Thank you, Johnny Cash. I'll take it from here.
Attention, Gateway City. I'm ready to roll. I'm all set to ride those rails. I got my
St. Louis rail pass this week.
That means I can ride free on Metrolink, which is the St. Louis metro, the train, the tram, the municipal rail system similar to the ones I rode in Tokyo and Paris.
To get my precious pass that allows me to ride the metro for free, I had to prove that I was of a certain age. I provided the proof. That is all I have to say about age. Now, about trains.
I love trains. I rode my first train all by myself when I was about 12, and I traveled all the way up to Chicago. My parents had driven me to Litchfield – that's in Illinois, a little east and north of St. Louis – where I hopped aboard the train. My childhood best buddy, John Kolb, and his parents picked me up at the train station in Chitown.
Clack, clack. Clack, clack. Clack, clack. "Arriving Chicago Union Station!" Clack, clack. Clack, clack. Chshhhhhhhhhhh! Screeeeech. Chshhhhhhhhhhh. Stop. And that was it. I was hooked on rails.
I like city trains best. I'm talking about metropolitan trains, subways, elevated railways, for example. Before moving here to the St. Louis area 2½ years ago, I had fun riding the rails of Tokyo for a few years. Tokyo is home to so many interesting destinations, and I could get to most of them by riding what surely is the best public railway system in the world. As good as it is, and as easy as it is to use for most people, I still managed to get lost more than once.
I carried my little "Instant Japanese" book and my train map, and Tokyoites were always helpful, even though my pitiful command of the Japanese language was, well, absolutely pitiful. Still, I managed to transfer to a wrong train or get flat-out lost two or three or seven times. That's not so awful over a period of more than three years. I was never really lost, anyway. I was always somewhere in the greater Tokyo area. Taking the wrong train and heading in the wrong direction and ending up in God knows where could be fun. It could be an opportunity. It gave me the chance to stop, regroup my mixed-up
thoughts, ask for help, communicate with locals, figure out new directions, and then eat some good Japanese chow in another new restaurant – I mean, new to me – before getting onto the proper train.
I used to purposely get lost in Paris. Maybe lost is not the correct word. I would get off the Metro at a stop where I'd never gotten off before. Then I would walk around, seeing what there was to see and looking at the menus posted near each restaurant front door. My French was better than my Japanese. Even though I could not carry on a fluent conversation with a Parisian, my vocabulary was extensive enough for me to be understood. The important thing: I could read any French menu, so I had it made. I had Metro tickets, an adventurous spirit and an ability to read the carte du jour. I just had to be careful that I not drink too much wine with my meal, for I might fall asleep on the Metro and wake up at the end of the line, an hour from home. Did I happen to mention that I did that once – or maybe twice? Or was it three times?
If you want to make some Parisians fussy, drag a bulky, scratchy, fresh Christmas tree onto the Metro train. Yes, it was Christmastime, and for some reason I was stupid enough to buy a tree near Metro-stop Convention, way down in the southern end of the Paris 15th arrondissement and had to get it all the way up to Metro-stop Kleber in the middle of the 16th arrondissement. I could see cartoon-like thought balloons above the Metro riders' heads, each one filled in with something like: "That ignorant American!
Does he know where he can shove that tree?!" For some reason, their thoughts were in English.
I've always wondered, incidentally, why the French created a long word like arrondissement, instead of something short like district or ward. It's so much easier to say 15th district or 16th ward. However, that has nothing to do with the Metro and all the other good things about Paris. Forget I brought it up.
The important thing now is getting out and seeing more of St. Louis. I'm sure that one of my favorite Metrolink stops will be Busch Stadium, home of my beloved Cardinals. I'll probably get off the Metrolink a lot at Forest Park, too, where I can visit the St. Louis Zoo or take in the St. Louis Art Museum or chow down on some fish and chips at the Boat House. And if I have to pick you up at St. Louis Lambert International Airport? You better pack light, baby; we'll be riding the Metro.
I was told that the cost to replace a Metrolink pass is $5. I don't want to spend that five bucks, because my card is brand-spankin' new. I just wish they could change the photo on mine. I look so – ummmm, let's see – of a certain age.
Aw, I guess I should be happy that I'm getting carded again.