Another year, another birthday for my Aunt Sue, another trip to St. Louis to celebrate, another attempt to track down rock music legend Chuck Berry. Two previous trips to Missouri ended with the singer/guitarist appearing at a club around the corner from my aunt’s home the night after I left. Since I was visiting a week later this year, I wasn’t expecting to catch Berry in concert, but had something different in mind.
St. Louis’s “Loop” area, near Washington University and my Aunt Sue’s home, is a several block area of art galleries, restaurants, clubs and funky shops. It also features the “St. Louis Walk of Fame,” a series of nearly 100 brass stars and plaques honoring famous people with connections to the city. My goal this year was to find Berry’s star.
Honorees run the gamut from Maya Angelou to Bob Costas, Yogi Berra to John Goodman. I had previously consulted a map and thought I knew where Berry’s star was located, but I saw practically every star but his: Dizzy Dean, Dan Dierdorf, Ozzie Smith, even Tom Eagleton, who was George McGovern’s vice presidential choice for a few days back in 1972. I also found the star for the late Johnnie Johnson, Berry’s longtime piano player.
I ran across Ike Turner’s star, too. Ex-wife Tina has one as well, but it’s three blocks away from Ike’s. That’s probably a good idea in case they both decide to visit their stars at the same time.
Before leaving the Loop, I picked up a copy of the local entertainment paper and found that Mr. Berry was also running a week late and would be appearing the night after I left for the third year in a row. You’d think he’s doing it on purpose.
But chasing Chuck and his star wasn’t the only highlight of my trip. There was also my visit to what I’m calling The World’s Worst Arby’s.
I should have known something was up when a restaurant at a busy Interstate exit near Indianapolis is empty at 6:30 on a weeknight. I soon found out why. Part of my roast beef sandwich was so pink it mooed when I tore it away from the rest of the meat.
In fairness, they balanced the super rare sandwich by giving me curly fries that had been sitting under a heat lamp since the Clinton administration. In all my life, I had never before feared breaking a tooth on a french fry.
The flies that kept landing on my table actually looked tastier than the food, but I’m sure they all soon expired after getting a bite of my leftovers. And don’t get me started on their dining room music.
Then there was the rest stop near Terre Haute that had big, professionally made signs from the Indiana Board of Health in the men’s room reminding patrons to wash their hands. I was impressed until I saw the hand written signs over the men’s room sinks saying the facility had no water.
Another highlight came during my aunt’s birthday lunch. Among her birthday gifts was a book of some of my previous columns I put together for her (I know what you’re thinking, but don’t laugh, she liked it.). Brother-in law Gary had read a few before we went to lunch and mentioned an old one about exploding ketchup bottles at the restaurant. Aunt Sue’s estate lawyer answered that her firm had had just such a case.
The final highlight, or lowlight, occurred on my way out of town. I had just crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois when I was faced with the state’s first billboard, featuring a much larger-than-life Chuck Berry advertising a December gig at a nearby casino. Talk about adding insult to injury, I swear he was laughing at me.
OK, Chuck, here’s the deal. Aunt Sue will be turning 100 next November. I will be back, and you will see me. You can run, but you can’t hide...or can you?
-Nov. 30, 2005