St. Louis, MO – November 7, 2012
The City Museum in St. Louis is what every kid dreams about when they stare at cars piled high in a junkyard or an old airplane left to rust near a runway, when they pass an air duct with the grating off or a ladder leaning against a wall, when they see a garbage chute and think it is a slide or a hamster wheel and wish they were small, when they want to climb scaffolding or squeeze through a crack in a fence to see the other side. They dream of playgrounds, a world of playgrounds, then they grow up and forget.
But one of them grew tall instead of up. Then they bought a blowtorch.
A ten-story factory chute turned slide, the City Museum has it. Caves with dragons, check. A truck-sized praying mantis scuttling across the roof, it’s there. A bus hanging over corner of the building, yep. Airplanes suspended in midair and turned into climbing toys, of course. Giant chameleons roaming a forest, without a doubt. The place is all dreams and crazy ideas, it’s all imagination and a welded steel. It’s beautiful.
“You’re going to have to crawl around to see it,” Camille told me. “So you have to be ready to get dirty if you want to go.”
I didn’t hesitate for a moment. Neither did Camille or JK or their friend Tazu who also goes by Steve. We dove into tunnels, shimmied through cracks, and slid down slides. We squeezed into hidden passages, rode a Ferris wheel set up on the rooftop, climbed over airplane wings and metal trees. We were all kids again, laughing, bumping our heads, exploring with wild hearts.
If there is any bit of wonder left in you, you will want to crawl down every tiny path and into every lost room because you just don’t know what you’ll find. Magic is everywhere you look, and it draws you further into the maze until you forget about everything beyond the anticipation of what will appear around the next corner.
I met a young girl in a narrow passage who couldn’t have been more than 8 years old. She looked at me and crinkled her nose while I struggled to squirm free from a narrow door.
“I wish I were as small as you,” I said, laughing.
“Please keep going, Mister,” she said, her voice as earnest as an 8-year-olds can be to a giant man wedged in a tunnel. “I’m trying to get to the bottom of this.”
Aren’t we all, kid, aren’t we all.