Friday, 7 November 2008

Belleville – Collinsville (November 6)

Day 53

When it stopped raining, a short hop took me to Collinsville, another St Louis suburb on the Illinois side of the Mississippi. This is where Pixie Pit player Scott lived with his chinchillas. He had a crazy 70s, subterranean 'earth house', meaning it had been built completely underground with a grassy roof. It was impossible to even see such houses from the road sometimes, although they would have windows at the back. An above-ground level has since been added. The open-sided, spiral staircase took me past his stained glass, paintings, insect models and all kinds of weird stuff. The main living area had hobbitesque round windows and beige carpeted split levels, while the other rooms were a rabbit - or perhaps chinchilla - warren, and in my bathroom the taps had button controls. Scott had already retired from a career in engineering at 56 and used to live in Chicago. He had been a keen biker until recently when he developed a problem with his feet. In his late forties he had ridden 500 miles in five days.

We dined at a restaurant that used to be a bank with a friend of his, Alice. I had a burger, which by US standards was small and only came with a few slices of potato. Yes, more meat and potatoes. Alice had lived all over the States and had visited more European countries than I had. Later we went back to Alice's 'through the looking glass house', which was crammed full of mostly glass objects and every room was largely one colour. My favourite was the red room. It was pretty amazing and I wished I'd seen it in strong daylight.

Scott and I played Scrabble back at his place, where he foisted beer, coffee and pecan pie upon me. He played real fast and I won both games, largely because I lucked out on all the blanks. I forget what my bingo was in the first game, but I know I got one and usually do get one. Then again I ditch the less common and duplicated letters for this purpose. I like playing bingos. A lot. In the second game I opened with FOREVER and apparently there is a one in eight chance of drawing a bingo with the first seven letters. The trick is seeing it of course, especially when a blank is amongst them. There was some controversy about certain words, as the two letter list Scott uses was different to the one I had been playing with. ZA was not acceptable for instance. Why can't everyone sing from the same song sheet?

Before retiring, Scott showed me his chinchillas, in cages, in their own special room. I'd never seen one before and he had 23. There were black ones, white ones, brown ones and ones with a combination of these colours. They were excited by my presence (which is entirely understandable) and did somersaults. Scott used to have a whole lot more and some 'ranchers', as they are called, keep thousands for breeding and also for their fur. A black one can fetch $300. I didn't realise they were so large. Scott talked to them all and gave them food while I was there. He used to name his chinchillas in the past, but now he calls them all 'Princess'.

I still can't believe how generous people have been to me. Scott took me to breakfast at the St Louis Bread Company, and like dinner last night, insisted on paying. Later he made me tortilla wraps stuffed with chicken and veg for lunch and gave me coffee in a flask, as well as leftover Hallowe'en treats. When I get back to the UK and go out to a restaurant, cafe or bar, I'll forget to pay my share, as I'm so used to getting everything gratis.

1 comment:

Symphony of the Southwest said...

Boy, oh boy! You've had interesting experiences and met fascinating people on your travels. Where are you now? Will you be in Charleston on Thanksgiving week-end? I'm really thinking about chucking the old budget, and just flying out there for a few days.

Call me.

Carol Papalas