St. Louis has prided itself on being the “Gateway to the West”! Even built a big arch commemorating how, over the years, people came to St. Louis headed to the vastness of the west. It was one of the earliest settlements in the west and many trails started here headed to the gold fields of California, the promises of Oregon, the open ranges of Texas.
Even today, if you are headed west on the Mississippi Bridge at St. Louis, you can choose I-55 south along the western shore of the Mississippi River. You can take I-44 all the way to Oklahoma and Texas. Another choice is I-70 to the plains of Kansas or the mountains of Colorado. There is even I-64, which takes you deep into central Missouri. And of course these major routes also break off into other major US highways such as 60, 54, 50 and many others.
But let me tell you, if you are on one of those major routes headed east to Illinois, you got one shot to get across the river! And if you miss that one shot, DOWNTOWN St. Louis, filled with signs, saying: no left turn, no right turn, one way. (Even a few that read, “if you can read this you are going the wrong way!”)
Arno, I am sorry to be talking about your home town, but I believe you St. Louie-ites need to build a statue of a giant pop bottle right in the middle, under the Arch. And right below the inscription “Gateway to the West” it should read, “Bottleneck to the East”! My first time driving through St. Louis many years ago, I even made the claim that I would never drive there again unless forced to at the point of a gun. July 1, 2006 I reiterated that claim. (As well as a few others that I can not put here since this is a family read site.)
The Warden and I anxiously headed to Peoria early Saturday morning to see Baby Ruth. (Our youngest daughter not the candy bar.) We were even going to arrive early in the afternoon until we hit “the bottleneck”. I have to admit, I should have gotten the hint to turn around at the first “construction ahead” sign that I noticed, but I forged on eastward.
Then came the blinking lights of a warning sign that slowly crawls a message across the 4X5-foot screen “E-B I-5-5 r-a-m-p c-l-o-s-e-d a-t ….” (Another suggestion to the St. Louie-ites, speed up those warning signs!)
“What did that sign say?” I asked the Warden.
“EB I-55 ramp closed at” she repeated, “We went by before the rest of it came across.” Then added, “What does EB mean?”
At that point, I had to move to my left into the major traffic of northbound traffic to avoid a long line of cars in my lane. (We were still at least 5 miles from the ramp to the bridge and still on I-44.)
At 65 mph, it doesn’t take long before the I-55 merger and to go the remaining 2 miles to the bridge ramp. And the whole distance is lined with cars, two lanes deep after the merge. As I pass the ramp and dodge the cars trying desperately to fit between the fast moving traffic, I see the dreaded sign “Ramp Closed”.
At that point, I am thankful I am not sitting in line 5 miles back, slowly approaching a “ramp closed” sign. However my thankfulness is short-lived. I look at the sign approaching us at 65 mph: I-70 West, Kansas City 297 miles. (I cannot express the thoughts that crossed my mind at that time due to the family oriented material normally found on this site.)
But, being the quick thinker I am, I take the very first off ramp planning on crossing I-70 and back down to the eastbound side and thus crossing the river. It was an excellent plan until the detour sign at the ramp, which proceeded the road closed sign because of the St. Louis 4th of July parade. The only choice left was a straight shot to the river front drive and the Casino, which is almost directly UNDER the bridge.
From my vantagepoint, I can even see the cars crossing the crowded bridge. At this point, swimming the river is beginning to look like a viable option. The Warden suggests we stop and ask directions. Now everyone knows that a “real man” will never ask directions. However the rudimentary instincts of survival are beginning to kick in and I comply with her request.
Out of the hundreds of thousands that live in St. Louis, the three I ask directions from do not have a clue how to get to the bridge. Finally I spot a car with Illinois tags and fall in behind it. He leads me to the best-kept secret in St. Louis, the M. L. King Bridge; a four lane bridge across the mighty Mississippi with no apparent entrance from downtown.
So after only an hour and a half of being hopelessly lost in downtown St. Louis, we drive across the relatively vacant bridge into Illinois. I look at the Warden in triumph and smile. She says, “can we find a bathroom now?”