Yes, we'll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God. - "Shall We Gather at the River," Hymn
Downtown St. Louis gets up early. Each morning, as I make my way to the office, there are certain scenes to greet me.
There's Gino, the hotdog vendor, hurriedly emptying his white van and setting up for the lunch crowd. There's the small army of commuters, some in uniforms, some not, making their way to their respective jobs from trains and buses.
And then there are those who amble into Starbuck's or one of the corner convenience stores to get a quick chemical jolt before officially starting their day.
But this morning there is another group that is among our ranks. There are park officials and even some white-collar types milling through Kiener Plaza. Lots of them. A huge fence has cordoned off the side boundaries of the plaza.
While no one will 'fess up, the talk is that brass from the Democratic National Committee are in town and St. Louis is among four finalist cities going under the microscope as a potential venue for the DNC's 2012 nominating convention. The group most recently was in Charlotte, N.C. Minneapolis and Cleveland are the other contenders.
The fenced-off Kiener will be the site of a concert by legendary rocker Chuck Berry. The free show starts at 8:30 tonight. St. Louis officials are hoping that events like this will help show the excitement and local interest in drawing the DNC.
I, for one, hope it works. This city has an awful lot going for it. It has been remaking itself as a convention venue in recent years, an image that plenty of organizations who bring thousands of visitors to town have bought into. (I think PartyLite is in town this week.)
I am nice to tourists. I go out of my way to speak to conventioneers, greet them, try to help them find places or things, even volunteering to take a group shot so that the photographer can make the frame. I know when I am traveling, a lot of my most lasting impressions of places I visit are the encounters I have with the natives. Rude people are a turn-off and this is 100 times as true when you're far away from home.
As an unofficial ambassador for St. Louis, welcome DNC. Take a look around. St. Louis is a fabulous mix of culture and common Midwest working-class values. I'm sure that Minneapolis, Cleveland and Charlotte are all very nice cities and equally capable of pulling off a big political party. But none of them are St. Louis.
They don't have Forest Park and its many gems. They don't have the Arch and its fabulous grounds. (A prime location for an acceptance speech.) They don't have the history that St. Louis does in drawing people -- common and not -- from all over the country and the world.
So, let's all gather at the river in 2012. You won't be disappointed.