I’m slowly writing up the road logs from the first leg of my Adventure. The previous log showed the difficult trip to St. Louis. I was long past all my friends and family—all my “islands”—so I had come out of my shell and learn to make new friends. I found new islands.
Days 75 – 80 Overview (September 19 – 24, 2012): Saint Louis
I’d only been to Saint Louis before on a family trip with an ex (her mom & brother lived there). While it wasn’t a bad memory, I didn’t have any special warmth for the Gateway to the West.
Now I do.
When I finally got to Laurie’s house late in the day 9/19 I was beat. Laurie immediately turned that around—a huge homecooked meal, and two amazing other Couchsurfers to meet! Jenn Verrier, a talented photographer, was on a coast-to-coast picture shooting pilgrimage. And Bill, a computer security freelancer and an old friend of Laurie’s, was in between jaunts to Central America.
(Drew’s note: You can see a wonderful portrait of Laurie, shot by Jenn while I was present, right here.)
We all bonded. The first night I was on the couch, as I was last to arrive and the others had been assigned the bedrooms. I was more than comfortable there.
Over my short time at Laurie’s house, I would come to feel very close to her—she’s a travel lover who gets her fix from hosting travelers, and a proud ambassador of Saint Louis and its great culture scene. And she’s an independent business owner, who I could relate to as a struggling freelancer. But I think we really bonded through food.
I try to be self-sufficient and painless for my hosts, but Laurie insists on cooking big meals (always from scratch). She quickly found out that she could trust me at the stove, and we learned not to doubt each other’s zanier cooking tricks. (Hers: blend carrots into a tomato-based sauce for pizza. Amazing.) We went shopping for ingredients together and developed a warm friendship while I was there.
I was originally scheduled to depart the morning of Sunday, September 23 but ended up staying an extra day (at her insistence!) and leaving Monday 9/24. If it was up to Laurie I would’ve stayed much longer.
Laurie’s two-story townhouse (with patio and herb garden in the back) became my headquarters for the week, but since it’s in the suburbs I also ended up bike-commuting into the city and spending nights with two other hosts during this stay.
Laurie was very understanding that I had to work all day, and Bill did the same right alongside me. While we typed on laptops, Laurie did accounts for her business between frequent trips to the kitchen.
After a long hard day of writing, we went to dinner and night life in Saint Louis. Laurie knew of a great blues bar, and one of her favorite bands was playing at a local club. I didn’t know that Saint Louis was a blues capital; in my ignorance I thought that genre was much farther south. I was soon schooled, and although our venue plans ended up changing many times throughout the night, it was a great time.
At one point I got to bail Laurie out from the misplaced attentions of a rather creepy dance partner. This is a service I’ve come to enjoy performing for my female friends.
Ended our night at the landmark Venice Cafe, one of the funkiest and most visually stunning night spots you’ll ever find. Got some postcards for supporters there; enjoyed mosaics, drinks, sculptures, sitting at the “boat bar” and killer live music.
Very impressed by St. Louis nightlife. Had no idea!
Friday. Did more work during the day. Made plans with a couple to come visit for dinner in the evening. I figured I’d bike back to Laurie’s afterward, but as they’re Couchsurfing hosts they assumed I would spend the night, which I did.
Bethany, a piano teacher, and Britta, a scholar, were great hosts. I showed up with a bottle of wine (which was worth being late for). We met at their house and then walked to an Ethiopian restaurant for dinner. They live on a peaceful street in the Tower Grove East neighborhood, one of St Louis’ most thriving scenes. Afterward we went back to their place to drink wine and chat.
While I hit it off with both of them, Britta’s work in particular really fascinated me. She studies Spanish Literature. After they went to bed I grabbed one of her books on the topic—I had asked which she recommended for starting out—and learned about different movements in Latin, but especially Mexican, literature in the 20th century. I was struck by how socially-driven Latin literature is: not just written as art, but intentionally as art in a context of driving social change. All the great Latin novelists were revolutionaries of one kind or another. Their passion infuses their writing.
I left with a new motive to perfect my Spanish, and a short list of titles to look for once I’m ready.
Saturday. In the morning we had a quick and easy breakfast and then I departed from Bethany and Brittas’, heading back to Laurie’s house for the day. A little bit of work and a lot of socializing. But I had evening plans again.
Zoe is a young writer, an online entrepreneur and an occasional model. She had welcomed me to come stay with her during my time in St. Louis, and even though I had decided to stay primarily with Laurie I definitely wanted to meet a fellow writer. Zoe was making dinner at a friend’s house Saturday, and said I should come along and then crash on her couch.
I showed up with a bottle of wine, on time (now that I knew where to find a good wine shop) and found that I was just about the only person on time—which was nice. It gave me a chance to really get to meet Zoe and her friend, who was lending her his kitchen while she cooked (expertly). One by one, more of their friends showed up—almost all Couchsurfing hosts—and it became a sort of dinner party held on three sofas around a central coffee table. Some of us sat on the floor. Most had brought libations, as well, and we all reached that pleasant state of soft, warm drunkness that doesn’t yet involve fatigue or discombobulation.
I have to say that Zoe’s culinary skills are among the best I’ve ever sampled.
Meanwhile, I developed a crush on a sweet young woman named Katie. Just a good, warm connection.
Afterward most of us migrated to the Van Gogh Bar for drinks. It was only a couple blocks away, and exactly as chill inside as the name suggests. Got worried about money but didn’t say anything. Turns out I didn’t have to worry: a jovial, shock-blond unemployed animator ended up buying me a gin, which I thought was a great gesture.
Really hit it off with Katie. Even though I know it can’t really go anywhere, I told her Laurie and I are having friends over tomorrow for home-made curry, and invited her to come. She said yes!
Afterward, Zoe and I went to her apartment (and I met her cute dog) where I crashed on the couch.
Sunday. I had a loose plan to meet Laurie at an Asian market for ingredients at 10 am, but thankfully she wasn’t up for it. Instead I had breakfast and a great talk with Zoe over her kitchen table. I had expected to leave a little early because she had church, but instead she was hell bent on writing, so I did the same. We co-worked in her kitchen for a couple of blissful hours—blissful because she really is a working writer and understands that “working” doesn’t mean chatting while the laptop is open.
One thing she said stayed with me a long time. I was expressing difficulty making time for my client writing when hosts have so many exciting and fun things they want me to do. To her it was no decision: “That’s you’re money,” she said about client work.
I’ve reminded myself of this many times since then. Thanks, Zoe.
[Drew's note: Zoe ended up being the professional editor for my book, Lúnasa Days.]
I biked around the trendy part of town for a bit, picked up postcards to send to supporters, and got the much-needed curry ingredients, then back to Laurie’s. I’m now caught up completely on client work, and that fact alone more than justifies staying the extra day. A good feeling.
Jenn is gone now, so I have a room of my own—actually the room of Laurie’s grown daughter, whenever she’s in town—and we even saw Bill off, so I was the last of the current crop of surfers. Laurie and I had a blast cooking.
Laurie’s friend Wanda and my crush Katie came over for dinner. We had a good time. Laurie pulled me in the kitchen to discreetly tell me how cute Katie is—and how we’re “perfect together!” Wanda said the same thing. Okay, but I’m about to leave forever via bicycle. I wasn’t sure where they thought this might go, but then, there was a reason I invited her over, right?
I’d like to think Katie seemed to feel the same way I did. I’ll never know. After dinner I walked her out to her car but I didn’t make a move. I preferred to leave it a mystery, the way it should be, and just continue with my pilgrimage.
If you want to read more of my stories, you might like my novella Lúnasa Days about a young man who travels—and casts spells. Get it on Kindle today!