Sunday, July 09, 2006

Arch Support

We like tall things. And the St. Louis Arch is a Very Tall Thing. It is much taller and thinner than I imagined. It's taller than the Washington Monument, but not as tall as the Eiffel Tower. The Arch is also a lot younger than I realized. It wasn't completed until 1965. I'm not sure I like being older than internationally recognizable monuments.

The real surprise was the trip up to the observation deck. We are used to the office building observation deck where you take the elevator up to the top and there is a platform and a gift shop and maybe even a restaurant.

To get to the top of the St. Louis Arch you climb into a pod that looks like a space ship capsule designed by Austin Powers. Each pod only holds five people and they better get along. If your group is smaller than five, hope that your randomly assigned companions have good hygiene. The trip takes a couple of minutes and the cars are poorly ventilated.

Each tram is a group of eight pods that get pulled like pearls on a necklace up the inside the slender triangular base of the arch. They are inline when people board them, but stack one on top of each other as they go up the hollow inside of the arch.

At the top, the tram cars open onto stairs that go up to the observation deck. The cabin of a wide body jet is bigger than the observation platform. However, the views through the small rectangualr windows are spectacular. You can see the casino boats across the river, the new Busch Field baseball stadium and the courthouse where Dred Scott lost his freedom, and arguably started the Civil War.

The gift shop down in the undergound museum had a book that asked in an essay the rhetorical question "Could we build the Arch today?" It was challenging our lack of will to build bold monuments. I took the question to mean that there is no way this clever but cramped tramway inside a caternary arch would ever past muster in this ADA-accessible world. The Arch would have to be three or four times as wide to accommodate a more conventional vertical transportation system.

The current system seems like an afterthought that is not very comfortable for people of any mobility level. The vision of the Arch came first, and the other functions had to fit in the concept. Today that sort of compromise would not be tolerated. Whether that is good or bad can be debated, but the Arch is an engineering and artistic marvel.

Blatent Comment Whoring: What is the oddest form of transportation you have taken?


Impetua said...

I rode an elephant once... at the zoo when I was a youngster.

I also rode an aerial tram up a hill in Tbilisi, Georgia (then-USSR) to view the city and coincidentally either partway up the hill or somewhere nearish to the tram (I don't really recall which, I was probably hungover) was the burial site of Josef Stalin's mother.

The oddest, or at least scariest, was definitely the Aeroflot jet we took from Moscow to Tbilisi. This was in 1990 before the fall of communism. The flight attendants screeched orders into the intercom along the lines of "You there! Stuff that bag into the overhead bin and get the hell out of the way!" We were given little brown plastic bowls of warmish mineral water to drink as our onboard drinks service. No food was served that I can remember. Small digital handheld games were available for rent, which resulted in a cacophony of beeps and chirps from all the bored travelers playing them. The carpet was coming up off the floor in places and the seatbacks reclined both backwards and forwards, for your contortionist flying pleasure. It was early December so it was snowing outside, which did not exactly inspire confidence. And once we were all sufficiently herded into our seats, THAT was when the pilot and crew (other than the flight attendants) boarded the plane.

It was similar to those scenes of Chinese buses where people have cages of chickens etc., but with more overcoats and slightly fewer chickens.

Anonymous said...

You know what would be cool? If, across the river from the Arch, they built a REALLY big guy with a croquet mallet. I'm just sayin'.

It's not incredibly odd, but a few times I've needed to take one of those double-length buses with the hinge in the middle. And because it was busy I had to sit near the pivot point. It's pretty disorienting when the floor slides out from under itself.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

Not unusual for military people, but as a musician with the USO, I once flew into the Okinawan jungle aboard a twin rotor military helicopter. You could feel it "pulse" up and down as it traveled, which is a very odd sensation. Kind of like controlled falling.

BTW, that building in the lower right corner of your courthouse pic (the Adams Mark Hotel) is where I met my wife :-)

Anonymous said...

Well, I went up in the Arch once.

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to following your travels as you zoom across the country.

Mooselet said...

Claude - I like way you think!

I rode a camel once, but since I really didn't go anywhere but in a circle I don't think it counts.

When I was a teen and in the Civil Air Patrol we used to get to our search and rescue missions in a Korean era army ambulance that we called the 'meat locker'. A very uncomfortable ride with 18 or so kids cramed into the back.

My recent holiday included a trip on an 11 kilometre long gondola called the Skyrail over the North Queensland rainforest canopy. It was incredible.

Anonymous said...

I got talked into driving a dogsled in the woman's race when I taught in the bush. It was like riding a skateboard that’s tied behind a runaway motorcycle going as fast as it can! Oh, and they tied me to the I would lose their dogs.

Dimestore Lipstick said...

The tram system at the arch and the diagonally travelling "inclinators" at The Loxor Hotel in Las Vegas are certainly the strangest ways I've been transported vertically.

Horizontally? I once rode a pig at a county fair. No, wait--that turned out to be vertical, too.

TBG said...

Those incline railways in Pittsburgh are pretty funky.

But I did ride a camel once, in Morocco when I was a teenager.

Anonymous said...

The oldest operating machines I can think of having ridden are the wooden escalators at Macy's or the old elevators in Paris (you know, with the metal gate).

Anonymous said...

I rode my little brother all the way to adulthood. Does that count?


apricoco said...

I once rode a zip line between mountains in Costa Rica. Now, you might say this does not qualify because it isn't transportation per se. But, once you are on the third platform, it becomes transportation and because there is no other way back. None.

paula said...


Anonymous said...

TBG beat me to it -- but the inclines here in my beloved hometown are indeed pretty groovy.

Also rode in a hot-air balloon once -- which, given my fear of heights, wasn't such a smart decision on my part.