Saturday 6 November 2010

Day 71 – The Terrifying Spirit of St. Louis

Today marked what’ll probably be our last foray into a major metropolitan city on this trip. It wasn’t one that was in the original plan, but when we hastily added in our second stop on today’s itinerary (more on that later!), we realized it took us pretty close to St. Louis, MO and how could we be that close and not visit the Gateway Arch?!
The arch was a constant debate when we were doing our many revisions for this trip months before we even left London. Me for; Joe (predictably) against. I put the case out there that it wouldn’t be right to do an epic journey of America without visiting its tallest monument. Joe on the other hand felt it wasn’t worth our time and had no interest in going up it anyway, so what would be the point? Disappointingly it didn’t make the cut…until now! As we were passing it anyhow, I convinced Joe we should just stop by.
As it was Saturday we found our follow tourists again. Even though it had felt odd to be alone at some of the attractions in Kentucky, having a swarm of people getting back in our way didn’t feel as comforting as we thought it would…especially as we were on a tight schedule. Making our way through security we discovered the next available tram to the top wasn’t for forty-five minutes. Yikes. Another debate about whether we should stick around for this was had. I’ll let you guess who was for and who was against…
Forty-five minutes later and one of us had won the debate as we were in queue for our trip 630 feet upwards. At the time we bought the tickets I hadn’t known exactly how the elevators for the Gateway Arch worked. Obviously I could tell it wasn’t going to be your regular Otis lift and something more ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ came to mind. Unfortunately the creator of this big semi-circle was clearly a wiseguy as he seemed to think people would be happy to cram themselves into a five person pod smaller than a smart car! Awesome, as if going up there wasn’t hard enough with Joe’s fear of heights, now we had to deal with my claustrophobia too---Now I wished I’d listened to Joe. He is all-knowing and handsome and…Hey, Joe, get away from the laptop!!!
…Anyway…Let me tell you, the whole arch experience was terrifying. You literally have to hunch over it’s so tight in there and to top it off, the journey takes four excruciatingly long minutes. As it’s going up in a curve it swings slightly like a ferris wheel so that it can continue to stay upright and the door has glass in it so you can enjoy seeing the many, many flights of emergency stairs. And trust me, things don’t get any better when you finally reach the top…
Stepping out of the pod, both of us felt queasy. Despite the arch’s size, they haven’t levelled off the observation deck, so you walk the whole floor at an angle. It’s packed with people trying to get a look through the tiny slit windows and the icing on the cake is you can feel the thing swaying slightly. You’d have thought we’d have learnt our lesson from the Seattle Space Needle…
Well, dammit, Joe did. He told me repeatedly we wouldn’t enjoy it and that we should stay safely on the ground, but my determination took us up on the elevator ride from hell and by Jove it was gonna get us back down again. Our total time on the St. Louis Gateway Arch? Exactly thirteen miserable minutes. Four minute pod ride to the top, two minutes to snap some awkward, horror-filled photos, four unbearable minutes waiting in queue for a down-pod and the terrifying three minute ride back to earth.
Only a sentence riddled with swear words could accurately tell you how I personally felt about this experience, but this is a family-friendly blog so you will have to use your imagination! Moments later we were back in the car and putting the ordeal far behind us. Our next destination was Springfield, IL--and arriving in town we made our way past the Old State Capitol building where Barack Obama stood on the steps to announce he was going to run for president.
But our stop in town wasn’t about a current president, it was about a past one and after the day we’d had, it was definitely more our pace as it involved being below ground instead of high above it. Yep, we were already back in another cemetery. Even we can’t believe how many we’ve seen on this trip…it might be getting a little creepy now! Although this time we felt more than justified as it was time to honor the main man of our trip…no, not Kevin Costner, but Abraham Lincoln.
You’ll have probably noticed we kinda got a whopping big crush on Abe during our time on the road and because of that we added in the last minute detour to his tomb. And ironically our trip today coincided with the 150th anniversary of the day he was elected president on 6th Nov 1860! The grand memorial built in Oak Ridge Cemetery is also where Abe’s wife (Mary Todd) and three of his four sons are buried. It was a fitting tribute to a great man! And much more of a highlight than our time in St. Louis…of course the other highlight of the day was our Panda Express dinner. I’ve been in search of the elusive panda for days now…
So, until tomorrow…

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