Through the city by metro: Taking a trip down to Cherokee Street

Hanusia Higgins | Staff Writer

Without a car—and with an unwillingness to pay for Uber or cab rides—it can be difficult to get around St. Louis. That’s where the Metro comes in. Each full-time Washington University student is eligible to receive a U-Pass, so there’s no excuse not to use the Metro system—it’s useful, it’s free* and it’s easily available. However, many Wash. U. students seem to have an aversion to St. Louis public transit. Did you try taking the MetroLink to Balloon Glow freshman year and get scared away by the huge crowds? Did you board the wrong bus attempting to go to the Galleria? Don’t let one bad experience stop you from enjoying all that the Metro has to offer—with your U-Pass in hand, the world (or at least the greater St. Louis area) is your oyster!

*By free, I mean that it’s included in the incredibly high cost we pay to attend this university.

Here are some of my general Metro travel tips:

Plan ahead. Planning your route before you leave (and having at least a general idea of how you’ll get back) makes you feel more confident about your travel itinerary and prevents having to wait 20 minutes at the MetroLink station for the next train.

Be prepared. Bring your U-Pass and student ID (you need the ID for your U-Pass to be valid), and make sure your phone is fully charged or bring a portable charger. This is the key to your success, especially if you are using travel apps; they burn up a lot of battery life, and no one wants to be stranded in the middle of the city with a dead phone.

Use apps. This is a matter of personal preference, but I find Google Maps to be extremely helpful. It has a comprehensive database of the St. Louis transit system, and displays various options and time frames for your travel needs. The Transit Tracker—St. Louis (STL) app also has a lot of information but is less intuitive to use.

Be flexible. Sometimes, you might miss your bus. Or you might get on the MetroLink going in the wrong direction. When that happens, it’s okay—take a deep breath, get off at the next stop and figure out how to get where you need to go.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. In general, St. Louis Metro bus drivers are extremely knowledgeable and willing to aid you if you’re not sure that their buses stop where you want to go. Other passengers are also usually friendly and helpful. Sure, it might be a little awkward to ask somebody, but it’s better than suffering in silence and returning to campus three hours later than you intended.

This weekend, I took the Metro to a destination I’ve been wanting to explore for months: Cherokee Street. Spanning St. Louis’ Benton Park and Benton Park West neighborhoods, southeast of Tower Grove Park, Cherokee Street is a hub of antique shops and art galleries interspersed with Mexican restaurants and trendy bars and cafes. After hearing nothing but good things about this cool, semi-under-the-radar locale, I decided it would be the perfect spot for a Metro excursion.

To get there, I first took the eastbound MetroLink blue line from the Big Bend station to the Civic Center station. One of my favorite parts about riding the Metro is people-watching, and today’s group of fellow passengers did not disappoint: a few stops into my ride, a man dressed in a head-to-toe spandex Superman outfit entered the train. He had his hair gelled back like Clark Kent’s and even bore a passing resemblance to Henry Cavill. Superman sat down and struck up a conversation with another fellow passenger about his new movie that recently came out and discussed his strategies for defeating Lex Luthor.

After disembarking at the Civic Center station, I ascended the stairs to the bus circle. Finding the correct bus can be the most stressful part of a Metro trip, so after ascertaining that none of the parked buses at the station were mine, I was relieved to see the No. 11 bus pull up to the curb.

About 20 minutes (and one really cute baby in the seat across from me) later, I was stepping off the bus at the corner of Cherokee Street and Jefferson Avenue. Directly ahead of me was a large, questionably racially insensitive statue of a Native American person (presumably a Cherokee). I headed east on Cherokee Street, noting the laid-back atmosphere—this funky street was nearly as quiet as suburbia, with the attractions of the big city.

My first stop was The Mud House, a hipster-y coffee shop and cafe where I consumed a delicious breakfast burrito while admiring the decor. My favorite faux-rustic touch was the wooden case holding the iPad on which my order was taken. For dessert, I walked down the street to Whisk: a Sustainable Bakeshop. The airy, cheerful interior was a nice complement to the scrumptious baked goods. It was great to see that Whisk’s display case was full of vegan and gluten-free options. The vegan peanut butter and chocolate cupcake that I chose was reminiscent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in cupcake form, in the best possible way.

Stomach full, I wandered in and out of several nearby shops. The standout was Retro 101/Cherry Bomb Vintage, a local vintage institution. It was cleaner and more well-organized than most vintage stores I’ve been in, with plenty of fascinating finds.

I boarded the No. 11 bus at the same corner at which it had deposited me two hours earlier. I thought I was retracing my route back to Wash. U., but quickly realized that the vehicle was heading in the same direction that it had been earlier—that is, away from the Civic Center MetroLink stop. After a mild shock, I whipped out my Google Maps app and determined that the bus would stop at the Shrewsbury/Lansdowne I-44 station, where I could take the eastbound MetroLink blue line back to Danforth Campus. I ended up making a giant circle around the southern side of the city and arrived at the Big Bend station only five minutes later than planned.

So, yes, I got lost on an outing meant to prove how easy and useful the Metro system is. I realize the irony. But even though I was all turned around, I had an enjoyable time on Cherokee Street, and the St. Louis metro system got me back to campus safely (and only a little late) in the end. Thank God I brought along my portable phone charger.

graphic resizedGraphic by Laura Ancona

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