Let’s say you are a European, Asian or South American young person on holiday and upon arriving in St. Louis you decide to check out the Blind Venetian Youth Hostel and Café.
It's the summer of 2015 and the project was completed well ahead of schedule last summer. Your Megabus arrived at the Multimodal station downtown early in the morning. You get on the Metro with your bicycle and backpack and head for the Grand station. From there it's just a five minute ride to the Culver Way Ecovillage and the Blind Venetian.
As you turn left off from Vandeventer you notice that workpeople are adding the words ‘Ecovillage District’ to the cut stone sign for Westminster Place, which is somewhat confusing because you're turning onto Olive Street, but you know you must be in the right place because people are turning front yards into gardens and installing solar collectors on roofs.
As you approach Culver Way from the east, the first thing you see is the massive green wall over the greenhouse in the sunken courtyard. Lots of people are in the courtyard tending gardens, stretching or sitting at tables in their exercise garb. As you let your eyes drift back up the wall, which is covered with every imaginable color and texture of plants, you notice that interspersed among the plants are balconies with people tending gardens just hanging out or lounging in hammocks. As your eyes drift up further, you see more people tending planters on top of the parapet walls. Behind them are greenhouses; the greenhouse roof appears to be made up of row after row of pyramids at odd angles. Just then a horn honks and you realize you're about to careen into a parked car and you hit the breaks and swerve just in time.
A bit shaken and embarrassed, you pull to the curb and look around at street level, but you can't help looking up again at what you decide must be the combination of solar collectors and clerestories. And now you notice that interspersed among them every 20 feet or so there are poles or skinny towers of some kind.
As your eyes drift further and further up you hear yourself saying ‘what the f…?’ instinctively bringing your hand to your mouth to contain your surprise. At the same time you can feel your eyes widening to take in the view of the strange looking whirligigs turning in the wind at the pinnacle of these poles that appear to be taller than the building they are on. You know notice that you are apparently blocking someone's parking spot who is patiently waiting behind you with their blinker on. A pretty girl smiles back just before you turn and race toward your destination, while thinking that the neighbors must be used to sightseers like you by now.
You hear a couple seated at a table nearby speaking what doesn't quite sound like Spanish that you decide must be Portuguese as you pull up to what must be the bike rack because it has other bikes attached to it even though it looks more like a piece of sculpture or a rusting Rube Goldberg machine that someone dumped on the sidewalk.
Several people are eating or looking at menus while waiters and waitresses scurry about. A middle aged woman walks by with a little dog with turned up ears and ribbons in the curls on top of its head. The dog stops to sniff your leg so you take this opportunity to ask if this is the Blind Venetian. “Oh no,” she says. “That's the next building down. This is the Sunshine Inn. Noticing the sign painted on the window now which says The Sunshine Inn Again, you ask her about the ‘Again’ part. She says, “Oh, it was closed for many years and the ecovillagers brought it back again.” “I see,” you say as she walks away. You notice another equally odd looking bike rack in front of the Blind Venetian but decide to leave your bike here since it is already locked.
As you slip on your pack and begin to walk the labyrinth of tables and chairs between you and the Blind Venetian, you catch a whiff of something in the box a young man is loading onto a cargo bike that looks like it's made out of bamboo. “Wow! What you got in there? Smells great,” you exclaim as he walks by.
“Fresh baked Spirit Bear goodies,” he says as he loads them onto the bike. “That's quite a bike you’ve got there. Looks like it's made out of bamboo,” you say. “Twice as strong as steel at half the weight. We grow it right here on the site,” he says, reaching out a hand. “My name's Will. What about you?” “George,” you reply. “Sorry, I gotta run,” he says as he hops on his bike. “You staying at the Blind?” he asks as he starts to ride away. “Hoping to,” you say. “Would you recommend it?” “Absolutely,” he says with a smile, adding, “They have awesome baked goods at the café.” Gently punching your fist and saying “later dude,” he rides off. “Later,” you say as you turn towards the Blind.
A sign above the counter says ’Hostel Check-in: 7 p m.’ You look at your cell phone; it's a 10 am. As if reading your mind, the young woman behind the counter says, “I can check your bag now for you if you like.” “How did you know?” you ask, and she says, “Most people don't where a backpack that size when they are just out for a cup of coffee, and if that hadn't given it away your accent would have.” “Yeah, I suppose,” you say as she leads you to the lockers. “I'm Jill,” she says as she hands you the combo with one hand and reaches for your hand with the other. “George,” you say. Jill says, “Don't forget to tell Jamal that you ready have a pack in the locker when you check in tonight.” “Why's that?” you ask. “Well, first of all we don't rent to people who don't have any luggage and secondly we want you to take all your stuff with you when you go. You wouldn't believe how much stuff gets left behind.”
“Say, I've got a bit of time to kill. What's there to do around here? you say. “I think they're still serving breakfast at the Inn,” she says, “and we’re open till 5 and, oh yeah, the market is open ‘til 4. And there are tours at 10 and 2.” Pointing up she says, “We also have a pretty good travel and communities library on the mezzanine level.” “Where do I go for the tour?” you ask. Pointing east she says, “Four doors down at the Eco-Innovation Center. It's a good idea to buy tickets in advance. We fill up quickly and we limit the tours to 20 people at a time.” “How much are the tickets?” “We’ve been talking about raising it to 7; right now it’s 5, but if you stop at the desk on your way out, Amy can hook you up with a coupon that will get you a $2 discount.” “Cool,” you say, astounded. You head back to the desk. “Got to tend to this washer here,” she says, gesturing to a partly disassembled machine. “Ok, thanks,” you say, and you are on your way.
Please continue to Chapter 2
Yours in Community,