Week of July 18, 2001

Going Whose Way?
Nice guys finish late: As a soon-to-be ex-passenger of the 80 Southampton Express, which has been listed as a casualty by Oct. 1, I've had the discomfort of being a passenger a few times while Mike McGrath was at the helm ["Transit Authority," RFT, July 4]. A nice guy, no doubt, but when he drives, he picks up everybody -- be they at express stops, nonexpress stops, stop signs or just waving him down. He turned the 80X into another local taking 40 minutes to cover the 7.5-mile loop. Because he's such a nice guy and because I nearly always caught the earlier 80X, I never complained, until now. Come Oct. 1, I shall bid my dear 80X and my friends I've made on it goodbye. In the interim, I'll be shopping for a car loan, because the 80 local takes nearly an hour to get downtown.
Philip Taylor
St. Louis

Dill would do well to listen: D.J. Wilson's piece on Bi-State was quite interesting. Although I fully understand how in its evolution an agency such as Bi-State can struggle and sometimes fail to maintain high levels of ridership, quality of service and necessary maintenance, I'm perplexed by the response of union president Herb Dill to Mr. McGrath's journal.

"Mr. McGrath plays at being a bus driver; we actually do the job. He does more harm than good. He's got a lot of politicians listening to him," Dill said. Dill would do well to listen and not take a stupidly defensive stance.

Mr. Dill's response is emblematic of some of the problems facing the St. Louis region: Right or wrong, defend the status quo because you may not like the tone and tenor of the commentary. Here we have a union president defiantly dismissing the observations of a driver whose company would not receive a favorable grade from the people who utilize its services and has a problem maintaining profitability.

The administration of Bi-State would do well to at least investigate Mr. McGrath's journal for accuracy and begin to implement action plans on those items that the investigation corroborates.
Greg Gibson
University City

Quit catering to our automobile obsession: What is it that St. Louisans don't understand about mass transit? In his letter, Tim Jamison asserts that "if Bi-State couldn't survive without the 'visible fist' of government force or funding, then it should be gone" ["Letters," RFT, July 11]. If that's the case, how about dissolving the Department of Transportation, because God knows Missouri's congested interstates couldn't quite cut it without "government force or funding." Is the Page Avenue extension being funded by private sources? Is the Highway 40 restructuring being done as a gesture of goodwill? Hell, no. We're paying for them, dearly, to the tune of 100 percent, and they will never recover a dime. And we will continue to pay to maintain, upgrade and widen them.

Mr. Jamison's attitude typifies the ignorance rampant in our region. These are the same people who think two MetroLink routes converging at the Forest Park station would be far too complicated to comprehend, the same people who think buses and MetroLink act as pipelines for undesirables to enter their untarnished communities. Get rid of Bi-State? Let's save some real money and quit catering to our obsession with automobiles.
Chris Polka


McGrath is onto something: As a first-time visitor to St. Louis, I was intrigued by your article on Mike McGrath.

The hotel staff here was very helpful in pointing out the MetroLink, which I found very easy to use with its simple map and flat-rate fares. However, the red shuttle buses for the Forest Park area were another matter. I waited nearly 45 minutes for the inbound bus from the Forest Park station to take me to the St. Louis Art Museum before deciding on risking a walk there. It was quite a sojourn up the hill where the museum was, but I made it up there a little before the bus which finally came chugging past the statue of St. Louis. I was not happy. Getting back at least was easier, as the buses were coming on a timely basis and the MetroLink helped return me to my hotel. A small experience, but a memorable one. I wonder how much more time-effective the taxis would be.

Mike McGrath is very much onto something in his novel study, which takes all the faceless, featureless statistics and puts faces on the people whom the public-transportation service should serve and those that are failing it as a civil service. He reveals a "tyranny of expertise" that won't brook any problems it hasn't noticed or solutions it did not think to recommend. I hope his work is well considered.
Thomas Izaguirre
Edgewater, Md.

My 2 cents' worth: Mike McGrath hit the nail on the head! As a lifelong St. Louis city resident and bus rider, I'd like to add my 2 cents' worth as to what can be done to attract (and, as the article indicates is the more immediate concern) retain riders.

Go low-tech. It seems every new bus has to have the latest bells and whistles. One of the goofiest is the route name and number of the bus in lights in the front and side of the bus. If it's too sunny, you can't make out the route because of the glare; if it's rainy, the glass in front of the lights fogs up and you can't make it out; if it's busy flashing "Go Cardinals," you don't know if it's your bus (I'm sure the Cards aren't paying for Bi-State's boosterism!) Why not go back to the old scroll-type signs, with the bus route and number printed in white letters on a black background? Sure, we wouldn't see the cutesy messages, but at least we'd know if it's our bus. The fare boxes need to be simplified, too.

Make MetroLink more of a workhorse. There are lines that run parallel to MetroLink that could be shortened and rerouted. For example, for most of their run in the city, the Forest Park and Lindell lines run parallel within just several blocks of MetroLink. Why not eliminate most of their trip in the city and instead have them start and end their trips from the Central West End MetroLink station?

Do a better job selling advertising on the buses. I remember when the buses had plenty of ads all along the inside of each bus. Again, we're not talking about a big money generator, but if Bi-State is in the financial doldrums, it shouldn't turn down any chance to add to the till.

Remember fare zones? Years and years ago, you'd pay more depending on how far out from the central city you were traveling. Let's have one fare for any bus that starts and ends its route only in the city and an additional fare if the bus goes from the city to, say, North County and another zone for those that go from the city to South County -- just, say, a dime or 15 cents more. With a cab, you pay based on distance traveled, but Bi-State would still be a lot cheaper than a cab!

Space the buses further apart. Again, my perspective is from waiting for buses from downtown, but what is a regular occurrence is not seeing any bus for 10 or 15 minutes and then suddenly three or four bunched together. This, of course, leads to the problem of some overly anxious (or late) drivers pulling away from the "herd" and skipping the stop (and the riders) entirely. Why can't Bi-State stagger the times for those buses which they know all use the same bus stop?

Take full advantage of Mike McGrath's comments and observations. Mr. Irwin, Bi-State's executive director, says he "couldn't possibly read these things every single day" (in reference to McGrath's musings), but I say he can't afford not to read them! Take advantage of McGrath's "man in the trenches" observations. If nothing else, he's saving Bi-State the price of yet another consultant!
Patrick Kleaver
St. Louis

Rude drivers, unsafe buses: Thank you very much for the Bi-State article. As usual, you cover more and say more than anyone else. I have been riding Bi-State for 20 years. The buses are unsafe, and the drivers are untrained and totally rude. The most outrageous part is that no level of government wishes to investigate what is going on. I have been in buses that caused accidents and they failed to stop or pick up their phones and report. I have told this to the government, too -- no response. Even as a car driver, I am not safe. Twice in my life while in a funeral procession, buses tried to plow into the line. They are not maintained, and their exhaust systems blow out poisons more than any group of cars.
Michael D. Chapman
St. Louis

I gave up several years ago: Thanks for your article about the "Bergermeister" and Richard Callow's work as puppeteer [D.J. Wilson, "Jerry's Stringer," RFT, June 27]. I gave up on the Post-Dispatch as a credible news source several years ago, not that a gossip column could ever be considered news. Even if Berger wasn't being told what to write, the reports I get from individuals who've had the misfortune to watch him operate suggest that he is a world-class mooch and major-league asshole.

I applaud your courage in covering issues that no other paper in the region has the courage to take on.
Jim Preston
St. Louis

Too Many Big Words
Your film reviewers make me reach for my dictionary: Whose ass do I have to kiss to become a movie critic? I'm asking because I think the movie critics the RFT uses are horrible. I can't remember the name of the one, but in any case I should not have to keep a college dictionary at my side when reading a movie review. I want to know if they liked the movie or not without ciphering through nine paragraphs of excessive fluff because the writer wanted to show off his vocabulary. I'm not impressed or amused. I'm insulted.

I see a lot of movies, and going to the movie theater once a week is fairly common. Truthfully, what critics say matters little in my choosing a movie, but they do occasionally point out a movie I hadn't thought about seeing or even heard about. I think for once it would be nice to see a relatively normal person's opinion about movies, not [that] of a failed film major.
Carrie Outlaw

Hack Psychology
Why the gratuitous slaps at Kubrick? I'm not sure why, in his review of Steven Spielberg's A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Robert Wilonsky ignobly bashes the late, great Stanley Kubrick ["Space Oddity," RFT, June 27]. While Kubrick started the project several years ago, the recent production is all Spielberg's making. Seemingly, Mr. Wilonsky has some misguided and personal animosity towards Kubrick's work; such petty spite does not belong in a review of someone else's movie.

In the first paragraph, Wilonsky quips, "Kubrick found an even better director for this project." Not only is this kind of personal attack unnecessary, the premise is untrue. But the ad hominems keep coming. In the next paragraph, Wilonsky continues his unprovoked onslaught against the esteemed and indelible filmmaker: "The movie ... leaves you wondering how much better it might have been without Kubrick's specter peering over Spielberg's heavy shoulders.... Kubrick [is] a control freak who loved movies but not necessarily the people who paid to watch them." Not only does Mr. Wilonsky pretend to be a reviewer, he is apparently a hack psychologist as well. Blaming Kubrick for this film's shortcomings is irresponsible and imprudent. Spielberg attempted to make a movie Kubrick would have liked. I can almost guarantee you Kubrick would not have made this production, but he certainly does not deserve to be criticized -- either personally or professionally -- for "a film by Steven Spielberg."

I agree with Wilonsky's final comment, that Spielberg needs to learn that "happy endings aren't always the best endings." Perhaps Mr. Wilonsky will someday learn that haughty and petulant little barbs do not belong in reviews.
Robin Stone
St. Louis

Music Lesson
Dulcimer's origin isn't African: I enjoyed Jean Oppenheimer's review of Songcatcher and look forward to seeing it ["The Blue Bluegrass of Home," RFT, July 4]. My only problem with the article was her statement that the banjo and dulcimer were introduced to America by African slaves.

While the banjo may have had its origins in Africa, the dulcimer did not. The instrument we know as the mountain, lap or Appalachian dulcimer has its roots with the people who settled the region, mostly Scots and some Irish who were forced from their homeland after the Scottish Rebellion of 1745. They evidently wanted an easy-to-build stringed instrument to simulate the droning of the bagpipes, which were banned after 1745 and the playing of which was punishable by death. There are similar instruments of Scandinavian origin, but their development may have been parallel to the dulcimer's.

The hammered dulcimer is much older. Its lineage can be traced directly back to an ancient (1000 BCE) Persian instrument called the santur, which is still played today. This instrument spread westward, where it became known as the cimbalom in eastern Europe and the hochbrect in the Germanic regions. It also made its way east to China, where it is known as the yang chin. In America, it was also known as the lumberjack or prairie piano.
Steve Craig
High Ridge, Mo.

Firing Back
Approach gun control with an open mind: I pity Mr. Hartmann. He is sadly out of touch with the average pro-gun American [Ray Hartmann, "Gunning for Gun Control," RFT, July 4]. We do not crawl into backyard bunkers. We hover around backyard barbecues, just like everyone else.

To assert that a ban on firearms would have any impact on violent crime is both wrong and dangerous. Criminals live outside the law. That's why we call them criminals. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 2.4 percent of all firearm-purchase applications have been rejected. If your local police force had a 2.4 percent success rate, you'd likely be in a state of anarchy.

I not only have the right to own firearms, I have an obligation to protect my family. I challenge anyone to approach the gun-control issue with an open mind. Then do the research and examine the facts and the very ideas surrounding the issue. The same document that allows Mr. Hartmann to be paid for freely, and publicly, voicing his opinion is the same document that preserves my right to bear arms. I support both rights with equal passion.
E.L. Turner
Spokane, Wash.

Typical left-wing rant: It seems that if someone -- in this case, Ashcroft -- doesn't agree with your thinking, you take the typical left-wing liberal approach and demonize him. You sure sound sick to me. [You're a] poor fool who is not worried by more intrusion into our lives by the government. I also wonder why you didn't mention anything about the 33 states that have right-to-carry laws. I suppose this wouldn't have allowed you to make your inane remarks. Go hug a tree!
Bob Banks
St. Louis

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