Best Of 2007

Fed up with his unruly teenager, Dad finally takes away the car keys. That's what the Missouri State Board of Education essentially did, metaphorically speaking, when it voted 5 to 1 in March to strip the failing St. Louis Public Schools of its accreditation and replace the fractious and churlish school board with a three-person appointed committee to run the city's 93 public schools. While it's unclear how many of the district's 35,000 students went out to celebrate the news, the move was a long time coming. The roots of the takeover germinated four years ago, when a newly elected slate of school board members led by ex-St. Louis mayor Vince Schoemehl unloosed a communitywide firestorm by bringing in former Brooks Brothers CEO William Roberti as interim superintendent. By the time Roberti's reign ended in 2004, the district's cumulative debt had reached $25 million, 21 schools had been shuttered and more than 1,400 staffers laid off. (At one point during the raging debate over school closings, then-board member Rochelle Moore placed a voodoo curse on Mayor Francis Slay.) On it went, year after dysfunctional year. In all, a parade of six superintendents have come and gone since 2003 (including one, Floyd Crues, who took an abrupt medical leave from the $220,000-a-year post and hasn't been heard from since). Yep, it was time to take away the keys.
A beat-up white Nissan pickup. That was it — the only lead investigators had to track down William "Ben" Ownby, a thirteen-year-old Boy Scout who'd disappeared on January 8 on the way home from school. The tip came from fifteen-year-old Mitchell Hults, who told investigators he'd seen the beater speeding out of town on the day Ownby went missing. Amazingly, Mitchell's tip turned out to be all investigators needed. Four days later the Nissan led investigators to the ground-floor Kirkwood apartment of Michael Devlin, where they found not only Ben Ownby, but also Shawn Hornbeck, who'd been missing since 2002. The "Missouri Miracle"? Nah, just a boy who knows his trucks.
OK, so the Cardinals slugger had an off year (for him, anyway) on the diamond, but Albert Pujols scored a big hit earlier this year when he became a United States citizen. In keeping with his stellar baseball career, the All-Star first baseman aced the citizenship exam with a perfect score. We can't think of anyone to whom we'd extend a heartier welcome to America than El Hombre. In his sixth season in the bigs, Pujols remains one of the few Cardinals players to keep his home (and $13 million annual salary) in St. Louis. Already his investments in the region are paying dividends: His Pujols Family Foundation has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for children with Down Syndrome in the Dominican Republic and in his adopted homeland of St. Louis.
Of the thirty-two Americans hitting the books at Oxford University this fall as Rhodes Scholars, two boast ties to Washington University. One is Aaron Mertz, who graduated from the School of Arts & Sciences last year with a bachelor's degree in physics and American culture studies. The other is Leana Wen, a fourth-year student at Wash. U.'s School of Medicine. Way to go, Aaron, and kudos to Washington University, whose Rhodes Scholarship tally now stands at 25 (including the current pair)! And to Wen, who came to the STL via Shanghai and Southern California, having graduated summa cum laude from UCLA when she was eighteen (that's right: she enrolled at age thirteen): a hearty Best Local Girl Made Good!
People can laugh at his Zoolander-esque profession, but St. Louis native Brad Kroenig is no joke. Vogue called him "one of today's most sought-after male models"; Parade tabbed him as the highest-paid male model in the world. The Oakville High School alum who has been called Karl Lagerfeld's muse (you know Lagerfeld; he's the guy who looks like he's just stepped out of The Matrix) has spent the past five years crisscrossing the globe for fashion giants including Chanel, Fendi and Dior. ("Most models last about 30 seconds," he notes.) Though he's no longer listed as the No. 1 male model on models.com, a spokesperson for the site says Kroenig's name has been "retired" from the list of "new" models and will be moved to another "top working guys" list. No matter what list Kroenig's on, he tops ours. Look for him in the national ad campaign for Levi's out this month.
The neighborhoods that surround Tower Grove Park — Tower Grove South, Tower Grove East, Tower Grove Heights, Shaw — comprise a microcosm of St. Louis. Here bespectacled hipsters coexist with old-school south siders, tattooed urban cyclists, transplanted Wash. U. scientists, twenty-year brewery men, young families, all making a go of it. The streets are alive with dog-walking, bike-riding, stroller-pushing St. Louisans. No boundaries around sexual orientation, skin color or country of origin. A brief rundown of South Grand Boulevard eateries reflects it clearly: Meskerem (Ethiopian), Café Natasha's Kabob (Persian), Sameem (Afghan), Pho Grand (Vietnamese), King & I (Thai), Mangia Italiano (Italian), City Diner (uh, Dinerese). International grocery? Check. Coffeehouse? Take your pick, and there's a tearoom, too. Watering holes? You must be kidding — for the good of the people, there's a bar on almost every corner. Organic grocery? Yep. Farmers' market? Youbetcha. The homes range from million-dollar three-story beauties on Utah to two-story row houses to rehabbed rentals to condo-lofts. Tower Grove is the heart of St. Louis, home to the immaculately clipped carpets of zoysia and the rows of red brick that give the city its character. The St. Louis area is replete with beautiful neighborhoods, and Tower Grove exemplifies the neighborly heart of this richness.
"Wireless Network Connected," your computer informs you, so you click on the little icon. There are fifteen. Seriously: fifteen networks detected — all on your street, you suppose. And each of those networks costs its owner upward of $30 a month. Is this progress? Not if your four-family apartment building has four different wireless routers, all within forty feet of each other — unless one of those neighbors has forgotten to password-protect his or her signal. Despite AT&T's no-bid contract to bring Wi-Fi to St. Louis by 2009, the city is still far behind the wireless curve set by similar-size cities. The question is: Are our citizens paying more per household router now then they'll pay in the taxes (and fees) necessary to operate a citywide system? If the answer is yes, a citywide system may be the answer. But until it actually happens, we'll all be looking at our neighborhood full of wireless signals and sighing...as we click on our own.
By day Chris Files toils in PR. By night, satire. He has yet to get his big break into the fraternity of fake news, however. So the Saint Louis Science Center flack started his own tribute to the fake-news genre in mid-2007 with the advent of the Files Files, a Web site "committed to bringing you all of the information you want and none of the information you need." Files posts news stories à la the Onion and short video clips à la Stephen Colbert. Recent takes include a behind-the-scenes look at "Extreme Birdwatching" and propaganda for a "Pee in the Shower" campaign. Says Files: "The most interesting comment I've gotten was from somebody who wrote to say he almost soiled himself after watching one of the videos. Hopefully that's not normal in his world. I think it's the most flattering thing I've ever been told."
What is this thing, anyway? What we now call "blogs" began as online diaries, but we can all agree that blogging's come light-years in the decade-plus since then. And St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay's blog is anything but an online diary. Rather, it functions as a parapet from which the mayor lobs a bizarre combination of tedious civic pronouncements, political position papers and the occasional ad hominem attack on St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters. Though sources tell us the blog is mostly authored by Slay's flack, Ed Rhode, we prefer the soft-focus vision: of Hizzoner himself, hunched over his laptop, opining. Surely it says something when your mayor's blog is more forthcoming than, well, your mayor. What, precisely, does it say? That's a question for another day.
From 1925 to 1989, the No. 8 Bates Street bus trundled up and down that unglamorous south St. Louis street, just one of dozens of similar routes serving second-tier thoroughfares across the city. And like the rest it fell victim to the budget cutter's axe when Bi-State (now Metro) eliminated most of its smaller feeder lines in the late '80s. But the same remorseless grind of progress that killed the Bates bus brought it back from the big transit hub in the sky. With the opening of the cross-county MetroLink extension last year, the No. 8 started rolling again, mainly to feed south citians into the passenger-hungry Shrewsbury station. Why Bates? Maybe transit planners realized there weren't many east-west routes in that corner of town. Or maybe they just wanted to take the bus to El Burrito Loco's front door. Whatever the reason, no other bus line so perfectly embodies the ongoing revival of this city. If Bates can get its bus back, nothing is lost forever.