“Well, which one, dammit!?” I snarl at the GPS when it tells me to take the left exit and the traffic demands a quick and irrevocable decision. (Yep – on a long, solo road trip it is perfectly normal to have conversations with your GPS!) After weeks of dawdling on back roads, the downtown St. Louis rush hour traffic is hitting my nervous system like a splash of cold water in the face! Thankfully, the little machine isn’t programmed to get in a snit in the face of my bad behavior and she continues patiently directing me to my hotel.
In the morning, I start out refreshed, on foot and without plan, of course, but wide open to whatever Serendipity has in store. Just down the block from my hotel is Citygarden, three acres of walkways through whimsical sculptures, fountains, a giant screen projecting anyone passing by and a mesmerizing electronic image of a couple strolling with the grace of gazelles.
At the riverfront, I am amazed to be the only visitor at the Gateway Arch. I walk from one massive pedestal to the other, watching it transform with the changing light at each step. I’ve been here before, but it’s a different experience to be alone with it. The Arch is a monument to the pioneering spirit that fueled the westward expansion of our country and to that same courageousness in men and women in every era. For the first time, I see how the bold, soaring, simple shape of the Arch embodies that spirit.
As I start down the stairs toward the River, a sightseeing helicopter lifts off in front of me and sets off an internal debate that goes like this…
– Ooooh, I’d love some aerial shots of the city!
– Forget it – too expensive
– Maybe they would comp it?
– Gayle! This is St. Louis. I’m sure they are deluged with requests from photographers for comped rides – forget it!
So, I walk on – and get about eight steps further before I am bonked on the head and hear this…
– Stop! How do you know if you don’t ask??!!
I spin around, march in, give them a postcard and ask. “Sure,” comes the response, “if you want to wait for a couple or a single who want to ride, you can have the extra seat.”
Barely does my butt touch the chair when a couple walks in and buys the deluxe flight! The bubble-front helicopter has one seat beside the pilot and two in back. When the pilot asks the couple where they would like to sit, they look at me with my camera gear and say, “Looks like she should be up front!” Unbelievable!
We soar over the River and all of downtown and I never stop shooting. A huge thank you to Gateway Air Tours and to the generous couple that I flew with – and, of course, to Serendipity for the bonk on the head.
When I disembark, there is a message waiting from my hotel, the Hilton Inn at the Ballpark. Before I left this morning, I had asked about the possibility of getting onto the roof to shoot the sunset this evening. I actually have no clue if the roof is even flat or accessible, but it can’t hurt to ask (I don’t always require a bonk!) “Yes,” says the message, “we can arrange that. Just let us know when you are ready.”
As the day wanes, armed with fresh batteries, sparkly clean lenses and my sturdiest tripod, I meet Daniel from Security in the lobby. He leads me to the elevator and up to the 26th floor, where he unlocks a heavy metal door which opens onto a stairway. We climb several flights of stairs and Daniel selects another key from the ring on his belt as big as my arm and pushes open another heavy door – which opens out into nothing! The view on all sides is unobstructed and exhilarating – there is no barrier, only a foot-high ridge marking the edge of the building.
My heart is racing – the city is first washed in warm, late-afternoon light and, as I hurry from one vantage to another, it shifts rapidly to a deeply saturated sunset and then to the purple-blue of twilight.
Then, billions of lights wink on and the amber streetlights create valleys of gold between the buildings. As the sky continues to darken, each new palette of colors seems more thrilling than the last.
Daniel, who has been watching quietly and smiling often, gently hints now that there is work waiting for him, so I begin to pack up. Suddenly, the enormous floodlights at the base of the Arch switch on and it shimmers in silver-blue magnificence against the almost-black sky. I glance at Daniel; he smiles broadly, steps back, makes a little bow and gives an emcee’s flourishing gesture, presenting the star attraction. It is sublime!
In my bed, I’ve been smiling so long that my face feels stretched. The city glows through two huge windows, bathing the room in soft gold. Sleep tugs at me like quicksand, but another part of me tries to resist, like a little kid not wanting to miss a thing.