For me, blogging and running are a lot alike. I’m either really in the zone, or really not. Since the Mississippi Blues Marathon I’ve been really not in the zone and I am trying to catch up on both! The thing is, when you drive the Wienermobile you can’t skip any weeks with these Touristy Tuesday posts – they keep coming! You’re in a new city every week and there is always something to report on.
Since this is my blog and I can do whatever I want (read that like a whiney five year old wrote it) I’m just going to try to work my way backward. This last month we have been traveling across Missouri (home sweet hot dog home) and I’ve been able to not only see new sights, but also see old friends.
Our last stop was St. Louis, MO, where we spent about a week and a half. Now even though I went to Mizzou, have a Missouri drivers license, and occasionally claim the state as home when people ask me where I’m from, I haven’t actually spent too much time in the STL area. Aside from day trips or quick getaways with the girlfriends, it’s pretty uncharted territory for me.
We drove into St. Louis from Columbia the day of the Snowpocalypse of 2013. THUNDERSNOW! I begged Eliot for an extra 30 minutes to get ready and we ended up leaving at 8:30 Thursday morning. I went to load my belongings into the company car at 8:00 a.m. – no snow. By 8:30 a sheet of ice and half an inch of snow had accumulated. OOPS! Sorry Eliot! To be an even worse partner I claimed dibs on not driving and he had to take the first shift.
While I felt really bad about the situation at first, as we slowly crawled our way along I-70 at 30 mph, it turned out to be a great idea. The CB radio cut in an out with weather updates from truckers reporting the treacherous conditions, a conversation sprinkled with enthusiastic Wienermobile sightings. It went a lot like this:
- “Y’all don’t even think about going west. You a’int getting nowhere today.”
- “Did you see that trucker flying? He’s going to learn real fast not to drive like that.”
- “Well I’ll be damned. It’s the Oscar Mayer Wiener Wagon!”
- “This snow is some shit.”
This was our first time tuning into the CB and we were quite delighted with the snippets of conversation that we managed to catch.
The decision to leave late was validated when we had our first big media hit of the day. I got a message from a friend who said U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill had just tweeted about the Wienermobile. Turns out she had seen us driving and tweeted a picture of it to her 88,000+ followers! We later learned she also called into Fox2 news in St. Louis – another media hit for us. (Glad I voted for her!)
Three hours later, finishing a drive that usually takes just two hours, we pulled into our home for the week. We stayed at the Residence Inn in Downtown St. Louis (which I will rave about more later on.) Frazzled from the drive and ready to relax, we went to check-in. The manager enthusiastically told us the weather was broadcasting from the parking lot. Ok, even with our cold buns we still couldn’t pass up the opportunity for another media hit, so we went to seek out the crew.
Turns out it wasn’t just the local weather, it was the Weather Channel and they were broadcasting live! We got hit after hit as the anchor reported with the Wienermobile behind them. We also were interviewed and I made my first debut on national television.
All this media is a big deal for us, because that’s the more serious side of our job, when we aren’t appearing in parades or at state fairs.
If that wasn’t a big enough day, that afternoon we received another phone call. Turns out a current college senior who had applied to drive the big dog, and who had a phone interview just days earlier, was in St. Louis and saw us. What is absolutely crazy about this is that we had just been talking about him with our boss the day before! He is from Minnesota, so for him to run into us in St. Louis was pretty incredible. Eliot and I went down to the lobby to meet him and his father, who were hilarious. I won’t say too much more, but I’m really rooting for him. I mean, he has experience running a hot dog stand and even started his own grilled cheese delivery service to the college dorms!
With the big day Thursday, Friday we crashed. It was our first day off in the city and it went like this. Woke up, watched four episodes of The West Wing, got hungry, convinced Eliot to go grocery shopping, found a Subway which only had one person working because of the snow, returned to the hotel, and watched about seven more episodes of The West Wing. I don’t even feel bad about it. Do you have any idea how hard it is to be a tourist every day for a year?! Sometimes you just have to crawl under the hotel covers and pretend you’re at home vegging out. Admittedly, this is the epitome of a Hotddoger Problem if there ever was one.
While we didn’t technically have Monday off this last week, it was a maintenance day and those are typically pretty low key. Show up to Penske, drop off the keys, and then wait for them to change the ketchup and mustard… err, oil. Luckily, we had access to the hotel shuttle and took advantage of the time during the day to do a little exploring.
Eliot, the big baseball fan, wanted to tour Busch Stadium, where the St. Louis Cardinals play. I figured I would oblige him (this could come in handy for the next photo op I want to drag him to) and we ended up on a private tour of the grounds, led by a quaint, little old lady, named Mary. She regaled us with stories of her baseball youth, having been to all three Cardinals stadiums over the years. Busch Stadium is relatively new, built in 2006. It is the only stadium where the team played their first year and also won the world series that same year!
She told us at least four times that their turf was Kentucky Bluegrass – but not grown in Kentucky! I’m not sure if Mary was just very excited about the Kentucky Bluegrass or if she just kept forgetting she told us, but either way that was probably the most interesting fun fact I walked away with from the tour.
Now you might be wondering, wouldn’t the first thing you do in St. Louis be to see the Arch? Yes! It would! Unfortunately, we were in town ten days and the weather every single day was cloudy and overcast. We didn’t even see the sun until the last two days we were in town!
Instead, we spent Tuesday indoors. The day started off with a tour of the Anheauser-Busch Brewery. I’m not sure what was the highlight of the tour: the tour guide who knew the calorie count of every single beer they make, the adorable senior citizen couples on the double date from Ames, Iowa, or the tasting. It was a great tour and I always feel like I’m on the Discovery or History channel whenever I get to see how things are made like that. Eliot is the perfect tourmate because he doesn’t mind all the questions I ask and always has some himself!
That afternoon I left Eliot at the hotel and headed out to Forest Park to see the St. Louis Art Museum. Proclaimed etched in stone above the entrance was “Dedicated to art and free for all.” It was a great, free way to spend the afternoon.
Wednesday we spent quite a bit more time in the hotel, but that’s because it was the single best hotel on the road yet. This Residence Inn had the most friendly and accommodating staff you could imagine. They were just great people, from the front desk girls who invited us to karaoke night, to the breakfast crew. Angie, one of the ladies who ran the breakfast, was like a mom on the road. And then there was Willis, who called me Oatmeal Kelly all week because of my affinity for oats. Greg, the shuttle driver, even invited us to a theater performance with him that week!
This hotel was pretty special because it was also nearby a local children’s hospital and there were quite a few families with disabled children staying there. We saw that as an awesome chance to give back. Thursday we spent giving rides to these families from the hotel to the hospital. Hearing the laughs and giggles of the children and their parents was unbelievably rewarding! I can’t say enough about what a great experience we had at the hotel the whole week.
After a fulfilling day, Eliot and I had one more family to show off the company car to. Chris, a former Hotdogger living in St. Louis, had invited us out to dinner after we met his mom in Jefferson City the week before. We went to Dewey’s Pizza with him, his wife, and their three children. What a great night! There is something to be said for being adopted into a family while on the road and those hectic family dinners are actually really comforting. The pizza was great, but the company was even better and Eliot and I had a blast.
While in St. Louis we actually got to catch up with quite a few Hotdoggers, including Vicki, who is the voice of our jingle horn. When I announced to the people at our Walmart event that we had a celebrity present, the horn jingle singer herself, no one seemed to share my enthusiasm. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been listening to the jingle horn multiple times per day, ever day, for nine months. Since the horn is a familiar friend these day, it was like going to Oz and meeting the Wizard – she was the real deal!
We also had dinner with Court, another Mizzou alumni and fellow Hotdogger. He took us out to dinner on The Hill, the italian district in St. Louis. As you can tell, our time in St. Louis involved a lot of carbs and an equally large number of “back in the day” stories!
Friday night was partner date night for Eliot and I. We are now getting to the point where we’re honest about our quirks, for better or for worse. The honeymoon period is over – he knows I go to bed at 10 p.m. unapologatically and I know that I can count on him to look up the history about absolutely anything. What’s great is that we’ve realized we share a lot of common interests, including oldies music, an affinity for puzzles, and a penchant for museums of all sorts. So Friday night we turned down the booze cruise invite around St. Louis with my Mizzou friends and headed to the St. Louis Science Center.
Before heading out for a night of nerdiness, we went to the Central West End for dinner at Culpeppers, as recommended by everyone at the hotel. Turned out we were in the right place at the right time and I got a text from Jamie, a Mizzou friend, who said she spotted us. Since we never fly under the radar, I was more surprised she was in St. Louis than the fact that she saw us. Jamie and her boyfriend Andrew, who I was excited to finally meet, joined us at dinner for a bit before we headed over to the Science Center. Talk about serendipity!
We had lucked out and the Science Center was having a free First Friday event. Dinosaur excavation, a free planetarium show, and – the best part – a showing of Jurassic Park on their OMNIMAX screen! My friend Katie met up with us for a bit at the museum before she headed out on the booze bus, and it was fun to see her for a bit.
We just barely made it into the Jurassic Park showing. We had standby tickets and they cut the line off about four people ahead of us. Determined to see Jeff Goldblum – and, you know, some dinosaur action too – I asked if we could sit on the floor. They said sure! Turns out there were actually a bunch of seats left and Eliot and I actually ended up with a great view. We had snuck in snacks too, so we munched away on animal crackers (we thought it would be fitting) and gummy worms galore! We searched the shelves for dino gummies, because that would have been perfect, but they must have gone extinct since we couldn’t find any.
Friday night Eliot and I took the advice of all the Hotdoggers we had talked to in St. Louis and headed to Blueberry Hill for dinner. This was one cool place! Chuck Berry occasionally performs there and the walls are lined with cool music memorabilia. They have boardgames embedded into all of the tables and you can play chess, checkers, or dominos before your meal. We were pretty excited about this because Eliot and I had already planned a night of board games and beer back at the hotel, so this kickstarted the night early! We went with Dominos and even though Eliot had to teach me how to play, I still ended up dominating. I think the final score was something like 117 to 14. This mirrors our scores when we play Words with Friends, but at least this time it’s good that my score is substantially less!
The food at Blueberry Hill was delicious! Eliot tried toasted ravioli for the first time. Even I know enough about St. Louis to make sure he try that before he leave the city limits. Sadly we never got around to the gooey butter cake, so we’ll have to come back.
During our event on Friday Eliot and I had found two steals we couldn’t pass up, a cheap glow-in-the-dark puzzle and Yahtzee for $7! We figured why not. We decided to save the puzzle for a hotel room with a bigger table, but opened Yahtzee right away. Our first game went as well for me as dominos had and I got the first Yahtzee of the game. Yes, of course, I yelled YAHTZEE at the top of my lungs – sorry neighbors! After that though, Eliot was rolling Yahtzees left and right. It must have been the wine because typically I’m overly competitive, but suddenly I was cheering for his rolls more than my own. Oh well, it’s fun to see someone win! I swear, Yahtzee is like the kiddie version of casino craps.
Sunday was our final day in St. Louis and we had still not done the number one attraction in town – go up in the Gateway Arch. This is even a National Park Passport opportunity! It is a good thing we waited because after cloudy day after cloudy day we finally got a hint of sunshine on Sunday. It was enough to make us at least feel like there would be some kind of view when we made it to the top.
After a 630′ tram right in an egg shaped pod, where we knocked knees with an overly affectionate couple (who makes out in a tram car you are sharing with strangers less than a food away?!) we made it to the top. One side looked out on the desolate Illinois side, which was only brightened by seeing the tiny Wienermobile on the ground. The other had a beautiful panorama of the city! We were glad to have finally made it because it was definitely worth the trip.
And with that, our tram down took us back to the streets of St. Louis and it was time to pack for our trip to Kansas City.