Best Of 2012

It used to be that retail developers getting tax money for their projects was a slam-dunk, with TIF commissions tripping over each other to provide giveaways. Times have changed. In the past twelve months, TIF commissions in St. Louis county have rejected public subsidies for two major projects — a Walmart in Ellisville and the Deer Creek Shopping Center in Maplewood. Not that it matters. Under state law the city councils can overrule the TIF commissions — as they did in both cases. Still, it's a start for what big-picture urban planners have recognized as a "gross abuse" of tax dollars for simply luring businesses from one neighboring community to another.

Way up north, beyond the northern border of St. Louis, past Interstate 70 and Bellefontaine Cemetery, where most St. Louisans rarely go (except when their cars get towed), across the street from the banks of the mighty Mississippi, lies an old cement factory surrounded by a rusty chainlink fence bearing a sign that reads "Positively Positively No Admittance." All you can see from the road, looming over the fence, is a row of cement mixers, painted with bright red candy-cane stripes. This is Cementland, the final creation of Bob Cassilly, the sculptor and visionary (some say mad genius) who died there in a bulldozer accident last fall. Beyond the gates Cassilly and his crew had labored for a decade to transform the old plant into an industrial wonderland. They built pyramids from brown Mississippi dirt, dug a lake and a stream visitors could traverse via canoe, converted old cement hoppers into gazebos, doodled on the concrete walls with cans of spray paint and constructed (from cobblestones salvaged from old city streets) a castle, where Cassilly intended to live with his family once the project was complete. When that would have been, no one, least of all Cassilly, could ever say. Perhaps it would have been an eternal work in progress like Cassilly's other great project, the City Museum. Now its fate remains uncertain. Cassilly left rudimentary plans, crew members have said, as well as piles of salvaged materials (including a pair of Metro buses), but it was still a long way from being open to the public. But who could possibly replicate Cassilly's gift for finding beauty in his city's industrial past?

To hell with rodents and their shadows — it doesn't change the fact that February will always be dark and dull in St. Louis. And this is a marvelous thing. Light gray days give way to darker gray evenings that settle over the city before the five o'clock news. It's cold, but a cold that the preceding months have conditioned us to accept. This abbreviated, 28-day month is a time to be at peace, with a Monday holiday thrown in for good measure. And every once in a while February offers a ray of sunshine through all that gray. It's then that we ask ourselves: Could the worst of winter be nearing an end? Remember how warm it was on St. Patrick's Day last year? Is it really just a few weeks till daylight saving time springs us all ahead? See, it's getting lighter already.

Customers within the Kingdom of Becky were shocked this June to find the gates of the castle closed — all five castles, in fact. It had been a hell of a ride for the self-proclaimed "Queen of Carpets" whose television ads once featured her flying on a rug over the Arch. And as popular as those ads once made Rothman, few of her customers were happy following her crash landing this summer. Some of those clients complained that the company took their orders the very same Friday that employees were notified that the 58-year-old St. Louis business was closing shop. "I told the congregation yesterday to be angry, but sin not," said the Rev. Robert Reed, whose Bell Grove Missionary Baptist Church placed an unfulfilled order in excess of $3,000. "I will be here every day until we get our funds." In interviews, Rothman cited competition from big-box stores and the economic downturn as reasons she had to pull the plug on her Becky's Carpet and Tile Superstore locations in Fairmont City, St. Peters, Hazelwood, Manchester and south county. Tax documents indicate that the company had been reeling for a while. As of this summer, it owed St. Louis and St. Charles counties some $150,000 in unpaid property taxes, according to public records.

In 1987 Web wizards invented the Graphics Interchange Format, or GIF. Around the same time, kids were popping out of the womb who were destined to properly deploy this technological miracle — namely, by using GIFs to make fun of shit. Take this entry from the anonymous GIF impresarios behind the Tumblr, What High School Should We Call Me. Setup: "What I mean when I say I went to Cor Jesu." Punch line: A GIF of a headgear-wearing '80s nerd trapped in a never-ending Elaine Benes dance. Priory, Viz, Westminster — lots of local high schools get the business end of the GIF. But the site is so much more than that. Each entry is a snapshot of St. Louis culture as much as it is just a wicked inside joke among locals. "When someone says they don't like Imo's," begets Kenny Powers rolling his eyes over the caption, "I can already tell I don't like you." Or, "When someone makes fun of me for saying Warshington (with an "R")" earns a defiant Samantha Jones glowering, "I will not be judged by you or society." That's anthropological gold! In response to our fanboy e-mail, the creators wrote back, "It's definitely not as easy as it looks, but it's not brain surgery either. I mean, it's a GIF tumblr. If all else fails, we just make fun of the Landing."

Todd Akin? Might as well change his name to Rod Akin. On August 19, 2012, the Missouri congressman, who has given up his House seat to try to topple Claire McCaskill from hers in the Senate, was asked during an interview with KTVI-TV (Channel 2)'s Charles Jaco whether he believes abortions should be legal in cases of rape. Replied Akin: "...[F]rom what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Whereupon this huge-ass bolt of lightning flashed down out of the heavens and smote the fucker.

For well over a decade, Ed Golterman pounded the drum for the restoration of the Kiel Opera House. When the auditorium (rechristened the Peabody Opera House) was opened last year following a $78 million makeover, many thought they'd seen the last of Golterman's voluminous letters to the editor and blistering online comments. Think again. The best gadflies can't be swatted away so easily. Today the opera house looks fantastic, Golterman agrees, but he believes it's a crime how infrequently the landmark is used. "A hall like that should have 30 to 40 shows a month. Instead it has three or four," notes Golterman in full flower. He spends a good chunk of each day banging that same drum on online forums — regardless of whether the topic at hand has anything to do with the opera house. "A lot of stuff goes back to the Kiel if you connect the dots," he argues. "Some say I'm obsessive-compulsive. But I confront lies. My mission now: to free the opera house and let it contribute to downtown's rebirth. It's been open for a year, so let's really open it."

Jarvise Shelton and Kyle Hardman were working on a towboat near downtown on the evening of June 12 when they saw a family on a lifeless vessel drifting toward a moored barge. The two rivermen inflated a raft and set out to try to rescue the men and children on the runaway craft. But the current was so strong it soon capsized their raft. Shelton, from far southern Illinois, managed to grab hold of a rope and pull himself to safety. Hardman, of Kentucky, wasn't so lucky. The river dragged him under the barge to his death. Meanwhile, another nearby tugboat arrived on the scene, and the crew tossed ring buoys to the family moments before the boat was sucked under the barge. "This truly is an example of Good Samaritans and epitomized the riverman's code," Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Colin Fogarty said of Shelton's and Hardman's heroics. "You see someone in distress, you try to assist."

You're stuck at the stoplight on eastbound Arsenal Street at Jamieson Avenue. All of a sudden your car and everything in it starts bouncing up and down. We mean really shaking. Your mind races: "It's an earthquake! The bridge is going to collapse! Oh, God, no! I DON'T WANT TO DIE!" And then, as quickly as the stirring began, it stops. That is, until the next vehicle turning right onto Jamieson passes by you, and the bobbing begins anew. It's then that you realize it's not a tremor. It's just the bridge swaying and buckling under the weight of the traffic. Phew! What a relief. But then you ask yourself: "Wait! Why is the bridge jiggling like Jell-O? Is that normal!? OH, GOD, I DON'T WANT TO DIE!!!"

Patricia Bynes, a Democratic committeewoman from Ferguson, Tweets. A lot. It's often political, so not everybody is going to like what she's chirping about. But one time she did something unbeTweetable: She saved a freakin' kitten. "I was walking down the street & heard a cat meowing. It took me awhile to figure it out," her first Tweet read, accompanied by a photo of a sewer grate, with the words "DO NOT FEED CAT" spray-painted on the sidewalk above it. With probably less effort than it took that first person to scrawl orders to just let the kitty die, Bynes leaped into Twaction: "Who do I call to get the cat out? I'm downtown in the City & I'm not leaving this kitten trapped down there." Soon, friends came by to try to lure the poor thing out, and both the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District and St. Louis City Health Department (@YourMSD) were notified. Workers cracked open a manhole and found the little guy stuck in a sewer pipe. Even a rescue agency, Tenth Life Cats (@tenthlifecats), was notified via Twitter and found the cat a foster home. By the end of the ordeal, the kitten was vaccinated, adopted, and Bynes was able to pay her a visit. Naturally she Tweeted out the kitten's new name: Twitter.