I was in St Louis last weekend for the long-anticipated reunion of the University City High School Jazz Band from 1983 - that's 25 years since we went on our grand tour of Europe, playing in Paris and Montreux.
The reunion was a pure delight, and it was wonderful to see everyone who turned up. It was like the realization of a dream I've had many, many times in which I'm playing with the band again, even improvising when my turn comes around! I may not have the chops I once did, but I think all (especially me!) were suprised to find that my improvisational skills are no better and no worse than they were back then.
I also took the opportunity to spend a full day exploring all my old haunts by bike. I arranged in advance to hire a bike from City Cycling Tours, recommended to me by someone on the St. Louis Bike Federation's Yahoo Group. Even though the company primarily runs guided tours of Forest Park, the proprietor, Chris, was all too willing to drop off a nice, well-maintained Giant city bike at my hotel and pick it up at the end of the day. He's a great St. Louis cycling advocate, and he recommended lots of routes for me. (I'll have to return for most of it, though... I'd love to do the Katy Trail, and even the Riverfront trail I was going to try was underwater that day!)
Even though I last biked through St Louis over a decade ago, everything came back to me quite easily. Apart from visiting my old High School stomping ground, I also really wanted to experience the routes put in place by the Bike St. Louis program and the new infrastructure around Forest Park.
I started in Forest Park, and found the trails to be extremely well maintained and marked. While I believe most (if not all) of the paths existed when I last rode them over a decade ago, the signs and markings are all quite new. They're shared-use paths, of course, but there's a network of running paths that also seem quite good. City Cycling Tours is based out of the park's Visitor Center, and while I didn't stop in, there seemed to be a lot of bikes available there, and lots bikers were stopping by to fill up water bottles and whatever else.
Riding around the park was pure bliss. There were lots of people out (it was Fathers' Day, and a beautiful one at that), but at no point did it seem crowded. I did at least two circuits around the periphery of the park, and criss-crossed the interior several times to visit the Art Museum, see the Muny, etc.
It did seem to me that there could have been more bike parking facilities, and better access to drinking fountains. When I stopped at the Zoo, the one standard bike rack was completely full, the one at the Art Museum was the same size and also quite full when I arrived.
The free Forest Park map was quite good, with clear indications of all the "wheel" and "heel" paths in addition to roads and landmarks. The one shortcoming, which Forest Park shares with the Bike St. Louis program, is that there's no obvious link between the two. The routes and markings in the park seem to be maintained by the park, and there was no clear link-up with the routes outside the park that I could see. In particular, it was a little tough to figure out how to navigate from the Forest Park path to the Bike St. Louis route at the northeast corner of the park. Maybe I missed it, but it would be nice to have signs inside the park that point to the external routes.
Generally, though, I was really impressed with the Bike St. Louis routes as well. I followed them through the Loop and down to the Arch and back through the Central West End, and they were very easy to find, understand, and follow. It was particularly nice to have the combination of street markings and signs pointing to various landmarks. One thing I found to be a bit odd was that many of the routes seem to be along main roads where the traffic would undoubtedly be really heavy on weekdays, and it seems like there could be better alternatives in more residential areas here and there.
When I was last in the area about ten years back, I distinctly remember thinking things had taken a turn for the worse since I last lived there in the 80s. This time, though, it's exactly the opposite! Especially around U. City and the Central West End, everything seemd to be thriving, clean, and beautiful!
I really look forward to returning with the family, and hopefully, it won't take another ten years to make that happen.
And here's a more-or-less accurate account of my journey:
- Started at my hotel, the bizarre Cheshire Lodge
- Around Forest Park on new marked bike paths
- To the Arch via Bike St. Louis route
- Back via Central West End, where I had brunch at Companion (verygood, nice outside table, unfortunate Tropicana OJ - why not fresh?)
- Through the Loop
- To Delmar Harvard & Library
- All around University City Heights
- Took break in Lewis Park
- To U City High School
- To Jackson Park and Wash U
- Back to Forest Park
- To Art Museum, browsed impressionists
- To the Zoo, browsed animals
- After that, I finally returned the bike and took the rental car to alate lunch at White Castle and dessert at Ted Drewes!