Save the Amshack

We lament the impending doom of our beloved train-trailer, talk to a guy with some great squirrel recipes and go to jail. Plus: Can taking Communion give you the flu?

Who among us can forget his first arrival at St. Louis' own Ellis Island, the Amshack? The majestic train station, so rich in history (thought to be the oldest temporary depot in the world), has stamped a solid impression on all who've passed through its gates. Headed south from Chicago, you chugged over the Mississippi, rolled by the Arch and arrived at the doors of the two-tone brown structure that perfectly personifies the St. Louis of its era: a double-wide mobile home.

In the Amshack's quarter-century of life, we have grown to love it. Preparing for cross-country journeys, we have smoked pot in its bathrooms. Drunk and tired at 4 a.m., we have been dumped at its doorstep. We have napped on its linoleum floors while waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for penniless pals to arrive from Kansas City.

And now the 'Shack will be taken from us. Amtrak, which owns the facility, has decided to demolish the storied edifice and replace it with a new temporary station. This "interim" facility will house travel-weary passengers until an "intermodal" station is built.

The way Unreal sees it, St. Louisans should strongly oppose this plan. Instead, we propose that the Amshack be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Yes, the Amshack has absorbed countless barbs from critics (including, um, us). Standing in the shadow of the glorious Union Station, which was built for trains, the 'Shack was built for hoosiers. But must we consign it to the trash heap just because it's a hideous disgrace? Consider the Pet Building downtown. At age 35, that newly minted historic landmark is slated for renovation into pricey apartments that will overlook the new Cardinals baseball stadium.

Sadly, the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, which nominated the Pet for its place on the National Register, wants to have nothing to do with any movement to do the same for the 'Shack.

"It's not old enough, even though it seems like it's been around since God was a child," executive director Carolyn Toft informs a crestfallen Unreal. "It's past due replacement," says Toft, adding, "I'd happily participate in any sort of demolition party."

Nor would Amtrak hear our plea to preserve the double-wide. "There are people in this company that would like to stage bulldozer races to get rid of that thing as soon as possible," spokesman Marc Magliari says. "We can't get rid of it fast enough."

This rush-to-judgment mentality is a pox on St. Louis. Once the Amshack is gone, it's gone forever. The building is small. It's portable. It's nearly weightless. Must we destroy it?

Unreal says no.

God Help Us

"In a Nov. 13 memorandum...[St. Louis archbishop Raymond Burke] encouraged Catholics to refrain from giving the sign of peace to others if they display symptoms of illness.... The archbishop also recommended that Catholics refrain from receiving the Precious Blood at Communion if they display signs of a cold or the flu."

--St. Louis Review, Nov. 26, 2004

Outtakes from Archbishop Raymond Burke's November 13 flu memorandum:

  • Hand-washing is encouraged, but don't go dipping your digits in Holy Water: That basin is a veritable hot zone.
  • Verily, the Precious Blood is the Precious Blood, but can you really trust your fellow faithful? At Communion, priests should opt for a quickie blessing on each parishioner's cap-sealed shooter of Sutter Home white zinfandel. (B.Y.O.B.)
  • Hymnal pages are well-thumbed time bombs of infection. Distribute latex gloves before each service.
  • Yea, though we all walk through the shadow of the valley of death, worshipers should praise the Lord sotto voce. There's nothing so dangerous as an expectorating ecclesiast.
  • Friday fish fries should be suspended until further notice. Germs jump species like Marion Jones hops hurdles.

Beaver in the Crosshairs

Smith W. Dewlen, president of Safari Club International's area chapter, has hunted species of African antelope you've never heard of and consumed species of locally abundant animals you wish you'd never heard of. Unreal recently met with the 59-year-old retired postal worker, whose hair looks as wild as the game he hunts and whose glasses look hefty enough to deflect flying bullets.

Unreal: We recently learned that people will soon be able to shoot at game with a .22 remotely, via an Internet site. Why's the SCI opposed to this?

Dewlen: Because it's not hunting. There's a difference between hunting and shooting. This is in the same category -- at least in my opinion -- of the deal where they had the girls running around nude except for their sneakers and the guys would shoot them with paintball guns. [Note: The "Hunting for Bambi" story was exposed as a hoax.]

Aside from the urban variety, St. Louis is a safari-free zone. Why the local SCI chapter?

There are still people that live here that do hunt. I hunt in the States, in Canada and Africa. Safari is just an African word for a hunt. Within the greater St. Louis area there are approximately 300 SCI members.

SCI's Web site,, features recipes for muskrat stew and fried possum. Tasty?

Almost everything God put on this earth has a function. In the Bible it says that God created the animals and man shall have dominion over them. Now, I have not eaten a muskrat, but I've eaten beaver, coon, possum, squirrel, rabbit, groundhog, wild hog....

What are your favorites?

Of those, probably beaver. It's a very protein-rich food. Like lobster is a rich food, so is beaver. If I had to pick an all-time favorite, it would really be a toss-up between caribou and buffalo. If I get a cougar I will definitely eat it, because I have been told it's good. I have tried possum but I don't want to try it a second time. And the other one is the coyote -- I've hunted coyotes and when you skin one of them, they stink. I would have to be awfully hungry to try one. I love squirrel. I marinate them in a little Pepsi; it just gives a little sweet meat to them. Grill 'em with a little butter.

In Stir

Unreal has a hard time saying no to an invite to a ribbon-cutting. And when the ceremony's for a spanking-new jail -- well, let's just say we're there. We were a teeny bit disappointed to see that our journalistic comrade-in-arms Deb Peterson didn't make it to last Thursday's ribbon-cutting ceremony for Wellston's new holding cells, but that didn't stop us from pushing our way to the front of the crowd to watch Mayor James A. Harvey wield his scissors. Harvey clipped the red ribbon like he'd been doing it all his life, commencing a new era in which ne'er-do-wells will no longer be trucked to neighboring Kinloch to await bail-out.

Afterward, city officials permitted an awestruck Unreal to "do time" in the spanking-new facility. Each of the three cells -- two of which are hand-me-downs from Chesterfield, which recently got its own new facility -- is equipped with its own deodorizer dispenser and phone, allowing the accused to breathe clean air while making as many collect calls as their larcenous hearts desire. And for the time being, at least, they'll stare at walls unsullied by graffiti and relieve themselves on gleaming stainless-steel commodes.

"Hopefully they won't get to like it too good," Wellston police chief Dennis Epps quipped as he locked Unreal in. "In 24 hours hopefully they can come up with bond."

During our incarceration, we did some serious thinking about the path that led us here. We're here to tell you: It was a sobering, life-changing three minutes.