Views of the river
glean memories not my own.
It flows history.
When considering what this trip was all about, I never came to a solid answer. I knew there were many things that it was for, but I haven’t been able to distill the various purposes into a single reason. Research for the novel was for the destination, but I could have made it to St. Louis any number of ways. Getting out of normal life and going on an adventure was the biggest reason for the whole grand thing, but that had nothing to do with the route or the fact that it culminated with my arrival in a major Midwest metropolis. So since this was the way the cards were dealt, I had the opportunity to see a few famous sites in one of America’s great cities, not to mention a convenient way to get to each of them due to having my bicycle. I got to be a tourist.
Much of my first day and a half in St. Louis was pretty touristy anyway, what with all the time I spent in Forest Park and my initial stop at the base of the Gateway Arch. There was more to see though, such as a view of the city from atop the Arch. The last time I was in St. Louis, when I was a young boy visiting relatives that no longer live in Missouri, we hit up the city to go to the Arch and a Cardinal’s game. I always have had a problem with heights, so going up the Arch left quite an impression on me so long ago. The fact that it feels stable goes a long ways, so I didn’t have much of a problem back then. But even as a small boy, I recall feeling a little uneasy about the fact that, when standing in the middle of this narrow corridor, there was nothing between me and the ground but the floor and 630 feet of empty air space. Even still, I got over it and spent some time crawling up onto the ledges before each of the tiny windows, looking out over the expanse of city on each side and the banks of the Mississippi. This is truly one of the only vivid memories I have of my previous experience of St. Louis.
So a couple decades later, as I rode the little “2001: A Space Odyssey”-inspired tram up along the curved insides of the Arch, I considered the differences and similarities of the experience for pre-teen Nathan and 35-year-old Nathan. The time it took was definitely different. Or to be more specific, the perception of the time it took was different. A four-minute ride up the north leg of the monument the first time I went up felt like it took forever, as if we had to cancel other plans just so we could make this round trip. Now I was surprised when I was already at the top. But the memories of a world of empty space existing beneath me as I walked the short bridge between the two ends was most certainly a similarity. My feet tingled as I stepped across, while I did my best to not act like it was bothering me. It was like I was high in public yet trying really hard to show a sober face so that no one would know. And for those of you who have never been to the top of the Arch, the floor of the observation deck actually has a couple doors on it, presumably to get into a crawl space for repairs and maintenance. Didn’t matter the reason why, I purposefully sidestepped them lest they open underfoot, dropping me nearly two football fields down to the grassy knoll below. I loved being up there, reliving some memories and seeing such a fantastic view of the city, but I was first in line to get back on the trams down to the bottom once they returned with a new crew of tourists looking to enjoy the country’s tallest national monument.
And what trip to St. Louis could be complete without a visit to the city’s most famous business, a leader in its own industry surpassed by virtually no one? Anheuser-Busch is the largest supplier of beer in the country, and has been recognized throughout the world for over 150 years due to the success of its flagship beer, Budweiser. It tastes like dirty water, but that’s actually part of the point. It was stated outright at the beginning of the tour that the brewery’s founders wanted to make a beer that could be sold beyond the regional markets that littered the American landscape. Regional breweries were the norm, and Eberhard Anheuser and Adolphus Busch wanted to make a beverage that was accessible to drinkers across the map, so they purposefully made it less flavorful. And apparently they found the right balance, because it was weak enough for it to be inoffensive to a wide range of people, but strong enough to still be referred to as beer.
For as uninterested as I am in their beer, the history of the Anheuser-Busch brewery is absolutely fascinating. For better or for worse, it changed not just beer, but the way beer business was conducted forever. They redefined what it meant to be a large brewery. They survived prohibition. They are responsible for some of the most memorable marketing ever done. Regional breweries are making a comeback, but even still, this brewery is affecting how much they’re able to do so. At the end of the tour, everyone of drinking age was given a wooden token good for one free beer at the beer garden near the entrance. And on tap was not just Bud and Bud Light, but beer from all across the country, and even Europe. Instead of competing with craft breweries, Anheuser-Busch decided it was best to just buy the little guys out, which was why their beer garden had brews from places like Goose Island and Elysian on tap. Stella Artois was even on tap, a reminder that even the biggest brewery in the world isn’t immune from mergers and acquisitions: in 2008, they were bought out in one of the biggest business deals in the world and became part of AnHeuser-Bush InBev, a Belgian-based company.
In a city so well known for beer, I looked forward to stopping by some place that could show me again just how good beer could be, while maintaining a bit of personal independence in the process. So 4 Hands Brewery was a welcome sight to see, and an even more welcome taste to drink. Such was the remainder of my tourism day, where I sat with a few beers as I talked with a local artist sitting next to me at the bar for a few hours. Steve and I shared thoughts on the beer, as well as a few of his sketches, and the place of art in society in general. And before I left, I picked up a four-pack of their Super Flare IPA so as to have something delicious to drink on the train ride back to St. Paul the next day.