The temperatures here in St. Louis are, in a word, psychotic. It may be either pleasantly warm, muggy and hot, or pouring rain outside — but the air conditioning will be blasting in any building you enter. I can't decide whether to swelter in my sweatshirt outside, or shiver in my shirtsleeves inside. Constantly taking my sweatshirt off and putting it on again gets old fast. ;-)

Regardless of the temperatures, however, the food at restaurants has been fresh and delicious, truly excellent even if also somewhat blandly savory. It is furthermore startlingly inexpensive compared to California, as is gasoline as well. I'm surprised at how many restaurants and other stores here are 24/7 — it makes me wonder how much of that is due to people expecting it to be so, and how much is due to a steady stream of people at all hours of the day through the city itself. I'm also astonished at how much fried food there is — though it is really well done and not heavy or greasy — including things I would never have thought to fry, such as lasagna or cheesecake?! My sweetie has introduced me as well to a really delicious cake or pastry which I'd never had before but which is apparently common here: gooey butter cake. I can hear my arteries hardening from the name alone, but dear heavens does it taste good!

I'm somewhat taken aback to not be able to compare calories per serving on the menu, the way I can in California. Servings are startlingly huge, too — even the dressing on salads is far more than I'm used to. Oh, there's also the Southern diminutives or endearments which sound slightly odd to my not-so-Southern ears: men and women referring to strangers or waitresses or such as "hon" or "baby" or something similar.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, people are much larger here, and also friendly and easy-going and usually not in a rush — at least to white-girl me. When I need geographical directions while I'm at a store, there's a comfortable discussion between two women working there as they discuss how to get there and analyze which route will be most easy for me. Chatting relaxedly over the counter while paying is commonplace, and people in line seem to wait without impatience — they know they'll get their turn to chat soon, I guess? They are surprisingly trusting as well to my currently-Bay Area Californian sensibilities: when I return an item at a local Office Max, the clerk returns its price in cash to me — despite my having paid with a credit card.

No one blinks at the long traffic lights, even when the intersection is empty; it's clear these lights are on a strict schedule rather than the faster service-on-demand. There's a feeling of… lived history, of inter-generational connection here that I've never felt in California. Signs at the beautiful Missouri Botanical Garden, also known as Shaw Gardens, reveal a startling number of memorials to support the gardens. Interestingly, the memorials are frequently for older friends and mentors as well as for relatives. Some of them reveal what is, to a Bay Area Californian, a surprising amount of supportive community awareness and intergenerational respect. Indeed, the gardens themselves were created and gifted to the city in gratitude by Henry Shaw.

This connection is more far-reaching than I have ever experienced, since as a child I became accustomed to frequent moves on an average of every two years. However, currently I'm helping my sweetie with some family stuff here in St. Louis, where he lived for all of his life before he moved to California. For me, seeing the perspective of someone who has lived in the same place for a long time is peculiar and interesting.

For example, while running an errand I saw a billboard for Vogel's, a heating and cooling company. There was a vertical bar of color on the left, and written on it was "witty eye-catching slogan here…" I repeated this to my sweetie later to cheer him up, and he laughed, agreeing that that's just like the Vogel's! He went to school with a couple of them. I am startled and intrigued at the idea of knowing a community so deeply.

Place-names are an interesting mix of English and French, a touch of Spanish, and a generous splash of what I'd guess are Germanic and more Eastern European. I find myself giggling without meaning to, every time my sweetie mentions going to Schnucks, the local grocery store — it's pronounced schnooks and for some reason always strikes my funny bone. I'm also delighted to discover Panera's, which I love, originated here in St. Louis. In this state it is still known as St. Louis Breads — yum!

Things are not quite as "green" here, though I think that's improving — it certainly has from the last time I visited, over a decade ago. The water is fluoridated, which makes me wonder if that's why it removes soap so much better than water in California. It's curious how many more shorts I see here than in California, too. The flashing digital sign outside a high school boggles me slightly, as I read about the dates for the upcoming 7th and 8th grade iPad dispersion; my sweetie laughs as I ask him if I could pass as a 7th-grader.

On the other hand, I am somewhat uncomfortable with the plethora of large religious statuary in lawns and on the heavy, gothic church buildings, as well as the church signs and billboards pushing emotional anti-abortion messages. Signage like that lets me know that I do not deserve to own my own body — I am not welcome here. There are a lot of churches, too, and open, almost invitingly well-kept cemeteries. At one of them, in fact, I spot joggers — heck of an incentive to stay in shape! However, to be fair there is also a sign on one Protestant church which says everyone is welcome, regardless of race, age, gender, sexual preferences, and several other options I can't read fast enough as I drive by. Were I christian, that would definitely be my church of choice.

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