St. Louis’s Gateway Arch

I write a lot on this blog about discovering beautiful and enlightening aspects of my new hometown, Tacoma, WA. But today an article on NPR (National Public Radio) has prompted me to look back on the city where I lived for 42 years, St. Louis, MO.

The most iconic St. Louis artifact is the gleaming Gateway Arch, a monument to westward expansion. Whenever we would return from a trip to somewhere east of St. Louis along I 70, I would look for this symbol of home.

When we first moved to St. Louis, I was surprised to learn that a lot of the local people dismissed it as nothing special. This is characteristic of people everywhere: They poo-poo their distinctive landmarks as things designed solely for the amusement of tourists but beneath the consideration of the local inhabitants. But I loved the Arch, this simple yet beautiful shape, from the first moment I saw it.

The stainless-steel clad Gateway Arch sits on the west bank of the Mississippi River near the site of the original settlement of St. Louis. At 630 feet (192 m) tall, it is the tallest monument in the Western Hemisphere. Construction began on the Arch on February 12, 1963, and was completed on October 28, 1965. The monument opened to the public on June 10, 1967. It is the centerpiece of the 91-acre Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which is maintained by the National Park Service. Underneath the Arch is a museum about westward expansion.

Whenever out-of-town guests came to visit us in St. Louis, we always took them to the Arch. A tram system carries visitors to the top in little cars (that seriously tested my slight claustrophobia) that hold five people. As the cars ascend, they become slightly tilted. Periodically the cars adjust with a distinctive “choonk” sound and forward movement to return to an upright position. I always prepared visitors for this, since it can be a frightening sound and sensation to anyone who isn’t expecting it.

The museum is currently being completely rebuilt. The NPR article As Gateway Arch Turns 50, Its Message Gets Reframed explains how the monument’s message is changing to reflect more accurately how westward expansion occurred:

For all the wonder and appreciation St. Louis’ Gateway Arch monument inspires, some see the message and history of the Arch as divisive.

Here are the key aspects of that divisiveness:

  • the Arch was built to honor St. Louis’ role in westward expansion, a time when Manifest Destiny was used to push Native Americans and Mexicans out of their lands. The museum under the Arch is being redesigned to include that perspective.
  • Racial inequality is another shadow some see cast by the Arch.
  • Many residents of Kansas City, 250 miles west of St. Louis, believe that their city deserves the title of Gateway to the West.

Fifty years after the Arch was built, its anniversary has inspired National Park officials to take a closer look at what the monument represents. When the museum reopens in 2017, it may be known simply as the Arch Museum instead of the Museum of Westward Expansion.

And here it is without its top cut off:

St. Louis Gateway Arch
From Wikipedia Commons

At Home: My Two-Year Anniversary in Tacoma

Today I celebrate two years of living in Tacoma. I actually arrived in Tacoma on April 9, 2013, then stayed in a motel overnight before moving into my new home on April 10.

We had been visiting Tacoma for a week each year for several years before deciding to move here. I therefore knew a little about getting around, but not very much. I knew only one route to my new home from the motel where I stayed. (We’d been staying there regularly for many years.) I have since discovered a few alternate routes to my house, including one that cuts about 15 minutes off that route I drove on my first day as a resident here.

After two years, I finally feel that I’m beginning to know my general way around. I still use Google Maps a lot, but now when people say, “That store is on Hosmer Street” or “We’re on Steele Street,” I have a general idea of where to head. I also no longer fear getting lost and can approach finding somewhere I’ve never gone before as an opportunity to explore new places.

I arrived at my house at 10:00 AM on April 10, 2013, in a torrential downpour. Of course I knew about the frequent rain here—our daughter had been reminding us that we’d have to get used to it—so I wasn’t surprised. After getting my keys, I pulled my car into the attached garage and unloaded the boxes of necessities that I had brought with me from St. Louis. My car could not have held even one more dish or pan.

By the time I had unloaded the boxes—not unpacked them yet, but at least removed them from my car and put them in the appropriate rooms—it was 11:00 AM. I was ready to head out to Target, Costco, and Safeway to purchase necessities I hadn’t been able to bring with me (coffee maker, vacuum cleaner, cleaning supplies, and yes, food). Was I surprised to find that the sky was clear and the sun was shining brightly.

That was the first time I realized that the old adage “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute and it will change” applies here more than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. In the two years I’ve been here I’ve learned a lot about dealing with the weather:

  • Even if it’s raining now, it might not still be raining an hour from now.
  • Even if it’s not raining now, that doesn’t mean it won’t be raining an hour from now (so bring along that umbrella or raincoat).
  • A morning of fog and drizzle (quite common) doesn’t mean that the afternoon won’t be beautifully sunny.
  • The hottest part of the day here isn’t around high noon, as it was in St. Louis, but usually at 3:00 or 4:00 PM.
  • If you expect to live around here, you can’t be skittish about occasionally getting a bit wet. Also, my mother was right when she told me, “You’re not sugar. You won’t melt.”

I do not miss the unbearable heat and humidity of St. Louis summers at all.

But after 40+ years in St. Louis, I do kind of miss the St. Louis Cardinals and still follow them in the standings. Nonetheless, I have adopted the Seattle Mariners as my home MLB team and faithfully follow their ups and downs (so far, unfortunately, mostly downs) and tune in to the games. I’m grateful that the Mariners AAA minor league team, the Rainiers, is headquartered right here in Tacoma. Attending their games is much easier—and much cheaper—than making the trip up to Seattle’s Safeco Field. And I’ve become an enthusiastic football fan here in Seattle Seahawks territory, where everybody is expected to be The Twelfth Man. Like a lot of other people around here, I still wish the Supersonics, the local NBA team, had not moved away and remade itself as the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Our recent five-day trip to Tampa, FL, for the Women’s Final Four college basketball championship tournament made me realize how much I’ve come to think of Tacoma as my home. Two features here that I love the most are the water, with its high and low tides, and Mount Rainier. There’s water aplenty in Tampa, too, but the sun just doesn’t glint off Tampa water the same way it does off the water of our Commencement Bay. And Tampa is just so FLAT. After about four days, I was craving a glimpse of my mountain.

Because our flight back from Tampa didn’t get in until after dark, we couldn’t see the mountains from the plane as we usually can. But I could feel their presence. For air travelers, the local airport represents home, and when we stepped off the plane at Sea-Tac Airport, I felt that’s where I was. I’ve flown into Sea-Tac lots of times over the years, and I was always excited to see my daughter and to be on vacation. But this time, walking through Sea-Tac made me feel grounded, made me feel that I was back where I truly belonged.

It’s great to be back in the Pacific Northwest, where there’s still a chill in the air that requires a light jacket. Goodbye to the 88 degrees F. of Tampa. It was a great place to visit, but I’m glad to be home. In Tacoma, WA.