we squeezed into our tiny seats, and the person in front of me leaned their chair back. How incredibly delicious the sweet iced tea was in the helpful, friendly restaurant at which we ate in the Denver airport. The shimmeringly beautiful rainbow above the looming thunderheads, rising off the right wing on the way out of Colorado. The tiny, sparkling fragments of something reflective embedded attractively in the flooring of the women's room in the St. Louis airport. Relaxing back with a sigh of relief in the spacious and comfortable front seat of the rental car. The pleasure of licking my fingers clean while devouring hot food late at night at White Castle, just before we got to the house. So that's where "sliders" came from!

The next day has a few pleasant memories as well: I'm pleased to see Steak & Shakes all over the place, and we have lunch at one. Long ago in Florida, during my first time through college, I worked for a while as the car-hop waitress at a local Steak & Shake — and no, there were no roller skates involved! I was supposed to deliver the food to the customer, not trip and pour it in their lap. ;) The food was good and the people were on the whole nice, so I remember the restaurant with pleasure. It's nice to see it is still around.

My sweetie waxes indignant at one point over the meal, discussing his natal town: why isn't St. Louis given more respect? Everyone natters on about how dramatic San Francisco or New York are, or brags about Chicago, LA, Boston, or other cities… why not St. Louis? After all, he notes off the top of his head, his city boasts a colorful and extensive history, hosts several well-known universities, lies at the confluence of three major rivers (including the Mississippi and the Missouri ), is the home of the dramatic Gateway Arch, is a manufacturing and transportation hub located in the center of the country, provides headquarters for more Fortune 500 companies than any other city, has both a world-renown brewery (Anheuser-Busch) and a world-class orchestra, and is even mad about baseball — hosting a greatly beloved major sports team: the St. Louis Cardinals!

I have no answer, but as I listen I get a mental impression of US cities as a family. Boston is the bookish and forgetful old uncle whom everyone patiently indulges; while Chicago is the loud and unpleasantly pushy cousin that you secretly worry is part of the Mob. New York and San Francisco are the gorgeously weird, androgynous cousins that everyone else both loves and hates, since no one really gets them but they all wish they did. San Jose is the over-eager, under-socialized nerd that brays laughter at his own jokes — which no one else gets — and his older brother LA is a real go-getter, never taking off his tragically hip sunglasses due to being desperately, secretly insecure compared to his coastal cousins.

The cuter cousin Denver never comes to family get-togethers anymore, being too busy with enjoying himself and skiing; while Atlanta simpers and flutters her eyelashes coyly at everyone, not realizing how embarrassingly awkward that appears. DC is a tight-lipped, self-righteous Man in Black, with all the social warmth that implies. So where does St. Louis fit in there? She's the comfortably upholstered older aunt rocking quietly in the corner, resting her feet after bringing a casserole to the get-together and making sure lunch was served. No wonder she's overlooked. :)

In fact, St. Louis really does sprawl — like that large, comfortable, older, bosomy Southern auntie in her pearls and loose, flowery dress. Her wide grassy lawns are lush and inviting, and her trees overhang with lazy shade in the muggy heat. Her brick buildings are worn and old, but nonetheless sturdy structures, with scrupulously clean, comfortable appointments which have been reused and repurposed as necessary. There's no rush, honey… sit and chat for a spell! There's a cold drink in the fridge back there. Get me one too while you're up, would you, baby?


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