When I finished graduate school last year, after several years of living in Illinois, I vowed to find a job west of the Mississippi. I ended up in Dallas, Texas. For many people Texas may seem an odd choice, but when you grow up in western Iowa like I did, Texas is a destination.
Still, there were moments when it would suddenly occur to me that I lived in the Lone-Star State, a place once known as the Republic of Texas, and it always caused me to laugh out loud. Dallas (and Texas) is big, brash, and unapologetic, and its politics are so crazy that it's a reporter's dream.
That is until the public radio/TV station you work for reveals it's $4 million in debt and decides to lay you off four months after bringing you down there in the first place. After a flurry of phone calls and resumes, I was fortunate enough to land a job in St. Louis.
And I do feel fortunate. I've been here only one month, but I never get that "I can't believe I live here" feeling that I did in Dallas. In fact I've been surprised to find that much of the city is pretty familiar to me, although I had visited just a handful of times before moving here. In Dallas a map was my constant companion. Here, I rarely consult one.
Friends here suggested several neighborhoods, and I ended up in Tower Grove South. I have much more exploring to do, but I can tell you my neighborhood is heavy on coffee houses and one-way streets. I do love being back in a place where the buildings have character. Dallas doesn't seem to have a building constructed before 1950. Tower Grove Park has 130-year old gazebos!
In terms of the "ways" of St. Louisians (is that what you're even called?) I have a lot to learn. I have yet to be asked what high school I went to (Sergeant Bluff-Luton High. See first paragraph). I haven't nailed down exactly what a "hoosier" is, but I gather it does not necessarily refer to someone from Indiana. The suburbs remain a mystery to me, but I look forward to being able to roll my eyes or snicker, depending on which is mentioned.
While growing up in Iowa (ah, that's where the elusive Sergeant Bluff is...) I found that somewhere in the middle of the state the East ends and West begins. It's impossible to say exactly where, but there's just a change in the landscape and in the people. I'm guessing that St. Louis will have elements of both, being the Gateway to the West and all, and I look forward to trying to put my finger on it. And at least I'm west of the Mississippi...even if just barely.
Maria Hickey has been here all of a month, on the afternoon shift in the newsroom at KWMU.