Two (and a half) Days in St. Louis

Day one

At secu­ri­ty, I’m select­ed ran­dom­ly for a screen­ing. The guard asks my age. “Twenty…”, I begin, try­ing to remem­ber if I’m 27, 28, or 29. “Twenty. Okay.”, he says, cut­ting me off. Somehow, he believes I look near­ly a decade younger than I am. For two days, I’m packed light, with no checked bag­gage. In my rush, I for­get to get some American mon­ey. This wor­ries me.

Ottawa airport

Plane in Ottawa

I take off from Ottawa at 6:55 in the morn­ing, which means I’ve been up since 4:30am1. There’s no snow on the ground, and it’s mild out, but there’s ice on the wings, so they de-ice the planes by spray­ing some kind of hot, vis­cous liq­uid from a crane-on-wheels onto the plane. The man who dri­ves the crane gets out and puts his hand on each sec­tion of the wing to check for missed spots of the per­son oper­at­ing the arm.

Jewelry ad

It delays the flight, and I near­ly miss my con­nect­ing flight in Chicago, being the last one to get on. There, they de-ice the plane, but the liq­uid is soda orange and turns lime green. I guess that’s how they tell which parts of the plane have been cov­ered (much bet­ter than the tac­tile test used by their Canadian coun­ter­parts). The tem­per­a­ture changes from ‑1°C in Ottawa to 34F in St. Louis, which is about the same.

A VP picks me up from the air­port in St. Louis to dri­ve us to his work, along with anoth­er col­league from Boston. My name is on a plaque in the lob­by of the build­ing, wel­com­ing me to the com­pa­ny. I feel impor­tant. I’m in meet­ings all day. Introductions, con­fer­ence calls, names of peo­ple com­ing and going.

Parking lot


Filet mignon

We fin­ish in the evening and go for din­ner. The VP knows his area, and I choose an Italian steak­house for some red meat. It takes me ten sec­onds to decide on the per­fect­ly sized 8oz. filet mignon in mush­room wine sauce. He asks me how old I am, and I tell him I’m 29. Our col­league says he has ties old­er than me. Afterward, if it weren’t for the weath­er, he’d take me to see the arch, but I’m nei­ther dressed for sight­see­ing in this weath­er, nor filled with enough ener­gy to do so.

The hotel is nice. On the ele­va­tor up, a poster pro­claims, “THANK YOU! Highest in guest sat­is­fac­tion among mid-scale lim­it­ed ser­vice hotel chains, four years in a row”, and for a sec­ond I won­der if they’re sell­ing cars. There’s a work­ing, old-style pop­corn machine in the lob­by, and this makes me believe the poster.


I’m not expect­ing my life to change this time around the way it did the last time I was in the States for busi­ness. Not in two days. I take a bath, and before tak­ing a pic­ture, make sure my naughty bits aren’t caught in the reflec­tion of any­thing shiny. Maybe I’ll find some answers.

Alarm clock

Bright window


For some rea­son, the win­dows have no blinds, just some trans­par­ent sheets for pri­va­cy. I won­der how any­one can sleep like this. With the king bed is five pil­lows, each of vary­ing firm­ness. I sur­round myself with all of them, and pre­tend I’m home for a moment.

Day two


Self portrait

In the morn­ing, I put on a dress shirt. I decide to tuck it in, but do a dou­ble-take in the mir­ror. I’m not accus­tomed to tuck­ing my shirt in, and it looks fuck­ing weird, but I fig­ure it’ll off­set the casu­al nature of my favourite hood­ie that I brought for secu­ri­ty.

The com­pli­men­ta­ry con­ti­nen­tal break­fast is worth what I paid for it. I sus­pect the scram­bled eggs have been made from pow­der, and the sausage pat­ties look depress­ing. A serv­ing bot­tle labeled “maple syrup” for the waf­fles and french toast con­tains Aunt Jemima. They can’t fool a Canadian.

More con­fer­ence calls and meet­ings, and back to the air­port again in the after­noon. Louise sends me a mes­sage about the snow­storm in Ottawa, inform­ing me that a lot of flights there have been can­celed. I’ve been check­ing the sta­tus of my flight until I get to the air­port, and it’s still on time, so I decide to take the chance. My col­league has a dif­fer­ent con­nect­ing flight and says, “As an old road war­rior, I’m going to get to Pittsburgh and pray.” I decide to let some­one else do the pray­ing for me.

I get on the air­plane, and it’s so full they’re ask­ing peo­ple to keep their coats with them instead of stowed in the over­head bins. We back up onto the run­way, then back into the gate again. Half an hour goes by, and the pilot says, “The plane has been sit­ting on the ground for a while, and the right engine is too cold to pull any air. The mechan­ics are tak­ing a look at it right now. Hopefully, we’ll be in the air in five to ten min­utes after they’ve filled out their paper­work”. In anoth­er ten min­utes, he updates, “The mechan­ics are still tak­ing a look at the right engine. There’s some­thing with a plug or intake sys­tem. Hopefully, it’s the for­mer because they can replace it and we’ll be in the air in five to ten min­utes. If it’s the lat­ter, they’ll need to replace the entire sys­tem in the engine”.

The woman sit­ting next to me forces my arm off the arm­rest we share. Not out of mal­ice, but incon­sid­er­ate­ness. She pulls out a bag of grapes, and alter­nates between spit­ting the seeds onto a nap­kin in her left hand, and rig­or­ous­ly suck­ing on her teeth. I pray one does­n’t land on me.

Another half hour goes by, and the cap­tain chimes in on the inter­com again, “Don’t shoot the mes­sen­ger2. The good news is that the engine prob­lem has been fixed. The bad news is that there’s a ground hold in Chicago, and they’re not let­ting any­one fly in. We’re receiv­ing sta­tus updates every hour, so I’ll be able to tell you more at 6. People start turn­ing on their cell phones, and mak­ing calls. Some peo­ple stand up and get com­fort­able. Others get off the plane and return with per­son­al piz­zas. The woman next to me fum­bles around for a box of Tic Tacs in her bag, pops two in her mouth, and begins shak­ing in an unset­tling man­ner with her hand to her mouth.

After sit­ting on the plane for two hours, I look at my watch. It’s 5:10. I look at the board­ing pass for my con­nect­ing flight. It’s for 6:30, and with the time dif­fer­ence, I’ll miss it if I’m not in Chicago in 20 min­utes, with a 50 minute flight in between. I get off the plane, and decide to stay anoth­er night, instead of fly­ing to Chicago and being strand­ed at the air­port. Good thing I was expect­ing some­thing like this to hap­pen. Otherwise, I’d be dis­ap­point­ed.

I get on the phone with our cor­po­rate trav­el agency to resched­ule my return trip home. I tell the agent about my cat, and how I just want to get home to make sure she has enough food3. She takes care of me, and books me a hotel close to the air­port.

Brunswick stew

Samuel Adams lager

Pulled pork barbecue

Another night is anoth­er chance to talk with this fas­ci­nat­ing VP. He picks me up from the air­port and we have din­ner. He’s proven to be a very bal­anced man, who has an eclec­tic taste in movies, lit­er­a­ture, and music, and grew up with a world­ly Jesuit edu­ca­tion, hav­ing read the sacred texts of most major reli­gions, includ­ing the Tao Te Ching. I ask him if he likes Leonard Cohen, and to my delight, he does. He recounts the sto­ry of how he was intro­duced to Cohen; in his first year of col­lege, he had a room­mate who was try­ing to learn gui­tar, and so Cohen’s first two albums going on the record play­er the whole time. Most peo­ple find Cohen depress­ing, but he finds him intense. I real­ize his eclec­tic tastes come from the root as mine; an appre­ci­a­tion of any­thing well done.


I’m dropped off at the hotel after din­ner, which is clean, but oth­er­wise unas­sum­ing. There’s a charge for every­thing, includ­ing an hourly rate for TV. The peo­ple in the room next to me are watch­ing some­thing, and I can hear it through the con­nect­ing door, remind­ing me of a song by Cohen. It makes me won­der what sounds they’re try­ing to mask.

I take a show­er. The water here is hard, and the skin all over my body feels dry. No won­der they include sin­gle-serv­ing bot­tles of body lotion with the sham­poo and con­di­tion­er. I nev­er have the ded­i­ca­tion to mois­tur­ize any­thing but my hands and low­er back, but here I’m stuck until I’m tired enough to fall asleep.

Day Half

St. Louis Airport

St. Louis to Chicago

St. Louis to Chicago

I’m up again at 4:30. It’s com­plete­ly dark out, and the weath­er is unfor­giv­ing. I’m ear­ly again for the flight, wait­ing to board at the gate. Over the inter­com, the gener­ic female voice drones on like a dystopi­an Eve every ten min­utes, “Welcome to the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. We ask for your assis­tance in report­ing any unat­tend­ed bag­gage and any sus­pi­cious behav­iour to the air­port trans­porta­tion secu­ri­ty admin­is­tra­tion. Thank you.” By the time we board, I know this by heart. I’m exhaust­ed, but I stay awake to watch each take off and land­ing, because they offer views that I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to see again4.

Plane in St. Louis

Chicago to Ottawa

As you near civ­i­liza­tion again, the lines get denser. The scale of lights and activ­i­ty make you believe in ener­gy con­ser­va­tion.

Car under snow

I’m home. The world has dumped 20 cm of snow on Ottawa. When my taxi pulls up to my house, I see my car, and spend the next 20 min­utes dig­ging it out of the snow in yes­ter­days clothes, and head to work, exhaust­ed. When I get there, my boss shakes my hand.

There were no epipha­nies in the last two days, aside from the fact that I’ve been pro­nounc­ing it Saint Looey, instead of Saint Lou-iss, which prob­a­bly made me come off as a tourist.

  1. Half an hour to get ready, half an hour to get to the air­port, and 1.5 hours to get through secu­ri­ty and US cus­toms for inter­na­tion­al flights. []
  2. Words that I’d just as soon nev­er hear from the pilot of my plane. []
  3. I left about five days worth, but Dolly has no self con­trol and eats it in about 2 days. []
  4. And not record­able, due to the pol­i­cy of shut­ting off all elec­tron­ics for those parts of the flight. []


  1. Now that I’m too old, too unad­ven­tur­ous and too poor to trav­el, I can live vic­ar­i­ous­ly through posts like this. Especially since Jeffrey posts such excel­lent pho­tos to go with the details. Thanks for help­ing me live vic­ar­i­ous­ly… though your expe­ri­ences with air­port delays and hotels brings back a dif­fer­ent kind of mem­o­ry!

    One of my most vivid mem­o­ries of fly­ing was of land­ing at night in England in 1973 and think­ing, dur­ing the approach, of how beau­ti­ful the lights of the towns and cities were. Like incan­des­cent spi­der­webs sprin­kled here and there in the dark.

    • One of the rea­sons I try to record as much as I can in my life is that I nev­er know when I’ll be able to expe­ri­ence the same things again. I even find air trav­el to be some­what fas­ci­nat­ing, even with all the has­sles. This is the oppo­site of many busi­ness­men I know, who are away from home more often than not; I imag­ine they see fly­ing the way we see tak­ing the bus.

      There’s def­i­nite­ly some­thing mag­i­cal about com­ing into a city by plane at night. The mem­o­ry of land­ing at the old Hong Kong air­port when I was young is a favourite of mine. It was in the heart of the city, and we were so low, it seemed like we were fly­ing between the beau­ti­ful­ly lit sky­scrap­ers and apart­ments.

  2. I miss the snow so much!!!! I know you’d be hap­py not to dig your car out, but.… ::sigh::.

    Thank you for stay­ing awake long enough to take that last “near­ing civil­i­sa­tion” pic. Beautiful.

    Sorry it was only St. Louis.… not some­where more glam­ourous. BTW, mid­west­ern­ers go so far as to call the town of Versailles, Illinois “Vur-Sales.” Seriously. So don’t feel bad.

    • Shoveling is a small price to pay for the beau­ty of the snow.

      And I find it fun­ny that you say it was “only” St. Louis. Not as glam­orous as a city like New York, but I’m sure it has it’s own unique sites and per­son­al­i­ty.

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