I’m Seriously Considering Moving to Wyoming…

Chicago is a beautiful city. I love living there and calling it my home.  

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I’ve always said that I was meant to be a country girl, and my first week back in Gillette, Wyoming has pretty much sealed the deal.  Drive-through liquor stores, rodeo, and the Camelot Pet Castle.  What more could a girl want?!?  But seriously, this place is strange, and beautiful, and random.  It is simultaneously depressed and thriving, much like every other small American town.

Oh, you want to know what I’m doing here?

I would agree that Gillette, WY is not the ideal vacation destination, and I couldn’t be farther from on vacation.  I’ve returned to my roots and am spending three weeks as part of the amazing staff of PAW (Performing Arts Workshop).  I was extremely glad to leave children’s musical theatre when I did, and then almost immediately missed it.  This job is hard, and not always as rewarding as one might hope, but you don’t always see the impact that you make as a dance teacher at a small community theatre.

The rehearsal room is intense, but the lives that some of these kids lead is far more so.  Stories trickle down about kids who don’t have permanent residences, or kids who are resented and ignored by their parents.  Our job is to create a relentless, realistic, professional atmosphere, not to provide recreational song and dance or all-day babysitting.  Some of the kids are toughened by their home lives and thrive, and some fall apart in this program.  But we tendu on, and, somehow, pull off a fully-produced musical in three weeks. THAT is a reward in and of itself.

Each day of the program is hard and presents both the kids and staff with new challenges to face, and then you leave the theatre each day greeted by this:

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and this:

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and this:

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Yeah, if you saw that every day you’d want to move to Wyoming too…

Small Town America, through the eyes of Waldo, FL

In a recent drive through Waldo, Florida on the way to the awesome Waldo Flea Market and Antique Village (the biggest in North Florida!!), I was surprised to find that this Florida Ghost Town looks a lot like the midwest – just warmer and with more palm trees.  The trains come less frequently, the downtown district is full of empty storefronts and vacant lots, and there wasn’t a person to be found.

Going throughout these sorts of towns in the Midwest I usually find that I can place a lot of the blame on Wal-Mart.  The big box that pays small salaries has obliterated much of our once-thriving small town squares and downtown districts.  While I don’t know this to be the reason for the state of Waldo, I’m sure that Mr. Walton isn’t far behind.

There is an odd beauty to these little ghost towns, and while this isn’t my home, it reminds me of all of our homes in small town America, and why we left.

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Sweaty and Sossy in St. Louis

Round two of the Summer ’12 “Places I’ve never been tour” began just a day and a half after returning from Cleveland.  The primary objective of visiting St. Louis was the Spring to Dance Festival at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.  As such I spent my evenings seeing some of the best dance in the nation (including favorites BalletX and Sossy Mechanics), and took the opportunity of spending my three days here exploring a new city. I really didn’t try to cram it all in; my goals for St. Louis were cathartic, relaxing, and free.  Here are the highlights:

The St. Louis Zoo

Tucked way back in the Forest Park area of St. Louis, the zoo is totally awesome – if you can find it.  I drove round and round and eventually found the North entrance.  If you can happen to find it, go, and DON’T PAY FOR PARKING.  There’s free street parking everywhere; I parked directly across the street from the $15 pay lot.  I’m pretty sure that St. Louisians (?)… Louistons (?)… that people from St. Louis can’t parallel park which accounts for the plethora of available free spots.

I’ve been to a couple of free zoos and generally find them to be lame, which you excuse them for because, you know, it’s free.  The St. Louis Zoo claims to be America’s #1 zoo, and while I can’t say that for sure since I’ve only been to like 5 zoos, I will say that it was beautifully landscaped and the animals look happy and content.  My favorite area was definitely the apes, where I giggled like a little girl at the zoo (a pun, but, not really) as the orangutans summersaulted down a hillside and covered themselves with sheets while making eyes with the audience.

St. Louis Art Museum

“Dedicated to Art and Free for All” graces the proscenium of the beautifully situated St. Louis Art Museum.  I mainly decided to stop here because it is free and air-conditioned.  What a pleasant surprise to find Monet’s Waterlilies and Degas’s bronze dancer statue in the impressionist wing.  I spent some quiet time on top of the hill overlooking a scenic lagoon that hinted at memories of the Palace of Versailles from my trip to Paris oh, say, 15 years ago.  If I ever return to St. Louis, I’m excited to go back here and see the highly anticipated new wing of the museum opening next week.  In the mean time, things are a bit amiss due to the construction, but overall I found this place to be an absolutely lovely place to spend a solitary afternoon

Citygarden

A rather small-ish version of Millennium Park in Chicago, this was my resting spot on a self-guided, meandering, walking tour of downtown St. Louis. With the sweltering 95-degree heat on my brow, the fountains and wading pools were a welcome diversion (as was the super hip ice cream man who drove up to save the day for all the sweaty kids (ok, and grown-ups too).  I then perused the rest of downtown on foot, including a trek down to the Gateway Arch, and then promptly turned around when I saw the amusement park-type lines of tourists waiting to go up to the top.

Also,

This morning I explored the Ferguson Farmers Market with great delight since produce isn’t nearly as far along up in the “north country” of Chicago.  Ferguson is the epitome of small town America, and like most typical small towns seems to suffer from a case of Wal-Mart…. what with its quaint downtown business district that consists primarily of empty storefronts.  I really want to like Ferguson, though, and thoroughly enjoyed being part of the healthy turnout at the farmers market and taking a sweaty stroll through charming neighborhood near the downtown core.  If in Ferguson and in search of a meal, go to the Brewhouse, not Marley’s.  Just trust me on that one.