An Open Letter to Joe Holleman #snOMG

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Hello Joe,

Yesterday evening, I read your piece “Snowfall special report: hang onto your side mirrors” at STLtoday.com. The story came to my attention via Facebook, while I was planted on a comfortable chair, in the serene, front-window seating area of The Gelateria on South Grand. In a sense, I was living the yuppie fantasy that your story referenced, definitive proof of the narrative that there’s a plugged-in, pissed-off generation of complainers sitting at keyboards all across St. Louis City, ready, willing and able to debate public services online… in between sip of our soy-milk-infused British breakfast tea.

Truthfully, I was drinking exactly that and, yes, I was surfing the web, too. When I wasn’t surfing and sipping my London Fog, I was working away from the distractions of my house, taking part in the digital economy that a lot of us engage in, at least part-time. After reading your piece, I looked around the room and saw grad students in their first week of classwork; one young couple on a telltale study date. There was a bartender from a Cherokee nightspot, relaxing with his Apple laptop. Random folks came by for scoops of gelato. They were a group made up of different skin tones and ethnic backgrounds; that’s kinda the way on South Grand. In some respects, these folks are now the go-to, ready-made butt of jokes, the perceived-to-be snotty, entitled class of digital natives that’s morphed into a cheap punchline for anti-City rants.

And I believe your piece was an anti-City rant, Joe. Nothing short of one, aimed not at the City as a governmental entity, but the City as a collection of people. A day later, what makes me sad, rather than last night’s mad, is that the piece was cooked from what feels like standard recipe stuff. You started off with a pound of generalization: that the City’s delayed, then-aggressive response to snow removal was directed by a group of noisy, braying, young whiners, over-reliant on their keyboards, under-reliant on their bootstraps. You tossed in a dollop of cliche (that City residents are obsessed with dog parks and the nearness of organic foods) and a pinch of the trite (that we live, in large numbers, in lofts). It’s not so much offensive, as it as tired, played-out and frankly, not that fucking funny. The punchline’s stale and so’s the joke’s basic premise. But it’s a great recipe for a Friday afternoon quickie.

Mind you, I understand that the position of a metro columnist is often to stir the pot, using familiar, water cooler-ready threads about our region. Using short-hand’s part of that gig. It’s why any St. Louis piece can dip into our common, shorthand language: wedding mostacholi, Ted Drewes, “going to the East Side,” the high school question, Stan Musial. These are are the standards, the chesnuts, the go-to’s. They’re joined today by the new shorthands, of which your piece, Joe, was impressively loaded: furbabies, county-born millenials, social media platforms, hybrid vehicles. The same people that were desperately sought for years by the City (young folks, with careers and, yes, a few disposable dollars) are now a gag, worth ridicule for, of all things, wanting the best for the City. They’re mocked for suckling at the teet of Mayor Slay’s Twitter feed, or Lewis Reed’s Facebook updates. Amazing.

But trend discussions only go so far, don’t they Joe? You’ve worked in another old trope of opinion writing and that’s to pull out an anecdote. Find something in your own life, write it from your own perspective, present it as if it speaks to a larger whole. I’ll go ahead and throw one of those in real quickly from my own last week, ‘cause my opinion…well, I can type, so it’s very important. My story goes like this:

There’s a neighbor of mine, stays just across the street. We live oh-so-close and do say “hello” a lot, but we’ve never really spoken. We share proximity more than anything; this is what binds us most of all. So: we’re genial neighbors, but have never cracked open a Busch beer in the middle of Connecticut Street. Our loss, maybe.

But the other day, I helped push him out of a snow bank in the middle of the same street. His car was somehow pointed both the right and wrong ways. With his shovel and cardboard, I could tell what was up and after another quick “hello,” I was pushing his car right into the middle of another snow bank in the dead-center of Arkansas. Yeah, that didn’t go great. Three cars were now stopped because of this, but they could’ve slipped and slithered by, if they’d chosen to. Instead, the drivers each bailed out, shoveling and scraping and offering a lot of advice on how straight to keep the wheels.

Some of us pushed again. The car stalled and the wheels spun. More advice was given. More backs were bent. We pushed once more. Eventually, the third time was the charm, the car gingerly lurching down Arkansas towards the safety of Arsenal. It was a forced sort of community-building, but it happened. And for the first couple days of this mess, I saw a bunch of this. People may’ve been on their handhelds, but they were also digging out neighbors, or were just saying “hi,” when passing on the thin strips of cleared sidewalk. Frankly, there were moments that were kinda nice. A bunch of them.

Here’s another example, pulled from our recent snow crisis:

I’ve not driven since this past Saturday. Not once. My truck’s a junker with tires as traction-less as my boots. But two of my part-time jobs were off for the week; the other two could be done from coffeehouses. So I worked in coffeehouses. Four of them! What yuppie heaven, this South Grand! Over the week, I visited my local bank, pharmacy, microbrewery, post office and library. Honest and true, I visited each one at least once. That’s called livability. It’s called residing in a neighborhood. My neighborhood, Tower Grove East, gives me a scare every-so-often, a moment that makes me really consider my owner feeling about class, social hierarchies, ward-level politics and racial relations. But 99% of the time it’s provided me with conveniences and necessities and culture and diversity. I love it where I’m at, even if I have to accept and f(sometimes) resent a few of the warts endemic to living an urban experience.

I’m sorry, you don’t see the same City life I do, Joe. Possibly, my Tower Grove East lifestyle could really be that different from the way you roll in Francis Park. And I’m sorry that snark trumps sincerity, even as I’m aware that being a metro columnist doesn’t imply advocacy, or championing causes. As importantly, I also understand that hits and page views are the coin of the realm. Writing a story like your “Snowfall special report” is easy money. You couldn’t help writing it, I suppose.

Neither could I.

Thomas Crone,
Recovering Cynic

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  • dempster holland

    I found the article quite amusing. But it should not be taken as being opposed to
    young professionals moving into the city; it is just a little dig at the tendency of
    some of them to be self-righteous. When I worked on a Washington Ave develop-
    ment about ten years ago, I was amused when a Post-dispatch employee moved
    into a Washington ave loft and then began to complain about the noise and the
    crime. Welcome to the city, I thought. So with side-street snow removal–it goes to the
    point that some city problems are not easily solved and with such snow, the best thing
    to do is hope it melts fast Sometimes the younger folks think everything should be
    perfect.

    • T-Leb

      I think 99% of people would settle for the main roads/snow route to be taken care of 2-3 days after the storm ended.

      • Eric Cooney

        I agree, some supposed snow routes were as bad as my street. Most reasonable people realize that there’s too much street parking to do all the side streets, even with this large amount of snow. (As a side note, the group Mr. Holleman is targeting is probably less likely to own a car, or have less per household. So they’re less likely to be affected by this, and contribute less to the street parking problem.)

        From my point of view: snow routes should have no parking during emergencies, and enforce that with tickets. Those streets are essential to keep the city functioning. Next, it should be mandatory to shovel your sidewalk (unless you’re physically unable to of course). This week I’ve seen dozens of pedestrians walking in the street because it’s more clear, in the dark, wearing dark clothes. We need pedestrians off the streets and on the sidewalks for safety.

        • Daniel L.

          “Most reasonable people realize that there’s too much street parking to
          do all the side streets, even with this large amount of snow.” What is this based on? Please visit any other city in America that receives snow. In DC, for example, they have at least 10 times more cars parked on the street in about the same area as St. Louis city, and somehow they manage to magically plow all of their roads, even the “side streets”, despite not getting all that much more snow than St. Louis. In my 20 years there I never head anyone argue that the city should stop plowing the streets. In fact, it would be totally asinine to do so, which is why I’m flabbergasted than so many St. Louisans actually believe that the city shouldn’t take care of its roads!

          • Eric Cooney

            Both sides of my street in Tower Grove East are completely filled with cars every day except street sweeping day. Both sides of every street near me are. If you let people park like normal and try to plow, you make a bigger problem. And I don’t know where people are supposed to park if you set up a snow emergency single-side parking. Maybe the city can invest in improving the alleys and incentivizing building garages to get cars off the street. I know that I wouldn’t want to drive through my alley everyday, even if I did have a spot back there.

            What’s DC’s solution for street parking and plowing side streets? Growing up in a medium city in Wisconsin, St. Louis is the only big city I’ve lived in. We should look into what other cities do.

            I originally was someone who thought the snow plan was awful, but as the week progressed, I realized I didn’t have any better ideas.

    • Peter vzm

      the professionals may have been the ones who most vocally (e-mailedly? ) raised concerns, but they were far from the only ones who were impacted by the snow. I submit that the entire technology and technique for snow removal could use some creative updating.

    • Adam

      “…it is just a little dig at the tendency of some of them to be self-righteous.”

      yeah, but young professionals are no more self-righteous than people in any other broad, vague category. that Mr. Holleman felt this was a legitimate thing to “dig” on just exposes his own self-righteousness.

  • STLgasm

    Sippin’ my coffee with a big thumbs up to you, Thomas.

  • jhoff1257

    Thank You.

  • Bobby OO

    Sorry Thomas, I roll with Joe. The words may have been capricious in their choice, but City Government only caved because of the number of whyners who jumped their cases. Politics is way too much about keeping people happy these days. And I really don’t see the connection or why the “Clay Card” was played at all.

    • Michael

      Of course, but complaints didn’t generate from a concentrated group of dog walking, latte sipping hipsters. It was a lazy, vacuous column. https://mapsengine.google.com/map/viewer?mid=zlJ6exAu0jKQ.k34m3KaU1SQk

      • stannate

        Responding to constituent concerns is what local politicians should do. Period. Keeping people happy means the politician has a higher chance of keeping his or her job.

    • Peter von zur Muehlen

      well, I didn’t read Joe’s original article. I do not spend my working day connected to a computer. Much of my free time, maybe. But, I am puzzled by the remark that “politics is way too much about keeping people happy.” What does that mean? I, for one, was amazed, after living with an almost impossible to drive on snow cover street, and hearing from many quarters the lament of how the side streets don’t ever get plowed that there was some government response from Slay to actually do the plowing. Now, I didn’t actually see any plowing get done on my street and then the weather changed and fixed it anyway.
      So I ask though, what should it be about? Why should we not have some viable procedure for clearing side streets in such cases. I don’t know what that strategy should be, but throughout all these city streets are people who live and who have jobs and who need to drive to those jobs. I am sure that many of them, like me, are not working as professionals, we don’t have lap tops and we can’t telecommute. We can’t afford snow tires or snow blowers and we can’t afford to miss work. Sunday was one thing, the whole town pretty much shut down, but by Tuesday most people where expected to get to work. I saw lots of cars barely able to get down the street and many more getting really stuck right on my street.
      I get that historically there has not been any effort into snow removal for side streets, but in the interest of the well being of the community, it does seem like there should be something. Luckily, the snow this bad is an aberration.
      I think it is actually pretty cool that Slay was so responsive and that he generally seems to have his ear to the ground and is engaged with who and what goes on in this city. Saint Louis city has so many great things about it and even more potential for being amazing.

    • Daniel L.

      “Politics is way too much about keeping people happy these days” – Umm, wouldn’t this describe an ideal state of politics? Would you prefer that the government tried to make you unhappy?

  • rgbose

    Snow requests came from all over the city. I’m guessing from a wide range of demographics.

  • d.j. wilson

    the testy Tom Crone is back. well all right. like back from a previous century, the RFT days. and using the “f” word. now we’re talking. game on.

    • Brian Ireland

      Not sure how, but I actually enjoyed both Mr. Crone’s and Mr. Holleman’s columns.

  • stannate

    Perhaps Joe’s issue is that of jealousy. He saw a group of city residents voice their concerns, and got results. Maybe he should do likewise instead of hinting that these same residents should just shut up and deal with the snowfall and poor plowing maintenance.

  • Mark Groth

    Great read. With a couple exceptions, it appears the Post-Dispatch continues to disappoint and fade from relevance. It’s like they hate the city…I guess they’ve given up on the millennials reading their staid columns.

  • wump

    Take the fucking bus, problem solved

  • STLEnginerd

    I do think the whole snow thing has been pretty over blown though. St. Louis get 2-3 snowfalls per year that require plowing. It makes it hard to justify maintaining the infrastructure to make it worth plowing, especially when the halflife of snow in st. louis is pretty short relative to our northern neighbors. I doubt very much that the plow operators got done with the snow routes and said cool lets all go home. Pretty sure they plowed till the snow started melting. So crying about a particular street is pretty naive. That said politics is about serving the majority and some times nature says, “Hey current administration I’m going to F you in the A”. See every natural disaster in history. Its an unfair aspect of the job. They were smart though in the response, “we tried, we hear you, we care, we will try to do better next time.” In reality they will probably gamble that the next bad storm like this will take place 20 years from now so why change anything. That’s politics.

    • Daniel L.

      The equipment to plow the snow was available but not being used efficiently. Did you notice that once they decided to plow the “side streets” (a uniquely St. Louis term) that it only took 24 hours to finish, despite it being many more miles of roads that they had been working on prior? They spent the previous 72 hours either going over the same arterial roads or not doing anything. If we could calculate the dollar amount of lost income, productivity, and business activity from the city’s failure to use common sense, it would be in the tens of millions, and I don’t think it’s overblown to make a big deal about that. I think any necessary infrastructure expenditures to prevent this in the future, assuming it’s not just a matter of poorly allocated existing resources (which it probably was), would be well worth it.

      • John R.

        “side streets” is a uniquely St. Louis term? I’m not so sure about that… anyway, I had heard that part of the problem is that they indeed diverted attention away from the main streets early on to do some ineffective chemical spraying on sides and that this is what made the main streets jacked up longer than they should have been. Regardless of what happened, hopefully lesson learned.

      • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

        Yeah, “side street” is not unique to St. Louis.

        In Chicago, for instance, who received even more snow (30″ or so, I think) this season, the same main-road-then-side-street plan is in place. The difference though is that Streets & San maintains very thorough notice signs that tell: a) what parking passes are allowed on particular streets, b) what day/time monthly street sweepers will service each street, and c) when the amount of snow prohibits parking on each street (for plowing purposes).

        More importantly though, they WILL ticket and tow your car if you’re in violation of one of the above notices, no excuses.

        Many consider it combative and a bit over-reaching, but you can’t argue with the results. It all goes back to the basic city planning idea that in order to structure city service properly, you need to fully enforce the codes/laws that enable you to do so. Even if it does annoy people…they’ll get over it or rack up payments.

  • J

    You know, as a twenty-something who grew up near Francis Park and still lives in the city, I can’t ever seem to catch a break in St. Louis.

    • wump

      boofuckinghoo. francis park sucks, might as well be the county

      • J

        Case in point

        • wump

          you need someone to hold your dick while you pee?

          • Adam

            that shit is completely uncalled for. why is it so difficult for you to have an adult conversation?

          • wump

            that part was a joke, but francis park sucks, thats just like, my opinion man, but i stand by it. its like richmond heights with uglier houses.

  • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

    Not sure if this will post in the thread (or if we’re even allowed to), but…

    http://images1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20120421064125/morph-society-4real/images/a/a9/Bravo_Bravo.gif

    Also think that article laid it on heavy, thick and sticky.