Douglas Coupland,

Girlfriend in a Coma

Tour 1998
Day 16
Chicago-St. Louis

     St. Louis has a vibrant Edge City culture encircling a standardized, decaying urban core. The hotel is inside the core, but the reason I chose it is that it adjoins the Gateway Arch, which is truly magnificent. It’s pure Saarinen, and the scale is so huge and its stainless steel coating so odd that it feels like a cross between Mars Attacks and the as-yet-unvisited-by-me Bilbao Guggenheim. I got into a discussion of sci-fi movies with two local women, and we agreed it was funny the way aliens always choose tourist attractions such as the Washington Monument or Mount Rushmore as their initial invasion points. Also, I thought I’d hear a hollow gonging noise when I rapped on the arch’s surface with my knuckles, but it’s solid as concrete. Beneath the arch is the Museum of Westward Expansion, and I spent an hour in some kind of trance, trying to envision the life of the pioneers.     At the nightly reading, I finally realized afterward that when you hand out Post-it notes to people in line, they get really huffy if you tell them to write their names down on them. But if you simply hand them a Post-it, they know what to do and happily do it.      Also, I noticed today that reporters who are evidently in therapy ask the most tortured questions, which, of course, reveal loads about the reporter and kind of waste my time. For example: “Do you think life is essentially meaningless? If it isn’t, why isn’t it? What would you explicitly tell your readers to believe in?” I mean, what am I supposed to tell these people?      The hotel was like the Sesame Street hotel. It was as if Muppets were running the show–like kids. This is what hotels must have been like during the Brezhnev regime. I ordered strawberries from the menu, and they showed up dumped into a pile in the middle of a plate, accompanied by a room-temperature spray can of whipped cream. I mean … I could go on, but it’s probably best not to dwell on it. I have no idea how they can get away with it. I just don’t. But the really cool thing was that the Tums factory–yes, Tums, as in little antacid mints–was almost directly across the street. And all these Tums workers were standing outside in their paper jumpsuits, smoking during their breaks, and I just wanted to go and, I don’t know–hug them.      Oh–and in the lobby was a vitrine bearing the sign “Authorized Dealer in the works of Red Skelton.” Dial (800) 899-4RED for more information. And it was full of clown paintings.      Also … I scanned the newspaper, and the daily comics in the United States are in color these days!      Rereading Stephen Jay Gould.