My first encounter with St. Louis was during a 2-hour layover in its airport on my way back to college from Dallas after a spring break volunteer trip. It was a mid-March early afternoon the day after the tsunami in Japan. 20 of us formed a circle on the floor of the waiting area, holding hands, praying for the souls and lives in a land faraway. I guess that didn’t have anything to do with the urge to go back to the city, but somehow since that day that I sat in the airport looking out the glass window into the same, austere runway, I felt the desire to get out and get to know the city.
Exactly one year after that afternoon in the airport, as I planned my last spring break trip with Chicago at one end and Nashville at the other, St. Louis became the obvious destination in between. Another city that I rushed through in 12 hours with only the Gateway Arch and the awesome, Cornell-educated lawyer host with whom 10-minute conversation I very much enjoyed being the highlights of a gloomy and lonesome trip.
This photo was taken around midnight, on a cold early spring day when I was walking to my host’s apartment. I would never say that traveling alone was one of the worst experiences in the world, but moments like this, as I strolled down the deserted street alone late at night, with the damp air surrounding and the street lights shining in dead silence, I couldn’t help the feeling of loneliness and mild depression.
The morning didn’t help either. Before stepping down the stairs onto the street, I looked down from the window of the living room, pressing my little hand against the glass to estimate the temperature (yes, it’s more accurate than looking at a confusing table of min, max, mean, average, feels like temperatures) and somehow this forever deserted street made me speechless in an emotional quietness.
Could I ever choose a more depressing time to visit a park than this? There was no life, in the trees, the water, the grass, the sky, or anywhere.
The absence of liveliness continued as I struggled in the freezing cold to find a way out of the park and walked for hours to Union Station until I got inside the Gateway Arch where I could see people for the second time that day.
This is a city, I reminded myself when looking at the view of St. Louis from the top of the Gateway Arch but couldn’t help wondering where all the people went.
Empty streets in the twilight
Not every city is as exciting and touristy as New York or Paris. But St. Louis, with its mellow atmosphere, the lack of thrill, the cold, the gloomy sky, the dying trees and all its depressing signs, still made me find peace in the utmost solitude and harshness.