My brother "met me in Saint Louis" for dinner this week. He was in town on business; I was between newscasts. Both of us were nursing migraines, a genetic hiccup we share, but we were still primed for a brother/sister chat.
Because we talk or email daily, we were already up to speed on: Piper's affection for Teletubbies, our parents' Thanksgiving dinner, the Christmas he and my sister-in-law, Kim, are planning at their home, his job, my job, my love life (or lack thereof). So that left politics, the economy, or stream of consciousness. We chose the latter.
It started with a glass of water. When the waiter asked if we wanted tap or sparkling...the small town kid in us quickly replied, "Tap will be fine". Why waste good money? My brother took a drink and remarked, "Hmmm...that's good water." I remarked, "According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Saint Louis has the best tap water in the country". He raised an eyebrow as if to question the existence of such an obscure finding...but then seemed to remember his sister is a reporter.
Somewhere between the appetizer, the entree, and his martini...Nick surveyed the downtown restaurant I had chosen and said, "Saint Louis has a really cool vibe". And I knew it was the international investment banker making that observation and not the kid brother who used to wear Garanimals and a tang mustache to school. To that I replied, "Saint Louis is ranked fourth on Forbes' magazine list of the fun and affordable cities where you can live well." Again, my reportorial credentials solidified my obvious pride.
By dessert, he was ordering the pastry chef's gooey butter cake, a Saint Louis original I reminded him. Nick said, "A lot has changed since I started the Executive MBA Program at Washington University." That was 2002. And he was right. That was the same year I moved to Saint Louis, in part, so I could hang out with him when he was in town for class. He was already a fan, introducing me to Tony's and Blueberry Hill. Now both of us are, and after six years, I think the statute of limitations is up on my newcomer status.
For the record, the Saint Louis area does have its challenges. I tell you about them every night, but they're the same ones I talked about in Little Rock, Kansas City, Detroit, and Atlanta: crime, poverty, distressed school districts...to name the most pressing. All are very serious concerns, requiring bold leadership and community involvement. But take a good hard look around, the positives eclipse the problems.
I think it's time to write a new narrative, take inventory, reassess. Saint Louis is so much more than a forgotten outpost on the Mississippi or a runner-up in the pageant of favorite places. As we left the restaurant, my brother mentioned some colleagues were coming to Saint Louis in a few months. I smiled and said, "Well, you know the Four Seasons is building a hotel near the riverfront". Both of us laughed, headaches long gone, as he asked, "Do you work for the Chamber of Commerce?"