Welcome to St Louis, Rooks!

St Louis skyline at night. Yes, St. Louis looks its best from the shores of Illinois.

A flood of Rams rookies is descending on St Louis — 60 new signees and aspiring tryout players flying in, driving in, whatever it takes to get here for Rookie Minicamp. For many of these players, this is their first glimpse of the city and the culture that they now represent. Beyond the Arch and Albert Pujols, and the legacy of the Greatest Show on Turf, there’s little that’s widely known about our town.

Somebody tell me something bout St.Louis…. Never been there wanna kno something bout my new home #hollaback

I moved here 18 years ago from a small town in Florida, and I’ve been cataloging the weird and wonderful that I’ve come across since. Here’s a pretty extensive rundown, after the break.

The Arch is both symbolic and eerily metaphoric

The skyline of the city is dominated it is by the Arch, conceived as “the Gateway to the West” to commemorate our status as the temporary stopping point and launching pad for generations of westward explorers. In that sense, we were flyover country before there were airplanes.

At times, the city itself, like the Arch, feels empty in the middle. At first impression, you might see our downtown and ask yourself “is this all there is?” There’s a completely empty mall right across the street from the Ed Jones Dome, a sprawling empty lot next to Busch Stadium that might one day contain a “Ballpark Village,” and a third-rate collection of poorly lit stores occupying our Union Station. If that’s all you see, it’s downright depressing. But what you’ll discover is that the glory of the city is found in our smaller neighborhoods that frame the city.

There is no “Interstate 64”

It’s a conspiracy by mapmakers and the ever-intrusive federal government, who have the gall to slap their numbered shields on any roadway they like. In St Louis, we call that central artery that runs from downtown to Chesterfield “Highway 40.” If you get lost and need to find your way, don’t bother asking anyone where “I-64” is. It ends in Illinois.

Hope you like bricks

The soil that St Louis sits on is filled with river clay, and this town makes bricks like nobody’s business. If it makes the city feel old and a little haunted, that’s because it is. Both figuratively and architecturally, this town is filled with ghosts of the past. And we kind of like it that way.

Where the money is (and isn’t)

I recently did a little research project that created an “economic topography” of the St Louis area. It might look flat from up in the air, but don’t you believe it. The haves and have-nots are separated by pretty steep inclines, with just a few areas in between.

Economic Topography of St Louis | Infoshot by 600 Series Design

There’s a central question that everyone here seems to ask each other, the first time they meet: “Where’d you go to high school.” It’s not just academics they care about, the answer tells exactly where in this economic landscape you come from.

One major problem is that St Louis City and St Louis County have separate tax bases, and as you can see, most of the money (and most of the people) are in the county. This contributes to the “donut” effect that I alluded to above — if our town feels empty in the middle, here’s a big reason why.

Worst place to get drunk: The Landing

There’s a historic little port area just north of the Arch and east of the stadium called “Laclede’s Landing.” Don’t ever go there, especially at night. It’s a pile of trouble heaped on a pile of cobblestones. I used to work down there, and I can tell you for fact that every night on the Landing starts with shots and ends in a fight. You get every local yahoo and visiting hick from Illinois, every fratboy chasing skirts, every failed high school athlete with something to prove. Cops only show up to clean up the mess and throw people in wagons.

There’s an easy way to avoid being the Ben Roethlisberger of the Rams — don’t go to the Landing. Plain and simple.

Best place to meet Rams fans: Soulard

There are Rams fans all over town, but the highest (and friendliest) concentration of them can be found in and around the bars of Soulard. It’s our miniature “French Quarter,” with lots of French colonial townhouses, corner bars, cajun food and live music with a heavy emphasis on the blues. Despite this description, it’s actually a pretty quiet and good-natured place. The residents there tend to be well salted and pickled, and usually very good humored. Except during Mardi Gras, when all hell breaks loose.

Likeliest place to find Nelly: The Loop

The Delmar Loop sits just on the edge of the city limits, and is the commercial rebirth that we are most proud of. The St Louis Walk of Fame — Miles Davis! Tina Turner! Masters & Johnson! — is there, as is a pretty decent collection of hang out joints and shops. The best bowling alley for being seen bowling is there, called The Pin Up. (My favorite alley by far, though, is the Saratoga, a divey 8-lane upstairs alley in Maplewood where beers are cheap and you score games with a pencil and paper. It’s the oldest alley west of the Mississippi, tale is told.)

The Dirty Side

@RamsHerd tell onobun to watch The Wire to get to know STL– subbing dart tosses at Bidwell’s pic for Irsay’s?

I’m not trying to scare anyone, but St. Louis is not a clean, sparkling gem of a city. It has some pretty serious crime and poverty issues that we try to tuck away under the big rug known as “the North side” (though that area hardly has a monopoly). Our schools in the city are in desperate shape. And money for social change is always tight.

In fact, for a good subset of our city, real life in St Louis is probably not that different from the West Baltimore shown in The Wire.

Dan Zettwoch illustrates St Louis' most famous pile of breakfast

Food you can only get here

Every major area has its thing with cheap comfort food. Baltimore has their lake trout, they put gravy instead of ketchup on french fries in Boston, San Francisco has a million little dim sum kitchens, and they serve conch fritters in Florida.

Here in St Louis, two weird food creations are local traditions: the St Paul Sandwich (available at low-end chinese restaurants) and the Slinger (a hangover cure served nightly at every counter diner in town).

Also, you should be forewarned about “St. Louis style pizza,” notably served by Imo’s, and by dozens of independent pizzerias around town. It’s shit. It’s tomato paste on a cracker-thin crust with a concoction of cheese known as “Provel” that is all gooiness and no taste. Avoid it at all costs. If you want good local pizza, go to Pi. It’s so good that Obama has it delivered to the White House (no lie).

We love our teams, unless they dog it

The St Louis fan is, generally speaking, faithful to their uniforms, and we truly see our teams as an extension — a representation — of us, and our city. Win or lose, we will be here. The one thing we can’t abide, though, is a lack of heart, or lack of effort.

You would think, then, that there was a lot of resentment toward the Rams, based on last year’s 1-15 record. Not so. Everyone knows we’ve been suffering a major talent gap, the product of a near-decade of unproductive drafts. But last year, led by the example of our biggest star Steven Jackson, we saw the Rams players give everything they had. Every ounce of effort was left on the field.

We need playmakers, yes it’s true. Hopefully some of you might be just that. But the culture is there now, I hope. The culture of picking each other up, the culture of playing to and through the whistle on every snap, the culture of “team first.” We see it, and we’re willing to believe in it. And if you live up to that standard, we’ll believe in you.