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The fastest route from Minnesota to Little Rock in Arkansas, sadly, does not go through St. Louis. St. Louis is on the Eastern side of Missouri and the Mighty Interstate 35 follows down the west side, passing through Kansas City. And while I’m sure that Kansas City has its fine point, it doesn’t have The Arch. Or perhaps I should use its proper title: “The Jefferson Expansion National Monument”

If you want lawn for kids to run, there it is – acres of open grassy space. If you want a free museum about Lewis and Clark, just head down the tunnel below the memorial. And if you want to go up and look down from the top of the inversed catenary, for a few bucks, you can do it. But for those of you who have never visited, there are some things you should know.

I would guess that among the most common fears that people have, two of them are – Fear of Heights and Fear of Closed In Spaces. And here you have them both. To wit:

Closed Spaces – The legs (if I can call them that) of the Arch are not very wide and this yields very little room for the contraptions that the designer devised to move people from the base to the top. They cram you and three or four others in a space less deep and wide (and much less high) than a MacDonalds table booth. And then you listen to the creaks and groans of your little pod as it slides its way up. And when you get to the top it’s not much better. You have a very narrow space to share with a hundred other people who are essentially trapped until the next contraption train goes down.

Heights – When you look out the window, you can actually look straight down at the ground below you. Even the most rational thinker will look down and think, if only for a second, “It will be today. Today the wind will be too strong and we will ride this thing down to be flattened on the parking lot. My name will be listed in the paper tomorrow. The President might speak at our memorial service, but at this point, I’m not considering it much of a consolation.”

Still, for most people, that’s all of the fears that they will experience. Only two. But what about the poor tour guides. Heights, closed spaces and Speaking in Public! That’s enough to shut most people down, but I suppose the head park rangers check out the psychological profile of prospective guides with a fine tooth comb.

But what if they guide does a count and it turns out that the number of people in the group they are leading is 13?

To the Arch General Manager, let me give you some advice: One day you might get in to work to hear your employees saying “We can’t find Tour Guide Jerry. He’s supposed to be giving the tour to the Exotic Pet Owners Club and the tarantulas and large snakes are getting antsy!” If this happens, my suggestion to you is to look in or behind the large Teepee in the Native American section of the historical exhibit. He will probably be in a fetal ball. Perhaps screaming.

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April 2007