This article from the New York Times is making the rounds, and I discovered that I could have written it word-for-word, not because I have any bias against the midwest, but because the move to St. Louis did not come easily to me at first. I came here grudgingly, couldn’t wait to serve my time and then leave. Until we had children, and then, just as instantaneously as this author experienced, I realized that not only had I come to tolerate St. Louis, I had learned to love it. Now I can’t imagine living anywhere else!
It was around March 2009, when our first daughter was born, that our lives began to shift. One of St. Louis’s oft-touted claims — that it’s a good place to raise children — happens to be true. Admission to the zoo is free. There are lots of great parks, including the one that surrounds the Arch — a monument that, in its elegantly mathematical beauty, genuinely lives up to its hype. St. Louis is also home to a kind of kids’ paradise called the Magic House, which features, among other attractions, a miniature Oval Office and a three-story climbable beanstalk. The city’s enthusiasm for its sports teams crosses age, race and gender in an appealing, wholesome way.
In fact, we got an early clue as to what kind of place St. Louis is during our first summer here, at a Cardinals-Cubs game. Sitting behind us in the stadium was a guy who looked to be about 20 and drunk. As people walked by, he’d yell out mocking observations about their appearances. Finally, I turned and said, “You know, everyone else here just wants to enjoy the game like you do.” Having moved only weeks before from Philadelphia, where Santa Claus himself was famously booed during an Eagles game, I half expected the guy to slug me. Instead, looking taken aback, he said, “I hadn’t thought of it like that. I’m sorry.” I was stunned into silence.
The much vaunted Midwestern friendliness is, in my experience, more evident not among people you know, but among those you don’t. It may take a year and a half to be invited to a dinner party, but the checkout clerk at the grocery store greets you as warmly as your grandmother. Eventually, my husband and I made friends with people who are mostly transplants like us, or in some cases a half transplant-half local couple in which one spouse lured the other back — because St. Louis is, you know, such a great place to raise kids.
Six years after we arrived, we have two daughters, ages 4 and 2, which gives me the authority to answer, definitively, the question of where people in St. Louis are when they’re not in a restaurant at 9 o’clock on a weeknight: we usually eat dinner about 5:15, and by 9 o’clock I’m getting ready for bed. But somewhere along the line, I started to really like living here. In fact, I would be happy to stay in St. Louis forever.
For one thing, it’s so easy. If I complain that I had a hard time parking, what I mean is that there was no space waiting for me directly in front of my destination and I had to drive another 50 feet to find one. If I say a restaurant is hard to get into, I mean that when I called on Thursday, they had no reservation open for Saturday night at 7:30. I work from home, but my husband’s commute is 20 minutes in “bad” traffic and 10 minutes otherwise.
WHAT I like best of all is that the size of St. Louis means we now run into people we know at the playground and the post office and the farmers’ market. In several instances, we’ve developed friendships after we bumped into the same people in more than one setting — the mother and son duo my daughter and I took a baby music class with, then saw again two years later when the children were in the same preschool, or the couple we met through my college classmate before we all happened to move onto the same street.
Now I consider myself a St. Louis local. I know not everyone would agree — I’ll never satisfactorily answer the question natives here ask one another on meeting, which is where they went to high school — but I believe my transition occurred last spring.
It was strangely instantaneous, as when people switch bodies in movies. My husband and I were, naturally, at a trivia fund-raiser, at a table for eight. St. Louis’s professional ice hockey team, the Blues, was in the playoffs, and as an M.C. asked the trivia questions, a large screen showed the game. When a Blues player scored late in the game, the room — a school gym — erupted in cheers. And just as meeting the same people in two settings has propelled forward our friendships, I felt how the intersection of these two disparate but quintessentially local phenomena, trivia and the Blues, forged my new identity. It was involuntary but not unwelcome; in a noisy gym, I became a St. Louisan.