Happy New Year!

We did a bit of travel for the holidays this year. For Christmas day, M and I drove down to Orangeburg, South Carolina to see her grandmother, who runs a blueberry farm. The property itself is all decked out in decaying Southern glory, complete with a large ancient manor-esque house, fallow fields, and abandoned outbuildings. Strolling around M’s childhood grounds, we discovered an amazing fungus we’d never seen the like of before. This was one freaky, funky fungus, I’m telling you, and I will devote an entry to it soon, along with some stunning photos.

Then we drove back to fly out of RDU to my hometown of Jefferson City, Missouri. And by “fly”, I mean, we flew from RDU to STL (St. Louis) and took a shuttlebus to JC, 2 hours away. And by “took a shuttlebus to JC”, I mean took a bus to Columbia, 30 miles north of JC. You wouldn’t think a capitol city would be so hard to get to. (To be fair, we could have flown into Columbia Regional Airport, but the leg from STL to COU was too expensive). I normally only see my family once a year, so it was nice to visit them, and see old friends who are still in the area (or who are visiting their own families for the holidays).

One such friend (codename: Jello) had flown in from Hokkaido, Japan, where she teaches English at Sapporo University. Jello and her teacher friend had just driven back from St. Louis, where they saw a Dale Chihuly exhibit at the Botanical Gardens. M’s uncle is a glassblower, and we really like Chihuly, so we made a snap decision to take the bus up a day early and spend New Year’s Eve in St. Louis. We wondered about how to get around and where to leave our luggage, but in the end, it was easy… we just rented a car when we got up there.

The rest of the evening was not as straightforward. When we got up there, the Gardens were closed, although their phone message said they’d be open (or at least, only mentioned Christmas Day as an exclusion). We were really disappointed, since we’d come up specifically to see this (instead of going to a friend’s party). To make matters worse, it was as cold and windy as the dickens! But we tried to make the best of it, and drove downtown to see First Night.

I haven’t spent much time in St. Louis, so I didn’t know where to find dinner. I’m a vegetarian, but usually can eat at most restaurants… however, the ones downtown seemed to all have prepared overpriced meatfests for the occasion. We were referred to Govinda’s, a krishna eatery, but when we found it (on foot, having paid for parking), they were serving the dregs of an unappetizing buffet. But a nice Hindu woman there gave us a ride to Euclid Street, where we found (after a conversation with a waiter at one restaurant) a nice place called Wildflower. Afterwards, we walked (a long ways) back to First Night, which was unfortunately winding down. We took respite from the cold in a theater where The Zany Umbrella Circus was doing a vaudeville act, then continued on to the outdoor stages. Mysteriously, the last act was an DJ playing 80s music while break dancers performed. Break dancers. I swear. But within the hour, the fireworks display signaled midnight and the new year.

We still had hours to kill until our flight took off the next morning at 8, so we looked for an all-night diner. We got a recommendation for the Courtesy Diner, which was small and crowded, and we weren’t really hungry… we just wanted a nice place to chill out and be warm. A nice waitress there directed us to her favorite coffee shop, Cairdeas Coffee in Dogtown (the Irish quarter of St. Louis). We drove by, and to our surprise (this is after midnight, recall) the lights were on and there were people inside. But when we went in, we discovered it wasn’t open for business… they were holding a neighborhood New Year’s Eve party. But they were friendly and invited us in, gave us hot chocolate and wine, and offered us food from their potluck. It was a boisterous, drunken crowd, and we had a great time.

When we were leaving, a couple of hours later, they suggested we go to Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, a local institution. The harried staff there served up some rather good pancakes (pecan for M, potato and applesauce for me), and then we drove out to the airport to return the car and check in for our flight. M napped, and I worked a bit on my laptop. I slept all the way home. Our friend B picked us up at the airport, and we were home.

It wasn’t the evening we expected, and we didn’t see the Chilhuly exhibit, but we had fun anyway. When Tennessee Williams wrote, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”, it was in a pretty creepy context. But it really was the basic goodness of people that made a fun time out of what could have been a lousy evening.