Saturday, August 11, 2012

Migrating North with the Cardinals

The last two days of the July trip were high mileage, driving first from Fayetteville, Arkansas, to Memphis, and then on to St. Louis and Chicago—a third or more of the total distance traveled.  Melvin and I saw in their native habitats the Memphis Redbirds, the Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, as well as the parent club.

We also squeezed in a tour of the National Civil Rights Museum and a couple stops at neighborhoods that have disappeared; a subdivision known as Carrollton, in Bridgeton, Missouri, and the site of the former Pruitt-Igoe public housing development in St. Louis.

We returned to the Cotham's Mercantile, which was closed on the drive west, had a lackluster supper at Neely's Bar-B-Que and were flummoxed again by the menu at Culver's, the Midwest burger and custard chain.

But that was all five weeks ago; I don't know that I have anything to say any more.

Cotham's, in Scott, Arkansas, is the self-proclaimed "Home of the Hubcap Burger," a slight exaggeration.  Does anyone really need to eat more than a pound of ground beef at one sitting?  Melvin consumed a half-sized burger and I had chicken fried steak, both meals with fine sides.

The tables are set in the center of a turn of the last century general store, hence the name, and farmers and others have been dining amidst the dusty fan-belts and what-not since 1984.  The food is above par and the setting doesn't devolve into schtick but Cotham's is probably best appreciated by the locals, rather than tourists ... like Melvin and me.

As I studied the National Civil Rights Museum, largely in what had been the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, I overheard a woman say on her phone, "I am at the Martin Luther King museum."  She misspoke but then again, was so right.  The history of the civil rights movement ends in the motel room where the Nobel Peace Prize winner was staying when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.  I may have missed a panel, but Malcolm X isn't mentioned until three weeks before Dr. King's death.

Anyone who is familiar with the picture above, taken the day before, or the one of his associates pointing across Mulberry Street to where the shot came from, will immediately recognize the building.  The exhibit continues across the street, where King's final hours, the murder and criminal investigation are deconstructed in fine detail, admitting to inconclusiveness when necessary.

A considerable amount of information is presented, from the African diaspora to that fateful event in American history, more than can be absorbed in one visit.  And more than can be presented without at times becoming a book on the wall.  I thought I took a fair number of pictures but when I went to write this, saw I had been too absorbed in the exhibit.

Michael Stern wrote on, "If you have time for just one barbecue meal in Memphis (or anywhere on earth), go to Cozy Corner."  Except, of course, during the two weeks the restaurant is closed for a Fourth of July vacation.  I suppose Melvin and I had the same expressions on our faces as the other people stopped randomly around the empty parking lot.

We ended up at Neely's Bar-B-Que instead, which left us unimpressed but gave me an opportunity to have a local favorite, smoked baloney.  When the owners have two shows on the Food Network, it is hard not to wonder if their focus is some place other than the kitchen, simplistic and judgemental as that may be.

I don't remember much about Saturday's game between the Nashville Sounds and the Memphis Redbirds.  The visitors won, 5-2.  We sat in the front row, just to the left of home plate.  It threatened rain but we escaped with only a few sprinkles.  Melvin and I observed separately, then remarked at the same time, that there were many more black people than at most baseball games.  That pleased us.

We drove a couple hours north after the game, slept overnight and drove some more, stopping first in what had once been Carrollton, a suburban neighborhood northwest of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.  Two thousand homes in the planned community were condemned and leveled so a new runway could be constructed.

Melvin and I have visited other neighborhoods that have suffered similar fates.  When the silver birds need more room, cities use eminent domain to increase the size of the nest.  On April's trip we saw the rolling hills of southern Playa del Mar, between LAX and the Pacific Ocean.

On New Years Eve 2009, we visited two neighborhoods in Bensenville, Illinois, after the residents had left but a couple years before the lawsuits were settled and the bulldozers arrived.  Each property had a sign on it, "*** NO TRESPASSING *** This property has been acquired for the O'HARE MODERNIZATION PROGRAM."  (Link, obviously, not included in the original.)

From Carrollton we drove to the former site of Pruitt-Igoe, a public housing complex of 33 11-story buildings in the lower north side of St. Louis.  White flight, poor design, shoddy construction and maintenance and other factors resulted in an abandonment of the 2,870 apartments starting soon after a 1956 court decision desegregated public housing in Missouri.  Demolition began in 1972, originally as an effort to consolidate the remaining families, and concluded in 1977.

Twenty acres have been redeveloped as an educational campus but the remaining 37 acres have undergone what biologists call secondary succession, with forest and prairie ecosystems spontaneously emerging.  Last year, Pruitt Igoe Now asked in a design competition how the site could be re-imagined.

One motivation for all our driving was the final game of our trip, a Sunday afternoon meeting of the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals.  One fan made a pun out of Cardinal David Freese's name but it was anything but freezing.

The scoreboard announced a temperature of 96° and a heat index of one-oh-five.  But unlike the nine night games we suffered through, on Sunday we sat beneath an intense sun that turned the stadium into a broiler pan.  Around the fourth inning, Melvin and I were able to slide over one section and get into the shade.  The team gave away water and ushers misted fans with spray bottles.

Many people understandably left early, but those that did missed an exciting game.  The fish scored in the top of the first and the birds tied it in the second, plating the go-ahead run in the fifth.

Tony LaRussa may be haunting the dugout because we saw three Cardinals pitchers in the sixth inning.  The last, Victor Marte, gave up a three-run shot to Austin Kearns that sent more fans to the aisles.  But you could feel a tension in those that remained; we had literally weathered the game this far and we were going to stay until the end, and the end was going to be a Cardinal win.

The fifth, sixth and seventh Cardinal pitchers kept the Marlins from scoring again, and then the excitement began.  With one out in the ninth, Allen Craig singled, Matt Carpenter hit a grounds-rule double, pinch-hitter David Freese walked and Tony Craig sacrificed to bring Craig home.  Still down by one, and with only one out left, Raphael Furcal spanked a hard grounder into left field that scored two and won the game.  That's why you stay to the end.

So, I wrote a lot in the end.  I am still not sure that I had anything to say, but that is just the ennui that plagues me and this enterprise.  Just look away.

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