Notes from the road: The St. Louis blues


It’s the doing of the thing that matters.  That’s kind of a theme for me while in  St. Louis  and it’s theme because the tasks are piling up, the deadlines are weighing me down,  and the consequences of doing this journey right are becoming very real.  August was the summer and the traveling still felt a bit  like a summer vacation. I’d prepare a little, play tourist a little,  get to the tasks of the project. Then came September and some of my efforts and the very real support of many generous colleagues started to pay off. Doors were opening, faculty were answering their emails,  and the capacity to capture conversations with many, many influential psychologists was no longer an ethereal dream, but a logistical commitment.

Now  it’s October and I’m  in  St. Louis. Or possibly Chesterfield — there was a sign that welcomed me to Chesterfield, although one can’t verify the exact nexus of the city and the town that was indicated by that sign. In either case,  I’m visiting the campus of Washington University and reading like a dervish to prepare for my day’s interviews. Two today. Both awesome!

The stakes are real and require some haste for we need to catch a flight  to Australia/New Zealand in January. Between here and January are at least 12 more states to visit, approximately two dozen more faculty to contact en route and beg their complicity in  this project. There are the logistical plans to schedule times to meet with everyone, to amalgamate materials for preparation to find housing, to get wifi connections in  rural areas, to figure where to go for grocery trips, car repairs, and to take care of a laundry list of tasks from my more mundane vocational responsibilities having to do with William Paterson University (and just the laundry, there is always laundry).

Like I said, it’s the doing of the thing that matters. The plans are great, but here I am in  St. Louis (or Chesterfield, depending on how exactly Wash U is situated) and needing to make sure things are done, things are in progress, or otherwise being effectively attended. I was thinking a  lot about that this morning because of the Metro ride I took to get here. No, wait, that’s putting it too strongly. I mean the Metro ride I took to get me  closer to here.

Here it is. 6:28 AM and I come barreling of our rented loft (thank you, Arthur and Ashley, our AirBNB hosts for putting  together a unit that is the nicest rental we’ve had on this trip!). I make my way past the abandoned electric scooters and shuttered restaurants and bars waiting for nightfall to resume their activity. I walk up towards the convention center for the Metro train station.

Why didn’t I just drive to campus, one might ask? Driving is great, but…campuses can be persnickety about parking. Also, and this is my bigger motivation, I like seeing local life. I like seeing people going to work and to mindlessly stare out the train window along the way. I like overhearing snippets of conversations from people as we pass and to get a glimpse of life in that area. Okay, so to the Metro I go, and on the train. Easy. And off we go: Red line or Blue line? I need blue, but the trains aren’t actually labeled by color. They are color-coded with appropriate fonts. No problem, I ask someone and get confirmation. ‘Not that train, you want the next one.”

Good.  Easy.

8 minutes later here comes the blue line train and off towards campus we go. 6:51 AM, and more than an hour before my first appointment.  Easy.

There’s no traffic, things are clear and it is a beautiful this morning in St. Louis.  Easy.

People are chatting on the train. “Is your mama doin’ alright?” “Yeah, she just got back from the…” Another says to no one in particular “Look at that, look at that! I’m early this morning, I’ll have time for another beer!” Okay. Easy.

We reach the cross-over track where blue and red lines split and the train stops. It sits. Down the stairway comes one young man — “Wait, don’t leave without me!” He hops on the train and let’s out a sigh of relief. The train continues its respite. And we sit. For a minute. For a second minute. Chatter starts to pick up.

“mm-mm, this ain’t good’

“I can’t be late today!”

“Oh I’ll be alright — I’m the boss. Everybody’s gotta wait for me”

“Look at all this here! We’ve got the manpower, we could push that train” — he alughs.(Okay, quick caveat, that last statement was from the 7 AM beer guy and his expectations were rosy about our collective physical strength relative to that multicar train. Or he was just kidding. Maybe both things).

We wait until a quick announcement is given. “Everybody please exit the train, a new train will follow. This train is having technical difficulties.” It’s 7:14 AM. We exit. We wait. It’s 7:16 AM. A train is indeed coming up the track, but our train remains stuck on the track. A train comes the opposite direction. Now three trains are sitting at the station and lots of people with official looking ID badges and day-glo vests are huddled and gesticulating.  It’s 7:19.

No problem, this the modern age, and I’m in  a big city. I can get a car from a ride-share service — estimate is to get me to campus at 7:27. Perfect. Easy. I send out the call, bring me a car, get me to campus! Easy.

Except it doesn’t actually work, The app stops working! This is not the age of computer problems, this shouldn’t happen! The app says my credit card needs updating. Ok, I update. easy. No, doesn’t work. I update again. eas…No, still  no luck. But I’m at the station near the street.  I can just catch a cab. easy.

Where are the cabs?No cabs. No car.

But fine, easy, I’m  only 1 stop from campus, it can’t be that far.  I’ll walk. I ask the security guard — which way? “Oh, just about 3/4 of a mile, and turn left. ”   Easy. I start walking. I check my map with my GPS. Ok, it’s a bit more than a mile, and that just gets me to the perimeter of campus. My meeting is at the center of campus near the far bottom edge, so add half a mile.

My GPS says I’ll reach campus at 7:56 AM. I start to jog. It’s October in St. Louis. I’m wearing dress slacks, carrying a large computer satchel, a cleaned and steamed button down shirt (Oh, Arthur, you really know how to outfit an AirBNB), dress loafers. It is 75 degrees and I can do this. I can  run, I can fly if I have to and now, it looks like, I have to. My GPS starts to encourage me.  Did it say 7:56 AM, nope, only 7:52 AM. Did it say 7:52 AM, nope, 7:51 AM.

I’m sweaty, I’m breathless, but dammit I can do this. I can make it. I reach the Psychology building at 7:50 AM with a damp shirt, sweaty palms, and a forehead as dewy as a cold can of Pepsi, sitting on a porch in Alabama in mid-July. But I’m here, there’s a bathroom with cool running water  and paper towels, and  I’m going to be on time. It’s okay. It’s easy.

Taking the Metro all the way would have been great. Grabbing a ride from my apartment would have been great. Driving myself and finding parking would have worked, probably. But in the end, the plans only get me so far, the logistics are only ever so easy. In the end, it is the doing of it that matters and today I got it done. Sooner or later, I won’t. But this time, this moment, I learned a lesson and I will fail forward towards meeting these plans.

It’s the doing that matters and the doing is not always easy.


2 thoughts on “Notes from the road: The St. Louis blues

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