Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bellefontaine is the Place to Be

I had a dream last night that I ran against Mayor Marty Rudloff (who’s been mayor since I can remember) in Bellefontaine Neighbors, my old neighborhood. It’s created this insane nostalgia for the place I used to ride my bike around. Now, most people know it as the place you might get shot… or at least your bike will get stolen.

I’ve spent the past hour or so following some of the major streets on Google Maps and looking at their website to see what’s still around, and the patch of Bellefontaine that seems to still exist from my memory has dare I say… made me really want to live there again.

I remember going to Rinderer’s Drug Store or Riverview Dairy every weekend with the couple of dollars I could scrap up from couch cushions and my aunt Laura’s basement and buying 10 cent Laffy Taffys. I’d get a paper bag with something like 30 pieces of candy and then ride my bike up to my cousin Ryan’s house where we would go on a sugar bender and play Resident Evil on Playstation 1 until 2 a.m. when my uncle Tom would bring home malts from Crown Candy.

Then there are those memories of rollerblading up to St. Jerome’s parking lot to play the best street hockey the town had to offer. My friends Jason, Mike, and I would skate for hours ignoring the soreness in my back.

What about the Mayor’s Cup tournament where St. Jerome took on St. Pius? It was 35 degrees. The soccer ball stung like a bullet every time it hit bare skin and St. Pius has a red haired kid named Mike that towered over everyone and kicked the ball like a sixth grader. We lost, but we still got a trophy from the Mayor and that is still the only event that’s been televised on cable television that I was part of the cast. If I remember correctly, my uncle Tom recorded it and we soon found that I was picking my nose in one scene.

Then there was the pool that was already a pretty amazing sized outdoor/indoor facility, but soon a children’s area and waterslide were added. I remember having my long flowing Kurt Cobain hair and getting my first kiss from Shelley. Grandpa used to swim underwater like a whale, back and forth, without every needing a breath. No matter how hard we tried Ryan, Jake, and I just couldn’t keep up.

Halloween meant grabbing pillow cases because you were about to embark on a four hour collect-a-thon ending at the school janitors house who always had his grill going. Enjoy a free hot dog while looking onto his gruesome scene of an old refrigerator with plastic body parts filling the shelves. Then that weekend, you’d huff it up to City Hall for the best 25 minutes haunted hayride you could find.

There was soccer practice running hill drills at Tanglewood Park. There were the train tracks, the creeks, the child made paths that took us hours from our parents and brought us into a world we owned. It was still ok to drink hose water. You played in corn fields. Playgrounds were overrun with families. Sidewalks were filled with bikes and roller blades.

And then St. Charles happened.

People started moving away. The K-Mart and Grandpa Pigeons went out of business. The huge confederation of Catholic Churches and schools started dying one by one. It was no longer alright to roam the streets after dark. Bikes were getting stolen out of garages. Finally my street seemed to be the only place still intact. All of our friends were moving to St. Charles and instead of riding our bikes and knocking on the door we had to make dates for our parents to ferry us out to St. Charles.

I was looking on Bellefontaine’s site to see what remained.

Rinderer’s and Riverview Dairy are still kicking. Thank god for that.

The church section of the site is pretty empty. St. Jerome, Good Console, St. Pius, St. Sebastian, and St. Catherine are no longer listed.

I followed Google maps along one of my normal bike paths and just miss the simpler time. Bellefountaine is what a suburb should be. A tight-knit small city. It was designed to be traveled by foot unlike St. Charles, O’Fallon, and Wentzville where it’s a 20 minute drive to the nearest business or friend’s house and you have to navigate hundreds of lights in between.

Mom and pop shops still occupy the few strip malls in the town instead of Wal Mart, Sam’s, and E.B.Games on every corner.

You couldn’t beat the malls. Jamestown had everything you needed and with its several 1980s inspired fountains that looked nice and gave the mall personality. Northwest Plaza was this monstrous villa of commerce with the best Tilt I still have ever seen. Now if more than 10 stores exist in either, I’d be surprised. Mills Mall and MidRivers Mall both look as stagnant as the similar looking houses surrounding them.

I don't know if I actually miss Bellefontaine or just how life was then.

I miss the community. Every now and then I get this vision of spinning upside down on one of those caged ferris wheels. I’m looking down into the parking lot of city hall where thousands of people manage to come together as a community. Parents drink beers near the pavilion talking about how great the Blues are going to be and anticipating the upcoming school year. Kids are running in between parents, drooling over the pinball machines that are being raffled off. Jake is spending all of his money below trying to win that sexy girl poster. I look to the right of me and Ryan laughs hysterically as the cage flips back around and all the lights and people start turning to a streaked blur until I come back to reality. But in that moment, I’m happy. Truly happy.