Now that I am off of FB and Twitter, it becomes much harder to let people know about interesting stuff floating around. No longer is a click of a button available. I’m not complaining though. I suppose that this blog will become my principal outlet, starting with this item. Being from STL, it confirms that it was a great place to grow up. Even though I had to reject the conservatism, latent racism, and humidity that pervades the town, growing up in South County was, indeed, idyllic. Here is a take by Curtis Sittenfeld, a non-native.
By CURTIS SITTENFELD, Published: June 8, 2013
AFTER we moved to St. Louis in 2007, my husband joked that we were self-hating Midwesterners. He grew up in Indiana, I grew up in Ohio, we met in Washington, D.C., and we landed in St. Louis — for my husband’s job — by way of Philadelphia. If our friends from the coasts disparaged the heartland, we were quick to defend it. Privately, however, we were critical.
At coffee houses, my husband was annoyed by how long it took baristas to fill his order, and on the highway, he was mystified by drivers, all of whom seemed to crowd into the right lane. At trivia nights, which are common in St. Louis as informal fund-raisers, you could buy mulligans for questions you didn’t know the answer to, which offended my husband’s sense of competitive integrity. We thought that pizza made with the beloved local cheese — Provel — tasted as if it had been cooked with cellophane. And if we went out on a weeknight, we’d be the only patrons in the restaurant by 9 o’clock and would get the impression that the staff members wanted us to hurry up so they could go home. We’d ask each other, “Where is everyone?”
There was a particular car I soon came to think of as distinctly St. Louis-ish: a gigantic white S.U.V. with a W. bumper sticker on it for George W. Bush. In Philadelphia, I had socialized with only one conservative, a woman I actually thought of as “Donna the Republican” because her politics were so singular to me.
But the ultimate affront in St. Louis wasn’t politics or food; it was that my husband and I struggled to make friends. I am not exaggerating when I say that in 2008, we held a Super Bowl “party” to which zero guests showed up.
It was around March 2009, when our first daughter was born, that our lives began to shift. One of St. Louis’s oft-touted claims — that it’s a good place to raise children — happens to be true. Admission to the zoo is free. There are lots of great parks, including the one that surrounds the Arch — a monument that, in its elegantly mathematical beauty, genuinely lives up to its hype. St. Louis is also home to a kind of kids’ paradise called theMagic House, which features, among other attractions, a miniature Oval Office and a three-story climbable beanstalk. The city’s enthusiasm for its sports teams crosses age, race and gender in an appealing, wholesome way.
In fact, we got an early clue as to what kind of place St. Louis is during our first summer here, at a Cardinals-Cubs game. Sitting behind us in the stadium was a guy who looked to be about 20 and drunk. As people walked by, he’d yell out mocking observations about their appearances. Finally, I turned and said, “You know, everyone else here just wants to enjoy the game like you do.” Having moved only weeks before from Philadelphia, where Santa Claus himself was famously booed during an Eagles game, I half expected the guy to slug me. Instead, looking taken aback, he said, “I hadn’t thought of it like that. I’m sorry.” I was stunned into silence.
The much vaunted Midwestern friendliness is, in my experience, more evident not among people you know, but among those you don’t. It may take a year and a half to be invited to a dinner party, but the checkout clerk at the grocery store greets you as warmly as your grandmother. Eventually, my husband and I made friends with people who are mostly transplants like us, or in some cases a half transplant-half local couple in which one spouse lured the other back — because St. Louis is, you know, such a great place to raise kids.
Six years after we arrived, we have two daughters, ages 4 and 2, which gives me the authority to answer, definitively, the question of where people in St. Louis are when they’re not in a restaurant at 9 o’clock on a weeknight: we usually eat dinner about 5:15, and by 9 o’clock I’m getting ready for bed. But somewhere along the line, I started to really like living here. In fact, I would be happy to stay in St. Louis forever.
For one thing, it’s so easy. If I complain that I had a hard time parking, what I mean is that there was no space waiting for me directly in front of my destination and I had to drive another 50 feet to find one. If I say a restaurant is hard to get into, I mean that when I called on Thursday, they had no reservation open for Saturday night at 7:30. I work from home, but my husband’s commute is 20 minutes in “bad” traffic and 10 minutes otherwise.
WHAT I like best of all is that the size of St. Louis means we now run into people we know at the playground and the post office and the farmers’ market. In several instances, we’ve developed friendships after we bumped into the same people in more than one setting — the mother and son duo my daughter and I took a baby music class with, then saw again two years later when the children were in the same preschool, or the couple we met through my college classmate before we all happened to move onto the same street.
Now I consider myself a St. Louis local. I know not everyone would agree — I’ll never satisfactorily answer the question natives here ask one another on meeting, which is where they went to high school — but I believe my transition occurred last spring.
It was strangely instantaneous, as when people switch bodies in movies. My husband and I were, naturally, at a trivia fund-raiser, at a table for eight. St. Louis’s professional ice hockey team, the Blues, was in the playoffs, and as an M.C. asked the trivia questions, a large screen showed the game. When a Blues player scored late in the game, the room — a school gym — erupted in cheers. And just as meeting the same people in two settings has propelled forward our friendships, I felt how the intersection of these two disparate but quintessentially local phenomena, trivia and the Blues, forged my new identity. It was involuntary but not unwelcome; in a noisy gym, I became a St. Louisan.
Curtis Sittenfeld is the author, most recently, of “American Wife” and the forthcoming novel “Sisterland.”
UPDATE: The following “Letter to the Editor” appeared commenting on the opinion above:
To the Editor:
Re “Loving the Midwest” (Sunday Review, June 9):
The chilly reception that Curtis Sittenfeld and her husband encountered upon moving to St. Louis is personally embarrassing to me, a St. Louis native living within a mile and a half of where six of my great-grandparents and all four grandparents lived. I’m delighted that she and her family finally feel welcome but am sorry that it took five years to happen.
St. Louis was once the fourth largest city in the United States. It thrived because it attracted talented people from the rest of the country and the rest of the world. If St. Louis is going to prosper in the 21st century, we need to attract and welcome talented people who have numerous options in deciding where to work and live.
THOMAS F. SCHLAFLY
Louis, June 9, 2013