Best Of 2002

Losers, crybabies and unsettled souls love to blame St. Louis for their frustrations, as though something as nebulous as a city could be held responsible for a human being’s unhappiness. “Everything would be better if I were in (enter name of hipper city here). There’s so much more action there. I’ve got my choice of two dozen vegetarian restaurants, hundreds of international markets. Amazing shows every night! A rock scene. An art scene. House and techno scenes. An amazing theater scene. Hotter boys. Sexier girls. Get this: (insert hip city here) has a store devoted only to Asian incense! Weird!”

And yet these same unsatisfied souls have never been to a production by the Black Rep, have never been to Lo when Astroboy’s spinning house, never grooved to the Hot House Sessions at the Delmar, never rocked with the Fantasy Four at Lemmons. They haven’t experienced the sublime joy of In Soo’s shrimp moo shu. They’ve never listened to the amazing DJ Needles on Q95.5, don’t even know what the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts is, let alone that Tadao Ando’s creation has been touted as one of the most important new American buildings of the decade. No, they’ve never cruised on a Saturday afternoon down Martin Luther King Boulevard, as revealing a St. Louis history lesson as there is, have never sneaked onto a downtown roof -- which isn’t that hard to do if you pay attention -- at 5 a.m. with your honey and watched the sun rise between the legs of the Arch.

The losers await something, some other place, some “better” place, tapping their toes, blindfolded, while they save cash to get the hell out of this ’burg.

That ain’t living. That’s waiting. And when you’re waiting for something, you’re living for nothing, because you can’t touch the future. You can’t caress the flowers in Shaw’s Garden, can’t truly appreciate the graffiti wall due south of the Arch, can’t smell the aroma of Grandma Petty’s Warm Apple Walnut Cake wafting out of the King Louie’s kitchen.

We, the winners, live in St. Louis. We zip to work on the backstreets and vary our routes because there’s probably a stunning Victorian manse right around that corner and there might be another glorious deco façade a few blocks up, buried at a dead end. We stumble upon forgotten St. Louis masterpieces every day as we hunt for potential, which is dirt cheap in St. Louis. That boarded-up building would make a fantastic lounge, and it’s for sale, for 60 grand; that old doughnut shop would be a perfect coffeehouse. Jeez, it’d be great to throw a party in that warehouse. Get the number.

We’re looking, eyes agaze and hearts ablaze, because we know it’s here and that kindred spirits both known and unknown also understand the secret of St. Louis, appreciate the tension between St. Louis’ past and its future and understand that St. Louis has never been so wide open as it is now, right on the cusp of the 100th anniversary of the 1904 World’s Fair.

If you wanna go, don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out; it just opens more doors for those of us who are staying, those of us with the creativity to accept the challenge to build something.

Our St. Louis ancestors willed us a playground, a laboratory, a canvas, a recipe, and then they left. It’s ours now, and in this issue we celebrate the opportunities we’ve created in their wake.

-- Randall Roberts, editor, “Best of St. Louis”