As I have driven to the Gateway Arch these many months, today I drove this morning into the city. The St. Louis downtown streets are all ripped up, so it’s not surprising that the street near Kiener plaza was closed due to the on-going construction. Whole blocks of prime downtown business real estate here is empty and boarded up. Hooters, TGIF are empty shells, but when you look up and around you can see entire office buildings empty. Sometimes, I feel like I am on an empty movie set, or in some eerie ghostly city where all the people have unaccountably disappeared. The street where I park is closed, and the workmen in day-glo work clothes, and the white work vans occupy where I used to park. So I park a bit down the street, in front of an empty office building. I can tell that it is empty because there is are big cavernous windows that expose the under construction of sheet metal ducting and work lights hanging from ceilings.
I squeeze my car in between a row of the white work vans. I learned long ago how to parallel park effectively. And I insert my credit card in the parking authority kiosk. And wait. I realized a week ago that the kiosk is broken. It’s connection to the server is broken, and so it can’t finish the transaction. I get my bag with my clipboard, pens, water, and guitar tuner. I sling my guitar over my back. I put my hat on my head. I head past TGIF where Louis Brandeis started his practice on 505 Chestnut street here in 1878.
I cross Broadway street. A block down Broadway there is a little plaque memorializing the Democratic National Convention of 1876. Samuel Tilden won the Democratic nomination here, only to lose to Rutherford B Hayes, a Republican, in the general election for U.S. President. This election was contested with widespread allegations of voter fraud and intimidation. “In return for the Democrats conceding all contested electoral votes, the Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South and this caused the end of reconstruction.”
I walk past the Old Courthouse where Dred Scott pled his case. There is a nice bronze sculpture of Dred and his wife that is a must see if you happen to tourist this patch of the world. Many historians argue that the Dred Scott decision inexorably led to the American Civil War, and to Lincoln’s freeing of the slaves in his Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Currently this, the Old Courthouse, is closed for renovations. So much history.
Again, I cross the street (South 4th) and enter the Gateway National Park. I walk on the grass under the arch to get to my spot by the grand staircase that leads down to the Mississippi river. There is a grassy knoll that I walk over that conceals the underground visitor center. It was emplaced when they changed the entrance from the two sides of the arch to the center. That renovation was completed 2018. I picked up two minibar bottles of vodka from the grass, and recycled these in the receptacles. At one time, many years ago, I had a compulsion where I cleaned up as I roamed. Today, my compulsion is playing the guitar and running for U.S. Senate.
I stood on my spot, and began playing Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park”. I really need time to warm up my fingers, and get my mind on the work at hand. Soon enough, I began playing my hand, “All Aboard, America”. I have been playing this song for over a year, and gotten quite practiced by it. A family of four came by, Father and Mother, teenage daughter and son. The daughter wearing rose-colored glasses and white mini-shorts asked me if I would accept a U.S. dollar.
“I can’t solicit. It’s against the park rules.”
She was surprised by this. I asked her if she lived in Missouri and was a registered voter. No luck.
They walked away, but I could see them lingering to hear the guitar. It really is a wondrous thing, and I feel blessed to bring music to this public space.
Again, a woman brought another tip, and again I had to reject the money. She was a tourist from France, and had a thick French accent.
Some people put the bills directly on my petition clipboard while I was in the middle of a song. Not much I could do about that. I pocketed that money.
Soon enough a Park Ranger pulled up in his mini-truck and wanted to know what I was doing.
“I am petitioning for the U.S. Senate Election in November”, I turned around and showed the back of my T-shirt, with the words, “Strauss for 22, U.S. Senate for Missouri in 22”. Quickly, I told him, “I am here because of January Sixth. Trump filled up the National Mall with huge video screens, and giant sound amps. All, I have is an acoustic guitar. They paid for buses to come from all over the country to fill up the mall. And then they trashed the place. I am not doing that, I am running respectfully for Senate”.
“What’s wrong with renting buses to go to Washington DC?” he asked.
“There’s nothing wrong with that, but breaking into the Capitol and trying to stop the counting of the Electoral College is wrong”
“Have you seen the new movie 2000 mules? It talks about how the election was stolen.”
“I don’t care if the election was stolen. The votes were all certified and the Electoral College was following the U.S. Constitution”
“Did you work in the U.S. Military?”
“No, I was a Government Contractor and I manufactured military helicopters. What branch of the military did you work for?”
“I would prefer not to tell you. But I had to take an oath, to protect our country from enemies both foreign and domestic.”
So we reach the heart. The Park Ranger is siding with the insurrectionists because he feels the election was stolen. I side with due process and the Constitution, because I don’t think anyone candidate’s win or loss is worth trashing our nation over. I promised to watch the movie 2000 mules, where I am sure I will learn just how the election was stolen.
“Can I tell you just one more thing?” I asked him.
“No, I better leave.”
“I worked as an unarmed security guard in Las Vegas. I worked at the same place as the Harvest 91 Festival which was the site of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.”
“I want to thank you for doing your job. You are protecting me and all the other people in this park. Thank you.”
So, I played for an hour and didn’t get any signatures on my petition. But I felt strangely satisfied. I got to sing, “All Aboard, America” twice. I got to sing, “Where have all the Flowers gone?”. And I got to connect with people, and spread my message. I believe in America.
On the way back to the car, I saw about five young black teenagers come up behind me. I stopped, and turned and asked them to sign my petition. “Are you guys old enough to vote?” They all kept going, but one kid stopped and talked with me.
“You don’t look 18. You sure you can vote?”
Finally, he admitted his age. “I am 12”.
And back at the car, I faced a ticket on my windshield.