St. Louis, MO – November 6, 2012
Election results flicker on the TV screen and light a shotgun apartment in the heart of Soulard, St. Louis’ oldest neighborhood. The place is all brick and narrow lots. You feel the building’s age as you step inside, as you stare through three straight rooms from front to back, one door leading to the next. Beaten walls, chipped bricks, it feels like pure Soulard. That is to say, it has character.
“If it gets too cold, just turn the oven on for a little while,” Camille had told me last night.
She picked me up from the river yesterday in an old moving van with her neighbor Ralph. The boat hung off the back and looked half-swallowed by the van’s rolling door, but Ralph drove slow and the ropes held until we slid the Looksha out. JK helped me walk her into the long apartment and set her down on the wooden floor.
She looked odd then, like she missed the river. Now none of us notice her stretching between rooms and crowding the place. We watch the TV instead, watch stern reporters turn states blue and red.
I’d never met Camille or JK or Ralph before, but that isn’t much of a surprise anymore. I’d never met most of the people who’ve helped me along the way.
JK gets up to wave a bit of heat over from the stove. He takes a giant canvas in two hands and swings it through the air. I wonder what will be on that canvas someday. Touches of art fill the apartment, bits of creativity, small strokes, grand smears. The place breathes imagination.
I watch JK and think the heating system fits the place. It’s perfect for an old, spare apartment filled with books, art, musical instruments, and, now, a kayak. Polls close across the central time zone. I don’t think about art anymore. I watch serious faces on TV.
We’ll all know soon.
I’m glad I voted. I’m glad this is important to me. I’m glad that I care.
Now I’m all nerves. In a moment, I know I will be happy or sad.
I look at the Looksha filling up the spare apartment in old Soulard. I think about Camille’s invitation to a stranger, about how she knew I’d need help in St. Louis and wanted to make sure I got it, about how she worried I’d be cold without a heater even though I’d slept on windswept sandbars for weeks.
I think about people I’ve met along the way, about houses in Grand Marais and International Falls, about dining room tables in Minneapolis and Rock Island. I think of new friends, all of them. I wonder if they are crowded around their TVs. I wonder if they will be happy or sad.
Then I know, they will be both and this country will be ok.