The whole reason we stopped in St. Louis is for me to see the Gateway Arch.  It was completed in 1965 — a few months before I was born — and I have always been fascinated by Eero Saarinen’s work.  I know that taking Kelley 10 hours and 500 miles out of the way was a little selfish. but after all, it is my vacation — and he had a day off.

After a night at his gracious friend’s home and being awoken at 3:00am by a tornadic (not my word — NPR’s) storm, we packed up the van and headed to the Jefferson Expansion Memorial Park.  Kelley is not a fan of heights, so I planned to go to the top alone, and we would both see the highly recommended movie afterwards about the building of the monument.

Walking up to the site is impressive. The 60-story stainless steel form rises from a beautiful park (made prettier my the multicolored autumnal leaves), its gleaming facade glistening in the sun.  Wow.  I am jaded by the monuments throughout Washington, DC.  They are in my backyard, so I do not think of them often.

The ride to the top of the Arch completely fascinated me. Entering very small 5-person capsule (if there were actually 5 people in it, I would have not gone to the top), you see Saarinen’s vision of the future — circles of steel, abstract concrete forms — and an engineering feat that marvels.  The doors to the pod closed and soon I was being transported in a ride that was part elevator, part roller coaster climb and part Ferris wheel.  It was all brilliant — and in 20 trips, I would not see enough through the small window to satisfy my curiosity.

Of course, the observation deck at the top had spectacular views.  I imagine it is what I would see at the top of the Washington Monument.  Now, I have never been to the top of the Monument — as a kid, we never went — my mother often complained of long lines and that “its for tourists.”  So this trip was vindication for a viewless childhood.

When I landed back on terra firma, Kelley and I entered the large 60s-era auditorium to watch the film.  I love educational films from the 1960s.  The manly narration, the scratched and oversaturated color film stock, the warble of the optical soundtrack — it adds to the story.  The film does need a restoration job, but I hope the preservationists do not remove the charm.

The 35-minute film chronicled how the Arch was built.  Forms from steel from plants in Pennsylvania, arrived to the site by trains — their locomotives dwarfed by the size and weight of the traveling sections. Men with cigarettes dangling from their lips — as they also dangled from the towering structure — with nary a belay or harness in sight.  No computerized cranes, no laser-guided survey equipment — just hard work and guts to create this masterpiece.

As the lights came up, we started at each other — blown away by the amazing feat.  I commented that I was a little nauseated from the views from the construction platforms. If this has been shot in IMAX, there would not be a full stomach in the house. Kelley agreed — and thanked me again — for insisting on stopping.

In the early 1960s, a team of men took on an incredible project.  This fall, I am too — and I am glad to be the person to take Kelley out of his routine and see emore of America than her highways and college lecture halls.

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