Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

An outsider gets to know -- and love -- Soulard

But it still gets busy in the summer, Tony says.
"This time of year you can come in early on a Saturday and not worry about the crowds. But when summer comes, the best time to shop is on a Friday."

I begin to walk away, tucking that piece of information into my memory. Then guilt, compassion or whatever it is raises its persistent head, and I turn back to Tony and say: "How about a couple of grapefruit?"

For 50 cents I buy a pair of ruby-reds and a good feeling.
Around the corner I groan aloud when I see that the Golden Delicious apples are 50 cents a pound, nearly 20 cents less than I paid this morning at the supermarket.

The young woman behind the stand scolds: "Why did you do that if you were going to come to Soulard?" I didn't know I was going to do this, I answer. It won't happen again, I think.

I survive the brief shaming and emerge from the market quite proud of myself. For $2.45, I carry away a bulging bag of Vitamin C and a clear conscience.

This trip to the Soulard Farmers Market has been sacred and sensual. I'll be back.

Unfinished Business
A block from the market sits Trinity Lutheran Church. I think that it's a good time to call on the German-Lutheran Mafia to fill me in on the beat of the street.

Carrying around a bag of fruit, I imagine that I look like one of the street people to which the good church folk minister. I stand at the door and knock. No answer.

But then a woman pulling out of the alley in her car cautiously rolls down her window. "Can I help you?" It strikes me that this is the third time I have heard that phrase this afternoon in Soulard. First at Norton's, then in the spice shop -- places where you would expect customer service -- but now the church secretary is offering her service.

The pastor won't be back for another hour, she says, but the outreach director might be back in 15 minutes or so. He can probably help you.

Fine, I think. I'll stroll around this block, see who else offers to help me, then return to the Lutherans.

A sports bar around the corner seems fun but busy. Probably too loud for the sort of conversation I'm seeking. Aha! A flower shop. Perfect. I walk in to the greeting of a fine old cat stretching itself across a carpeted step, but the clerk is busy with a customer, and I decide to head around the next corner and check out the Catholics.

The Catholic parish of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Lutheran church secretary in the car told me, has a partnership with Trinity Lutheran. The Catholics have the shelter, the Lutherans have the soup kitchen. Maybe all the local governments around here will someday learn to cooperate this well, I fantasize. Nobody seeking the limelight here, just good people taking care of society's needy. But I can't find an unlocked door at the Catholic church, either, and, for some reason -- most likely ignorance -- I have since childhood been a little intimidated by Catholic clergymen, so I decide not to press my luck. I head back to the familiarity of the Lutherans.

On the other hand, I probably appear intimidating to the Lutheran schoolteacher who warily eyes me as I come close to her charges, who are filing out to recess. Still, she offers to help. No, the outreach director isn't here yet.

The outreach director must have unfinished business, I think. He's probably helping a needy person.

Michelle and Staying Cool
Not desiring to appear overly needy myself, I decide to head back to the tavern scene. Across the street at Hennessey's Irish Public House, I go for one last taste of Soulard neighborhood flavor.

I ask Michelle, the bartender at Hennessey's, whether it gets insane around here during Mardi Gras.

"Not just the customers, but us, too," she says of the working staff. Remembering the days when I used to have a drink while tending bar at the Ramada Inn in St. Joe, I ask Michelle whether she imbibes while working during Mardi Gras.

"Sure," she grins, "but you're so busy you don't have time to drink enough to get drunk."

But one guy at Hennessey's this afternoon who's just got paid has had time to get drunk, and he loudly announces that he's buying a round for the house. I stick to orange juice. Michelle looks at me and says under her breath: "You look sane. Do you remember how long ago I called a cab for this guy?" Five or 10 minutes ago, I say.

Michelle deftly deals with the overblown actions of the man with the money. When he overtips her and begins to make a deal over how big a tip it is, she offers to give it back to him. I imagine she could use the extra money, but she plays it cool. Big bucks leaves the bar, and I follow a minute later.

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