*Correction: it is spelled Zielinski not Zalinsky. We took a guess, and went down looking at strike three.
If you ever find yourself in St. Louis do me this favor; batten down the hatches, fill up the gas tank, and instead head 60 miles south to the town of Ste. (it's French) Genevieve, Missouri. It's a spot defined by its French roots and is one of the few places west of the Mississippi River that predates the Revolutionary War. Just don't drive too quickly because you might miss it. Heck, due to the great flood of ‘93 (look at me talking like a local) it's not even a spot you can see from the river, which brings up the very legitimate question of how we found such a town.
It all started (as most great stories do) inside a Louisiana, Missouri gazebo. Picture the NQLC team with a drill in hand as they prepare to try and fix a canoe seat (which Trent had snapped). Consumed by an exchange of fat jokes and uneasy laughter, the pair barely noticed the black Ford e150 van pull into the parking lot. By the time the two looked up, a couple had already emerged from the vehicle. The man stood at an imposing 6’4”(I think, I didn't measure him), and wore a brightly colored shirt, along with a hat which toed the line between a bucket hat and a pith helmet. His long white hair had been tied back in a ponytail, and for the first time this trip I noticed Clark’s (Trent) eyes turn green with hair envy. He was quickly joined by his wife, who stood more than a foot shorter than her towering husband, and together the pair took turns asking questions.
Once we had gotten through our story, it was time to fire back. This is how we learned we were talking to Rich and Pam Zalinsky, and they were on the last leg of their vacation. The two had gone up to Lake Superior and were now taking the Great River Road back to their home in Ste. Genevieve. After we had finished explaining we had never heard of the place, Rich refused to let this be and insisted we exchange numbers so he could give us a tour once we passed by. We promised to keep in touch, but as they piled back into the van, we quickly forgot about our new friends. That adventure wouldn't be for a few days, and we still had quite the issue at hand (remember the seat was broken).
Our debacle in St. Louis came and went, and it was now time to decide if we were going to take the Zalinskys up on their generous offer. We were nervous (seeing how we were robbed in St Louis), but also eager to trust again, so Clark made the call.
We had agreed to meet up at the town’s ferry, and since we were the first ones to arrive it was now our turn to wave down our new friend. We then jumped into the oversized black van, and once seat belts were fastened we learned the agenda; a tour of this historical town, followed by a stop at Rich’s store, then lunch, and finally a trip to the grocery store for a resupply (a pretty solid day).
Before we had even left the parking lot Rich cranked up the radio, and over the sounds of some song I'd never heard he explained his station of choice. The dial read 88.1, and it never changed. He mentioned they were a St. Louis based station, but unlike most, everyone who worked there was a volunteer. Throughout the rest of our tour, Rich would intermittently adjust the volume depending on the song. The only voice I recognized during the ride was the shrieks of James Brown, but sadly it was not the one song of his I know.
As we entered downtown the roads quickly became glorified one-way streets. Nobody coming the other way could sneak by the Black Beauty, yet not a single car seemed to mind. We did a giant loop of the town as Rich pointed out the origins of each house. Many had placards on the side which revealed their age, and when you start creeping into the 18th century you take notice. Furthermore, unlike a lot of other sites, we didn't pass just one historic house, instead, the downtown was filled with more old ones than new ones.
(Rich and I showing off the calf eye candy).)
Starring at this jump to the past I barely noticed we had come to a stop. With part one complete, it was now time to check out the shop. You see the Zalinskys own one of these downtown buildings, and inside you can find a pair of apartments upstairs, and their antique shop downstairs. Rich explained he identifies as a poet, but since that doesn't pay the bills he's also (among other things) a bus driver, a locksmith, and the owner of this unique business. We weren't given much time to browse through the old books and other knickknacks, but let me assure you, for the person who has everything this is the gift buying center for them.
Once out the door, it was a quick walk across the street to Rich’s favorite lunch spot, Sirros (you're welcome for the free add). It was here we not only were treated to a fantastic meal (which Rich wouldn't let us pay for) but also met the town’s number one bartender, Lauren. She talked to us as much as anyone who's still on their shift can, and apologized she couldn't snag us as her table. We assured her not to worry, and after we had finished our local beers we were about ready to call it a day. However, Lauren had other plans. She invited us to her BBQ set for tonight, and since we couldn't turn down a meal like that we got ready for round two.
(Hanging out with the area's #1 bartender, Lauren)
This encore performance took place after groceries, and a quick relocation of the canoe further downriver. With Rich returning as our guide we then proceeded to drink our way through town. Three bars, and a whole bunch of drinks later we would up at Lauren's home. It took a while, but it was worth the wait as we feasted on a combo of Caesar salad (my favorite), pork steak (a Missouri thing), bratwurst, and garlic bread. Both Lauren's son and Pam (Rich’s wife) joined the party, and we all stayed up much too late just enjoying each other's company. Our host’s generosity continued as she let Not Quite Lewis and Clark not only shower but also spend the night.
Needless to say our stop in Ste. Genevieve was a rousing success. I certainly wouldn't have written such a lengthy post if I didn't enjoy myself. It's a town full of history, and kindhearted people. You certainly won't find a Walmart here (and they're dammed proud of that), but you will stumble across a gem of a city. So again if you're in Missouri skip St Louis, find Rich’s store (Zalinsky and Friends), and make sure you tell them the boys of Not Quite Lewis and Clark sent ya.
(Good old Rich and Pam)