Farewell in St. Louis

Over Memorial Day weekend, Vivian and I traveled from Omaha to St. Louis to have a brief farewell get-together with the Kolters, who’d been responsible for starting the annual tradition of hosting some kind of Comic Genesis cookout together. They’ll be moving to Florida very shortly, so it only made sense to have a road trip down to St. Louis to say a proper goodbye.

My first cookout in 2006, then in 2007, a Nashville cookout in 2009, and then one right here in Omaha in 2010. Now it feels like the end of an era, where many in our group seem to have gone their separate ways.

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Our first day started with a trip from Omaha down to Colombia, Missouri to meet up at Fading Aura’s place with Mr. and Mrs. Vorticus. We played a few obligatory rounds of Rock Band together, and I got to learn the hard way that I didn’t know quite as many lyrics to R.E.M.’s It’s The End Of The World As We Know It as I thought I did (but strangely enough, I feel fine).

We headed down to the local pizza parlor of choice — Shakespeare’s Pizza — and got to have dinner with the Faubs while catching up with one another. (The food was great, but their drink cabinet that contains WD-40 for some reason.) We got some ice cream for dessert up the street at Sparky’s, another of Fading Aura’s favorite places, and then took a quick tour around the University of Missouri campus.

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The next morning, Fading Aura made us waffles for breakfast, and then we headed on over to the Kolter’s place for a farewell party. We spent the afternoon watching Ryan give Tristan piggyback rides and their new baby girl Morgan being adorable. We made spaghetti for lunch with some of my homemade marinara and spent some quality time playing Telestrations, picking through baby clothes, and staying up late performing a “purity test” on one another.

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Of course, no visit to St. Louis would be complete without a visit to the iconic Gateway Arch. We went fairly early in the morning to beat the crowds but still wound up fighting through three long lines to get our chance to ride up to the top. That was no problem since we got to play a game of checkers and visit several animatronic pioneers in the Western Expansion museum while we waited. The view from the top was spectacular, of course, though I think Fading Aura and Vivian both got a little sick with the arch wobbling back and forth in the wind.

On front, the Mississippi River had risen to the point of flooding the side streets, which gave Vivian the chance not only to see the old river for the first time in her life, but to touch it as well. (It was so hot, I went ahead and just decided to wade around for a while, which was quite refreshing.)

I would be remiss not to mention a man we met standing on the steps of the arch dressed in white and holding a Christian flag. He stood there silently without a sign of protest or a tip bucket, so we asked him why he was there. He told us he has been standing there for six hours every Sunday for the last 38 weeks or so just as a form of silent prayer, offering to pray in the name of Christ to anyone who asked. That was it — no yelling street evangelism, no angry messages of fire and brimstone, just prayer. It was an amazing display of Christian love in a way I’d never seen before.

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After visiting the arch, we grabbed lunch a cute 50s-style diner called Chuck-a-burger. I say “50s-style” when in fact it is a diner from the 1950s that still happens to be around. I’m always a sucker for old-school diners and dives, especially when the food is good, According to Fading Aura, though, the guy who owns the property has been itching to tear the place down and put a bland strip mall in its place, so I’m hoping this piece of Americana somehow manages to stay there for many more years to come.

We traveled on to Forest Park and the St. Louis Art Museum after lunch (which included a statue of the city’s namesake, a figure I didn’t even know existed). The museum was great fun for an art major like me, with works from Van Gogh and Degas that I remember from my art history class. It’s always a thrill to see those up close and personal. Fading Aura hunted for a few geocaches out in the gardens and we took a quick walk down by the boat house before heading back to the Kolter’s for dinner.

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The Kolters has been unfortunately unable to join us for most of the afternoon because the hoarder next door somehow set her house on fire, which caused their entire neighborhood to get blocked off by fire trucks for the entire afternoon (and condemned the house in the process).

We finally returned to the Kolter Kastle later in the afternoon, where I offered by limited culinary skills to make up some chicken alfredo for everyone, which I think turned out well. We let the sauce set while having our traditional dart gun war, which was fun until Vivian got Sarah square on the lips. We wrapped up our visit with a few more inexplicable rounds of Telestrations before calling it a night.

Our old house in Warrensburg P1050155

On the way back home to Omaha, we stopped by my former home in Warrensburg, Missouri. I lived in this small college town between 1990 and 1992 and hadn’t been back in nearly 20 years. It was quite a trip down memory lane. Very little had changed about our old house other than the peeling paint and overgrowth of foliage in the backyard. I took Vivian to Lion’s Lake where I went walking with my brothers, and we stopped by the old Video Palace, where I used to rent video game every week. It has has since been changed to the “Hookah Lounge.” We even stopped by my old middle school, which has since been turned into an elementary school for grades 5 and 6. It was closed for the summer, so I was only able to get a brief peek inside, but I could still remember those long, terrible years in grades seven and eight marching along the track out back and cutting gym class to read books underneath the north stairwell.

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The way back through Kansas City, we stopped by the Country Club Plaza for dinner at Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue for dinner. It’s become almost a tradition for us to drop into this place for a rack of succulent ribs, a cheesy potato bake, and some steaming hot carrot cake for dessert. We would have dropped by the Better Cheddar to fill up on some Gjetost, but they has unfortunately closed early for Memorial Day. (We satisfied ourselves by dropping by World Market instead.)

It was great to see some old friends for one last “cookout” together in St. Louis. Hopefully we’ll be doing it again soon, but next time perhaps down in the land of oranges and Mickey Mouse.

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