Bioplastics

Some of us feel quite good about ourselves because we recycle our plastics at home.  We believe we are doing our little bit to save the environment.  But, as it turns out, very little of the plastics that we recycle are being reused in a useful way.  As the article below points out, there are many challenges to achieving real meaningful recycling.  Perhaps the solution is to use less plastics, or plastics in a more sustainable way.  (The author of this article linked to below (click on the image) talks about “bioplastics”, which is something they are working on in their University.)  Whichever way you look at it, there are additional costs involved in getting things on the right path.  The article below is a good read in the sense that it also gives you a good sense of the bigger picture, and of the damage we are doing to ourselves over the longer run.

(Courtesy – The Conversation)

Here is a video from the article.

Linda McKenna Boxx

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA couple of months ago I wrote about a trip to Ohiopyle in Pennsylvania.  During that visit, we happened to go to the Ohiopyle State Park Visitor Center.  It was nice to see the display in there honoring the work done by Linda McKenna Boxx.

Linda served as board president and volunteer executive director of the Allegheny Trail Alliance (ATA) that over the years brought together different trail groups to create the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP). My friends and I rode the GAP on our bicycles in 2016 from Pittsburgh to the Washington, DC, area.

My first interaction with Linda happened in 2009 when she reached out to me for permission to use one of my pictures in the Trail book that was being prepared for that year. She wanted to use a picture of Riley’s Lock that I had taken. I said yes, and the only thing I requested was that they send me a copy of the trail book when it eventually came out.  There was no other form of payment involved.

She reached out to me once again in 2016, before my bike ride on the GAP.  This time they ended up using two of my pictures. After seeing the book, I decided that I wanted a few more copies of the book to share with my fellow riders before the ride because there was a lot of useful information in it.  I was going to pay for these copies, but Linda would not accept any payment. She also shipped the books to me for no cost.  You are now one of us, she said. And she wished me a good ride, and requested that I take lots of pictures.

That was the last time I interacted with her.  It appears that she has now stepped down from her positions in the ATA.

I have started supporting the GAP with regular donations.

St. Louis Union Station

This blog will serve as a postscript for my trip to the city.  After my visit to St. Louis in October last year, I wrote a blog about the struggle of older cities like St. Louis to thrive in this day and age.  In many cases, the downtown areas have become shells of their old selves, likely to also be surrounded by neighborhoods which are in a state of disrepair.  Most of the better-off population tends to live in the suburbs.  When people think about reviving such downtown areas, it is mostly about attracting businesses and tourism, but not about making the place more livable.

St. Louis Union Station is an example of this approach to downtown revival.  Opened in 1894, it was at one time the largest and busiest railroad station in the country, serving as a gateway between the east and west.   But times change, and the last train departed St Louis Union Station in 1978.  Today, the space has been re-purposed for a different function, a sign of changing times.

The first sight I got of the the station during this trip was from Interstate 64. The highway is elevated at this point and as you are driving, off to the side, you can see the distinctive roof-line of the old station.  The structure is quite big, and it looks like it is in a state of disuse, like an old industrial building.  The roof looks like it is rusting and falling apart.  At that time I was told that the structure I was looking at was Union Station, but I did not know what lay under it.  I then got the opportunity to see the station from another perspective, from the road that went past its former entrance.  It did look grand, and it turned out that this was now an entrance to a hotel.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was later, the day after Angela’s surgery, and she was interested in going for a walk.  We headed out to the location of the station on foot because I had expressed a curiosity about it when we had driven past earlier.  We were actually expecting it to be an Amtrak train station.  When we arrived, we found that we could not enter the building from the doors on the side.  It seemed liked they had been deliberately disabled.  The place looked shabby and I was thinking that there must be some concern about security in the area.  We went back to the front.  The signs indicated that it was an entrance to a hotel – no sign of an Amtrak railroad station.  There were attendants in front of the building waiting to help guests.  We entered one of the doors into a huge open space.  To our left, we could see the old station building.  Some of the rooms had been converted into hotel suites.   To our right were structures that looked new. This seemed to be the  space occupied by the hotel. The space where we were standing was probably near where the train tracks and the platforms terminated in the past.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The place had an empty feel about it.  We walked through the hallway hoping to find a way into the station itself, but it appeared that this was the entrance only to the hotel, and we were uncertain if we could walk into the station area that surely lay beyond the hotel.  We ended up exiting the hotel from one of the side doors (one which we had previously, unsuccessfully, tried to open from the outside).

We then walked along the outside of the station building to its other end.  There were no other people around, and the place did not look inviting.  There were extensive signs of construction work going on.

It was only then that it dawned on us that this was not a real train station any more.  We found a way to enter the premises and a surprise awaited us.  There were a couple of high end restaurants under the station area.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the distance, towards the front of the station, you could see the hotel buildings, a multistory affair that fit comfortably under the roof in the cavernous space of this huge structure.  There was a big pool of water immediately in front of us where a show with music, fire, and light began just as we entered.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were fish in the pool.P8040018-1.jpgWe could feel the heat from the fires that were being lit as a part of the show, and I was wondering how all of this affected the fish.  Perhaps they were crowded to the side of the pool for reasons other than the promise of food from a tourist.  There were very few people around to watch the show.  In fact, there were very few people around at all.

You probably realize by now that there were no railway tracks left in this space.  This was how this area, the train shed, looked in the old dayshttps://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fd/Union_Station_St_Louis_diagram.jpg(Image from Wikimedia)

What a change!

There were actually a few tracks left, and they were in the space on the extreme left side of the picture above. The tracks ended on platforms without roofs. These tracks converged into a single pair that joined this section up to the mainline.  Perhaps this section was still in use for special events and occasions. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I read later that this conversion of the station into a place for tourists happened in the 1980s.  It turns out that there was even a Ferris wheel present in front of the train shed at some point in time.  It was probably taken away before the present renovation stated.

But the significant thought that I had about all of this was mainly about the incongruous nature of what I was seeing.  It all seemed quite out of place.  This was not a touristy area of town, and in fact that place looked uninviting.  The surrounding area had a gritty feel to it and there were not too many people around.  Yet, here was a very high end hotel hidden under a somewhat decrepit looking shell.  And they were seemingly in the process of reviving a concept that I was not sure had worked that well for them the first time. Based on what I saw, I guessed that there might have been a time in the past, before the reconstruction, when there had been more commercial establishments in the place, and that these had disappeared over time.  One could take a guess as to what had happened.

Here are a couple of parting shots that show elements of the structure of the roof from the outside of the station.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While one hopes that things work out for the city of St. Louis in their attempts at urban renewal, it is my fear that making a success of this particular effort for the long run is going to be quite difficult.

And then there were the other, different, types of impressions I got on the occasions that I went to Forest Park, each time for a different purpose.  The early morning run, almost 6 miles, approximately along the perimeter of the park – past a museum, golf courses, ball fields, a zoo, etc.., and past older homes and an Interstate highway on the outsides of the park, revealed the vibrant and resilient side of the city.  They have succeeded in making this place very inviting for the locals.  There were a lot of people around early in the morning on foot and on bikes.  It was a diverse crowd.  Being in a new place, I was trying to keep to myself, but I had to respond to the many cheerful good mornings.  (Some day I would like somebody to take a picture of my face when I am running – without my being aware of the presence of the photographer!)   And then when we went to see the play in the park later in the evening, at the Muny, the crowd was quite animated.  It was a well dressed, but less diverse, crowd where we were sitting towards the front.  There was a palpable sense of pride about their town, perhaps because of the fact that the musical we were watching was about St. Louis.   If anything is going to keep the city alive it is its people, and I hope they do not simply depend only on a misplaced sense of nostalgia in what they are attempting to do.  Times change!

I hope for the best.

Da St. Louis Blues

I am headed home.  What can I say?  All good things must come to an end, and I got the St. Louis Blues.  But what better way to end the trip than with music and dinner at BB’s Jazz, Blues, and Soup, where we rocked yesterday evening away to a blues set by Big Rich McDonough & Rhythm Renegades.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

When I woke up on Tuesday morning, it was raining heavily outside the 7th floor apartment.  Sheets of water were pouring down from the dark sky in bursts.  Luckily, there is not much planned for the day.  The National Blues Museum is located downstairs in the apartment building and I was going to spend the day there (with an interruption in the middle for a trip to the dentist to look at an ulcer that had formed in the mouth (now healing!) after the surgery).

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The lady at the counter told me that I could spend 45 minutes to an hour there, but I ended up spending a few hours trying to soak in all the details, very little of which I can remember a few days later.  It is interesting to recognize and understand how this music of the downtrodden black people not that far back in time became the foundation of the present music form over the years.  And the music is still relevant today.

Angela was going back to work on Wednesday and so I accompanied her to the free Boeing museum (which is called Prologue) located at her work place.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am addicted to technology related to flying, and, once again, I spent more time in a museum than predicted by other people, immersed in the information.  When I was young I used to look for and read anything I could find about flying.  (I even found a way to get to the local airport to see the Boeing 747 when it came into town for the first time.  I would also have studied aeronautics had it not been considered a less desirable engineering pursuit at that time.)  The details of what I read and learnt as a youth get lost in the backrooms of my memory over time, and today was the time to try to remember stuff – about commercial and military aircraft history and development over the years,  about space travel, about other “stuff” related to moving through the air through unnatural means.  They had great information for the curious.  They even had full size capsules from the Mercury and Gemini programs (that helped launch man into space). These were set up in the then McDonnell (now Boeing) facilities for training and testing purposes.  These were fully functional even though they did not go into space.

I found it easier to follow the developments in commercial flight than those in the military realm.  People will spend more money and effort to experiment in the military realm so that there ends up being much more variety in the end-products that result.  Nothing much has changed in this regard over the years.

Since I had more time to kill that day (since Angela had a few more hours to work),  I drove to St. Charles, a little town on the other side of the Missouri river.  Lewis and Clark spent some time here in the past on their way west.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese days, the main street has been developed for the tourists.  It seemed lively at lunch on a week day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is an Art Center at the end of town which supports local artists.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe art center is set in a location where there is also a big factory that runs along the river called the American Car and Foundry Company . The company is still operational, but the sections that one can see from the trail that runs along its side look run down and abandoned.

And then there is the Katy trail that runs past St. Charles closer to the river.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI found out that the Katy trail considers itself the longest rail-trail in the country.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe name comes from MKT, the initials of the Missouri Kansas Texas Railroad, whose right-of-way has been transformed into a comfortable biking trail of crushed limestone.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABiking this trail may be something to consider in the future, but days like the one I spent in St. Charles would be too hot for an endeavor like this.  A plus for the trail is that it seems to include support services and B&B’s for overnight stays along the way.

And then it was time for the entertainment.  We ended up going to an establishment that all of us in the family (except for Angela) had gone to on a previous trip through the city. It was the only place having live entertainment that day at a reasonable time. It was within walking distance, and we convinced ourselves that it would be a safe walk from our apartment later in the evening even though it was located a short distance from downtown in an open area that was full of empty parking lots.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had a great time.  Both the food and the music were great.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe band mostly seemed to be a bunch of local artists who had come together to play that evening.  The drummer was a college kid – could not figure out if he was a graduate or undergraduate student.  What a thrill for a young man to be able to play music for the public in this environment with people who are so skilled in the art!  Much of live jazz and blues is improvisation, with the band following its leader as he plays what he is feeling at that moment.   It looked and sounded like the band was having fun.  It was Angela’s first visit to a blues bar, and I hope it will not be here last.

And then it is time to head home today.  All good things must come to an end. I got the St. Louis blues…

 

Another Fine Morning in St. Louis

I was waiting at the corner of Washington Avenue and Tucker Boulevard for the lights to change so that I could cross the intersection.  I noticed a disheveled chap in a light colored shirt and long pants standing on the median of the road making random motions as if he was a little distracted.  He looked at me for an instant and then went back to what he was doing.  He then yawned.  I wondered where he had spent the night and if he had gotten any sleep.

Yes, it is another morning in St. Louis, and time for another run in the city.  This time I had decided to find a route that started close to the apartment.  Internet searches the previous evening revealed a loop that was a little longer than 5 miles in length, but it seemed go through neighborhoods that we had little knowledge about.  I was not sure if I should take the risk.  I had gone to sleep remembering the route, but undecided about where I would actually run.

I woke up earlier than I expected once again.  By sheer coincidence the sun was rising, same as the previous morning.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI could start this run early since I did not have to first drive to another location.  It was only at this point that I finally decided that I was going to try out the route I had seen on the computer last night. If something about the path bothered me somewhere along the way, I would change direction.  With the city roads being set to a grid, I could generally figure out where home was, and a new direction to take in case the need arose.

I headed west on Washington Avenue.  The sidewalks were generally empty, but I encountered a lot of cars at the intersections.  People were coming in to work.  At 14th Street, I turned south.  All was quiet and there were very few people outside.  I saw the sign on a building for St. Louis University.  There were older, more classically styled, buildings around.  St. Louis has a slightly rundown feel to it.  There are signs of construction all over the place, and quite a few buildings are surrounded by fences that keep you away. I passed a memorial for the place where the American Legion was formed, and a sign that said “Liberty is not License”.  Then it was past the stadium when the St.Louis Blues play their professional hockey home games, next past a major bus stand, and finally over a bridge across the railroad tracks.IMG_20180806_071601056It was interesting to note that one of the freight cars was marked “Saskachewan!”, a reminder of one of my adventures of last year!  The station for Amtrak trains is to the right of the picture.

I was the only person crossing the bridge.

The neighborhood changed on the other side of the bridge.  It had older houses and apartments and generally looked less well off.  The streets were empty.   Pretty quickly I came up on a wide road called Chouteau Avenue, also Route 100.  It sounded vaguely familiar from my Internet investigation.  (Apparently this road is also the Historic Route 66.)  I turned east to head back towards the Mississippi River.IMG_20180806_072721179Pedestrian traffic continued to be light but commuters were definitely streaming into the city in their cars.  I had to be careful at the intersections.  I also did go past the buildings of the Purina worldwide headquarters during this stretch.

As I got closer to the river,  I had to make a decision about where I wanted to turn back north in order to head back towards the downtown areas.  When I got to the intersection with First Street, there was a moment of hesitation on my part because Chouteau Avenue began to look more rundown.  The buildings ahead of me looked like they were in states of disrepair, and the sidewalks were generally overgrown with grass.  After taking stock of the situation – seeing that there were no people simply hanging around who might be bothersome, and noticing that there were vehicles moving on the road, I proceeded.  I noticed that a small section of one of the buildings had been renovated into office space.  It was interesting to see this, because the rest of building still looked like it was falling apart.  Perhaps rents were cheap.  The trusses for the railroad bridge crossing the river also looked like they were in bad shape.  Certain sections seemed to be falling apart.  It looked like the railroad company was only taking care of those sections of the approaches to the bridge that they still happened to be using.IMG_20180806_073248751_HDRIMG_20180806_073304205_HDRI reached the end of Chouteau Avenue and the road that ran along the waterfront pretty quickly, and was happy to see that I was at one end of the stretch of waterfront area associated with the Gateway Arch, an area meant for tourists.  I ran along the waterfront, past the Arch, and up to the Eads Bridge.IMG_20180806_073712298_HDRIMG_20180806_073753851I passed a work area where there were barges and a towboat next to shore.IMG_20180806_073523995_HDRThe last stretch of my run was across the Mississippi on the Eads bridge.  Traffic was streaming into the city from across the river.  There was a somewhat narrow walkway next to the road.  Pieces of broken glass and empty cans of beer littered the pathway.  But there was nobody around.  So I proceeded on to the bridge, looking behind me occasionally to see if there was somebody else who was following me on the walkway, and also looking out for people approaching me.  It was quite possible for somebody who was strong enough to throw me off the bridge!IMG_20180806_075517585I reached the train station for the Casino I had seen on the other side of the bridge.IMG_20180806_080057893IMG_20180806_075937762The place I had reached was called East St. Louis, and folks are in general cautioned to be more careful when they are in these parts.  But the only other people I saw were a few tourists who were waiting for a train to take them into town.

The last part of the run was back across the bridge.IMG_20180806_080404802The Eads bridge terminated at Washington Avenue.  I just had to follow the road to get back to the apartment building.  It was a little after 8 o’clock when I returned, and the streets were getting crowded with people by this time.  It was already beginning to get hot and humid, and I was sweating up a storm as I used the fob to gain entry into the air-conditioned foyer of the apartment building.

The Sun Sets Upside Down In The Morning

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I woke up early today.  I had been planning to drive to Forest Park for an early morning run. I peered out between the blinds of the 7th floor apartment and noticed that the sun was beginning to rise on the other side of the Mississippi.  I reached for my camera.  Little did I realize that I would be looking at the sun temporarily setting upside down between the clouds!

Meet Me in St. Louis

I am in St. Louis for the next few days.  I came to help Angela with the process of recovery after having her wisdom teeth extracted.  Things seem to be going very well so far, to the extent that I am pretty useless even a day after the procedure.

But this trip may also end up being about the opportunity for me to indulge in quirky pursuits that end up lifting spirits in unexpected ways.  Something about being dropped into a new and somewhat unfamiliar place tends to get the blood flowing.  And then there are the moments that one never anticipated.

The first morning in town found me on my own in an empty apartment with a need to step out to get coffee.  It was my opportunity to walk the streets of downtown St. Louis.  A vaguely familiar smell of the big city, and its morning sounds, assailed my senses as I walked down Washington Avenue towards City Museum.  The city also seemed to be coming to life at this time of the morning – folks picking up their morning coffees from the cafes; trucks making morning deliveries while stopped on the main road, blocking lanes.  I made somewhat random turns into side streets, trying to get some measure of familiarity with the new environment while observing city life.  It felt somewhat energizing to  be in this frame of mind – observing things going on around me that I do not usually experience in daily life.  I felt alive once again in a strange way.   And I could walk forever!

Things were going so well in the evening the day of the dental procedure that I decided to step out of the apartment in the evening to take a walk to the nearby Gateway Arch to stretch my feet.  I had not seen the place after the completion of its recent renovation.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe riverboat was out on the Mississippi,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA and the sun was beginning to disappear behind the downtown buildings.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn unexpected treat awaited.  There were signs for an event that was going on.  It turns out that it was the first weekend of the “Blues at the Arch” festival, and that it happened to take place on Fridays in August , and the day that I was there was the first Friday in August!  I had come upon a distinctly St. Louis event by sheer chance.  There had two bands playing each evening and I had arrived in time for the second one of that evening.  There were crowds of people chilling out in the grass in front of a stage next to the Eads bridge.  Food and drink were available for tents on either side of the stage.  The band began to play and I was hooked for the rest of the show.  Zac Harmon, from Jackson, Mississippi, led a band of folks from Texas in a bluesy set that set the place rocking.  People were moving to the beat of old classics.  The band was good.  Instead of walking back home, I decided that I was going to grab a Schnickelfritz from the Urban Chestnut tent, and a chicken kabob from the neighboring stall, and settle in on the grass for a evening of music.  The feeling that came over me can only be described as sheer bliss.  Every other aspect of existence was forgotten as I immersed myself into the experience of that moment, enjoying the feeling of the music, and my food and beer, and the feeling of being one with the mellow crowd.  And I had happened upon all of this by pure chance.  These are moments to live for.

In spite of having spent more time than I expected outside yesterday, and having returned back to the apartment later than expected, I went out early this morning to Forest Park for a birding tour.  That was fun in spite of the fact that almost all the birds we saw were familiar to me.  The group that went on this tour was quite large and was led by two birders associated with the park.  We basically wandered over to a section of the park where we had a decent chance of finding birds of different kinds.   It was an opportunity to chill out with other people while walking around in the morning.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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A juvenile black crowned night heron
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A goldfinch
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A catbird
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A red-winged blackbird
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Queen Anne’s Lace

We might go out to see the musical Meet me in St. Louis at the The Muny in the park some evening.  Maybe a trip to the National Blues Museum another day.  If I get the chance, I will also go for a run around the park.

I think St. Louis is going to keep me occupied during this trip!