Where's the Arch?

My family relocated to St. Louis at the end of February.  Well, actually, we haven't moved to St. Louis any more than we moved here from Chicago.  We actually moved from Aurora, IL to Ellisville, MO.  It is now the beginning of June, and we're finally getting some sightseeing in.  Of course when anyone hears St. Louis, what's the first tourist attraction that comes to mind? If you answered the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, you're probably not wrong in the galactic sense, but you're way off in the universe in which this little missive lives.  I'm speaking of course, of the Gateway Arch.  Look at a picture of the St. Louis skyline.  There, you will find the big inverted stainless steel arch, vaulting up into the sky and back down again along the banks of the mighty Mississippi River.  To look at the arch is to be inspired.  It evokes feelings of awe.  It raises conundrums in the mind, like "How did they do that?" and "I wonder when Micky D's is going to paint it gold, and build the other half?"

And just like the fast-food restaurant that comes to mind upon viewing the 600+ foot structure, it is universally loved by children.  My daughter, now nearly three is enamoured with the thing.  Every time we have occasion to drive past the arch, she squeals in delight and points out the side window of the van.  "Look Daddy.  There's the Arch! I found it! There's the Arch…" This is followed moments later as we round the bend with.  "Where did the Arch go? Daddy? Where did the Arch… Oh, there it is! Daddy, I found the Arch again!" It's very cute to watch, and since I've now perfected the art of drowning out excessive toddler chatter, it's not even terribly annoying.

Well, with Christine's obvious affinity for the Arch, it was only a matter of time before we came up with the bright idea of taking her to see it in person.  And that's just what we did, this past Memorial Day weekend.  The three of us, along with Becky's parents and her brother, Ben took the pilgrimage downtown to touch the focal point of the Jefferson Expansion Memorial.  As we approached, the familiar litany of Arch-spotting began…then continued as we made a full circle around the thing, looking for a place to park.  After a full orbit, and a little more, we settled into the Laclede Street parking facility to the north of the park.  The whole time we're doing this, I'm doing my best to keep Christine's interest up.  "Christine? Do you know where we're going? We're going to the Arch! You're going to get to go right up and touch the Arch today!" So we start walking toward the structure, and Christine asks the obligatory, "Where's the Arch, Daddy?"

As I said, we approached the Arch, edge-on from the north.  So from our point of view, it wasn't an arch, so much as a big silver pillar vaulting into the sky.  I think this helped make the whole approach that much more exciting for Christine, as we stepped off to one side, and the arch-shape slowly revealed itself.  She was very excited.  We proceeded into the underground museum between the legs of the arch, and bought our tickets for the tram-ride to the observation room at the top.  A quick tip for all you tourists thinking of visiting this thing on a holiday weekend, the $6.00 ticket you buy is for a specific-numbered tram-ride.  The tickets we bought at 3:15 were for the 6:25 trip. Still unsure about what else there is to do in St. Louis for three hours, we wound up taking the Metrolink out to Union Station, ate a late lunch, and then came back in plenty of time for our ride.

So around 6:00, we returned to the Arch and descended into the museum depths.  By the time we sorted out the bathroom trips, waited in line to the metal detectors, waited in line to get access to the tram landing, waited to board the tram, and then finally arrived at the top, a good 45 minutes had gone by.  As such, by the time all six of us had crowded into the tiny circular washing-machine barrel that passes for an elevator, Christine had pretty much forgotten that the purpose of the whole thing wasn't just to wait in line.

The sides of the Gateway Arch observation deck are slanted outward, and covered with a durable carpeting.  At the top of the slope, is a tiny slit of a window (with a hinge!) that you practically lay on top of to look out on the surrounding landscape.  Christine, fearless as ever, climbed up the incline and lay down on the glass, and looked out on the western view of the city. For my part, I instinctively reached out and closed my hand around her leg…I mean…the window is hinged for chrissake! Even if it only opens inward, that's a little less security than I want to have between my daughter and the ground.) So, holding tight, I pointed out the park we had visited earlier and where Daddy's office was located.  Then she slid down and moved to the eastern wall.  Once again she climbed up and leaned on the glass window (and once again, I took a firm hold).  Then…quite surprisingly, she asked.  "Where's the Arch?"

I was at a loss for words.  It occurred to me that the amount of time that had passed since we actually started this little trip, had been considerable…especially on the toddler time scale.  "You're in the Arch, Christine."
The little girl continued to scan out the window.  "No, I'm not, Daddy," she said with such absolute certainty that she didn't even bother glancing in my direction.
"Christine.  You are inside the Arch."
"No-ho…." (this is one of her new wordisms.  It's the word 'no' with a half laugh in the middle).
I started racking my brain.  How would I convince my darling offspring that she was indeed inside the huge metal structure? I mean, Becky is pretty claustrophobic, and it was a major effort on her part to climb inside that tiny torture chamber of an elevator.  If Christine refused to believe we were in the Arch, then that whole effort would have been a complete waste of profuse sweating.
"Christine, do you see the river down there?"
"Do you see the boat in the river?"
"Do you see the big, arch-shaped shadow stretching across the river?"
"Yes, Daddy."
"Well, that's the shadow of the Arch.  You are inside that arch."
"Okay, scoot up." I climbed higher on the incline myself and double-checked.  Yup, if you got high enough, you could see straight down.  "Now, you see those two big triangular feet straight down, below you?"
"Those are the legs of the Arch."
She paused for a moment.
"OOOOOOHHHHHHHHHH!" realization dawned.  "I'm in the Arch!"

"Where's the Arch?", Copyright © 1999 by Michael J. Marchi

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