Talk of the Towns

Talk of the Towns: 9.25.19

st. louis
Remember those lime-colored bicycles that seemed randomly strewn around the city, maybe by juvenile delinquents who just didn’t appreciate nice things? Many, alas, were stolen, some even repainted. To be sure, many LimeBikes were on kickstands awaiting the next rider to rent one. But since so many were treated like junk, Lime (based in San Fran) took them off the street. Simultaneously, electric scooters appeared en masse (pictured at top). Since then, our city has been overrun with knuckleheads riding them on the sidewalks and in the middle of the street with impunity. They act like it’s everybody else who has to yield to pedestrians, bicycles, cars, trucks, buses … and other scooters.

I could coin an epithet for this, if it weren’t already taken for motorcyclists: scooter trash. Well, I happened to ride a LimeBike one time for about 300 yards a couple of years ago. So, since the company collects an email address for billing purposes, last week Lime sent me a message. OMG. I had to squint! Beyond bright, it featured colorful animation of dozens of people on the scooters amid research data claiming how much energy has been conserved and how many millions of gallons of gasoline have been saved. Many of the little cartoon riders have scarves on, their hair (including quite a few ponytails) flowing behind them. And each and every one of them wears a helmet. Well, if some riders in other cities wear helmets, not one I’ve seen here has. Like I said, knuckleheads. They act like they don’t need a brain bucket. Are they invulnerable? No, that’s only in cartoons … and video games. Hmm. There is that. Injuries aren’t real.

The only slice of Hollywood we have here isn’t a filmmaker’s mecca; it’s a casino, for goodness’ sake. We may not be L.A., NYC, Atlanta or Chicago, even. The so-called cognoscenti condescendingly refer to the plains as ‘The Great Flyover.’ Well, we ain’t having it: Midwest filmmakers plan to blur that image and bring another into focus with the inaugural In Motion Filmmaking Conference Nov. 2 at the unique Covo coworking space in downtown St. Louis (the iconic building at Pine and North 4th streets originally housed Mississippi Valley Trust). More than 200 fledgling and full-fledged moviemakers will have an opportunity to learn from industry experts, hobnob with peers and participate in ongoing efforts to expand diversity in film. In Motion was organized by Continuity, a nonprofit whose mission is to expand diversity in media production through skill-based training, mentorship and opportunities for untapped talent. All profits from In Motion will support Continuity’s programs. Participants will hear from filmmakers whose work has appeared at Sundance and premiered on Netflix and national television. A pitch competition and networking event will round out the day. Organizers are seeking volunteers and additional sponsors.

Eager to try one of the brand-new chicken sandwiches from Popeyes? Dream for it. They’re as scarce as Bigfoot. Raves about the allegedly delicious sandwich went viral soon after the ‘Louisiana Kitchen’ chain announced its debut last month. Reportedly, the sandwich was merely intended as a promo to sell out sometime this month—but they were gone everywhere in a couple of weeks. When I called a local Popeyes, the woman who answered the phone was laughing before she introduced herself. But when your faithful scribe asked about the chicken sandwich, she stopped laughing, mechanically told me there were none available, and hung up. I didn’t take it quite as hard as some: At least one frustrated customer has sued the chain, and in Houston, someone pulled a gun at the drive-thru. Both are extreme, isolated incidents. Meanwhile, the company has responded with a tongue-in-cheek suggestion: BYOB. Bring Your Own Bun, that is, to create your own sandwich with Popeyes chicken tenders. (Alas, sans mayo and pickles.) Until the custom-cut fillets and pillowy brioche buns are widely available, the sandwiches will remain as rare as two-headed chickens. A poster at 8100 Manchester Road in Brentwood depicts an empty wrapper and crumbs. It announces: ‘Be Right Back.’ Gives one cause to wonder whether all this mishegas is just a marketing ploy.

the metro
Since the surgeon general’s warning in the early 1960s, cigarette ads on electronic media have been verboten. Some of them were pretty stupid. In one, a pretty nurse brings a pack to a handsome man in a white coat, because more doctors smoke Camels. (What could be wrong with a subservient nurse bringing a smoke for the doc and his male patient?!) I even remember some of the jingles, earworms that they were designed to be: “You’ve got a lot to like with a Marlboro. Filter, flavor, pack or box.” In one magazine ad, however, the guy playing doctor claimed that Chesterfields tasted better. Then, there were the rugged Marlboro man and Joe Camel, the cartoon character targeting young smokers. Egregious, all of it. Fast forward to ex- or would-be smokers getting their nicotine via vapors generated by an electronic device. That those devices are killing people, too, should come as no surprise. But the ads are just as disingenuous. One features green, power-generating windmills in the background as the attractive vaping device comes together in the foreground, assembled part by high-tech part. Now, liquid flavors the device vaporizes are believed to be the culprit in the more than half a dozen deaths among hundreds of ‘mysterious’ lung ailments reported nationwide … at least one in Illinois and one in Missouri.

notable neighbors
Once upon a time, the shop had a wider window fronting Manchester Road, with ‘O.K. Vacuum’ in bold red lettering for any driver to see. Now, the window is half the size, and a sign on one wall that only westbound drivers may notice. So, does business suck these days? Um, yes; that’s exactly how owner Timothy Joseph ‘TJ’ Detterman likes it, probably rolling his eyes for the thousandth time at a visitor’s comment that’s too clever by half. Business is plenty brisk for a one-man operation, and half the space is just fine for TJ: It also means his rent is lower. One morning before the store opened (it’s closed Sundays and Mondays), more than a dozen upright machines, some pink or purple, were off to one side. It’s like they were at attention, ready for their next command. “That’s money just sitting there,” says TJ, then pointing out a Dyson dissected on the carpeted worktable, its motor and about two dozen other parts spread out, ready for deep cleaning. (Oreck? They’re out of business.) There also were a repaired shirt press and a floor buffer ready for pickup, the buffer for a customer who owns several Subway restaurants. “I can take a look at any small electrical device,” he says, like a floor lamp or a toaster. But unless you can bring in the machinery, he’ll have to refer another technician to repair the built-in vac at your residence: “Coming to your house is outside my normal eight or nine.” He’ll repair your mom’s Hoover or grandmother’s Electrolux if parts are still available. And some machines he’ll even fix on the spot, time permitting. He doesn’t advertise, but relies on repeat business, word-of-mouth and Google or Yelp reviews, which are plentiful and mostly 5-star.

One of the nicest fellows you’ll ever meet, TJ loves the neighborhood nature of his trade: He enjoys getting to know his customers, many of whom already know each other and chat off to one side while he goes about his business—which he’s done for more than 25 years, first as an employee, now as owner-operator. A huge poster of his son at three months is on one wall, his upper lip bright orange: yams. Jack, now 2, often spends his days with TJ, having a blast with his Hot Wheels cars and track, a plane or educational game. Will he take over the business? TJ shrugs, and smiles broadly. “This is what happens when you don’t go to college,” he says. “It’s like a scared-straight program.” But he’s a Ph.D. when it comes to a household necessity most of us don’t have a clue how to keep running, whether it has a disposable bag or filter to clean. (Say you sucked up pet mess, and your handheld unit smells for weeks—plastic absorbs the odor. Yuck. Insert a dryer sheet. Voilà! No more stink machine.) TJ prefers a vacuum with a replaceable bag. Generally, the machines are built to last; he knows where they’re made, and in some case, by whom. He only sells one model brand new: Riccar, made in Fenton.