Monday, June 27, 2005

 

St. Louis

I've been through St. Louis a number of times but never spent any time in the city. The last transit was 17 months ago after my first eagle trip to Keokuk. I camped out in a hotel near the St. Louis airport on Super Bowl Sunday (Pats 32, Panthers 29) hoping a winter storm wouldn't prevent me from flying back to DC the next day.

This weekend I took the short Southwest hop from Kansas City to St. Louis to look around, take in a couple of Cardinal games, and give my new Canon G6 digital camera its first real workout. There was no possibility of wintery weather this time as temperatures topped out in the high 90's each day. On Saturday my first stop riding in from the airport on the Metrolink was Forest Park. The bus stop to ride into the park looked crowded and the entrance was within sight, so I started walking. It took about 45 minutes of strolling to reach the St. Louis Zoo.

In the River's Edge section, the best exhibit is the hippo tank which was constructed to provide an underwater view. I also got a look at a capybara, giant anteaters, a black rhino, hyenas, mongoose, and elephants. I don't mean to be a snob, but when I saw the giant tortoises from the Seychelles I didn't bother to stop because I didn't see how it could be more interesting than seeing Galapagos tortoises in the wild. I paused at a sea lion pond for a rest, then came to a couple of small, very active Malaysian Sun Bears. I lingered there for a while then continued on to the other bears. Most of them were trying to avoid the heat and were resting, but a couple of huge griz were pacing around. Again, it was not quite as impressive as seeing griz in the wild in British Columbia, but I watched them for a while.

After a lunch of sorts I headed to the penguin and puffin exhibit. Outside they have Humboldt Penguins from the temperate climate of Chile. This was a new species to me so I tried to get some good shots as they preened just a couple feet away. The penguins from further south are inside a dome that is cooled to 45 degrees, so going in there was quite a change from the sweltering heat. Here they have Gentoos and Rockhoppers, which I have seen before, but they also have the larger King Penguins which were new to me. Continuing on, Horned and Tufted Puffins shared another cooled dome. The Atlantic Puffins I saw in the Gulf of Maine last year are similar to the Horned Puffins, but the Tufted variety is different and (in my opinion) not as cute.

I covered less than half the zoo in about three hours, so if I ever go back there will be plenty left to see. It was starting to rain, so I decided to head for my hotel downtown. I found a bus stop as the rain became a downpour, and stood there for what seemed like forever until the bus appeared. By the time the bus got back to the rail station the rain had almost stopped, but I was thoroughly soaked. The hotel only had a smoking room available when I checked in, so in order to get out of my wet clothes I took it rather than waiting a couple of hours for a non-smoking room. And of course the first thing I did after getting out of the wet was to jump in the pool.

I also managed to squeeze in a short nap before walking over to Busch Stadium, which is being torn down after this season to be replaced by a new Busch Stadium next door. As I found my seat, the history of the place started to seep in. "Wow," I thought. "This is where the Red Sox won the World Series." No doubt anyone there wearing a red cap and shirt would start with something other than last year's World Series fiasco when reflecting on the 40 years the Cardinals have played at this venue.


Old Busch Stadium

Old Busch Stadium opened in 1966 and resembles other multipurpose stadiums of the era such as the since-demolished bowls in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Philadelphia. Comparing it to a modern facility such as Miller Park in Milwaukee, the deficiencies of Busch Stadium quickly become apparent. I'm not going to cite a laundry list of shortcomings, but I thought the worst part was just walking out of the park after the game due to inadequate exit gates and stairways. As I said, the new stadium is being built right next door to the existing structure, but it's apparent they are going to have do demolish a large portion of the old stadium to finish the new one. If the Cards make the World Series, there's going to be less than six months to do a lot of work.

The Cards' record indicates they are the best team in the National League, and they played like it Saturday evening in drilling the Pirates 8-0. Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds and some guy named Yadier Molina hit home runs, and Chris Carpenter pitched a four-hit shutout to pick up his 11th win. On Sunday I walked around the Arch and other downtown sites before heading back to Busch for a 1:15 start. The Cards jumped out to a 3-0 lead as Reggie Sanders and that guy Molina hit homers, but after that the home team dozed off and the Pirates came back to win 5-4 in 10 innings. After the game I caught the Metrolink back to the airport and returned to KC.

One way I judged the G6 was to see whether an image was usable without resizing. This image of Cardinals Manager Tony LaRussa is a 500x375 crop of the original 7-megapixel image. I did my usual levels adjustment and sharpening. Although it is far from perfect, I think it is pretty good considering that 97.4% of the original image has been cropped away.


Tony LaRussa

The G6 has a built-in neutral density (ND) filter which electronically makes the camera less sensitive and allows the use of slow shutter speeds. The usual usage of this is to for shooting waterfalls and fountains at a low shutter speed with the camera mounted on a tripod, giving the water a wispy appearance. However, I found myself using it when shooting the Arch with the sun behind it. Even though the sun was blocked by the Arch there was so much light that at the camera's smallest aperture of f/8, the maximum shutter speed of 1/2000 was still too slow. I dialed in the ND and got this:


Arch

After using the G6 intensively for a couple of days, the main thing I don't like about it is the lens cap. It doesn't feel real secure so it has to be attached to the neck strap, but the way it attaches isn't very elegant. With my S45 you don't have to worry about a lens cap, and with my 1D the cap is either securely on the lens or in my pocket. I'm getting used to the G6 menus and controls, so I'll attribute any difficulty with them to a learning curve.

St. Louis provided an interesting diversion for the weekend and I wouldn't mind going back to see more of the zoo and the new ballpark when it opens. When I first started coming to KC in the late 80's, there was no doubt downtown existed only between 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. Downtown KC isn't quite as dead now, but it seems St. Louis provides an example of what many cities would like to have: A downtown that is busy day and night, seven days a week. KC is putting $250 million into a new downtown arena, but it's going to take a lot more than the Arena Football League or the WNBA (or even the NBA or NHL) to give KC what St. Louis has with Busch Stadium and the Cardinals, which is tens of thousands of people coming into downtown 81 or more times a year, renting hotel rooms, eating in restaurants, and making the city alive.


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