If that means something to you – or if you know Sam’s Meat Market in Ferguson before it was torched or had shopped at The Target there before it became a police staging ground — then everything about the images from that night looked different to you.
Because you know BreadCo on South Grand. You’ve eaten there many times, swilled the coffee, and can still summon up the sound of the automatic bagel slicer behind the counter heard over the chatter of university students and city workers.
BreadCo is the St. Louis Bread Company, a name found only in St. Louis. Everywhere else, the chain is called Panera. But it’s BreadCo in St. Louis, where it got its start. And South Grand is short for South Grand Boulevard. And, despite the many social media photos tagging the scene as Shaw, the neighborhood is Tower Grove, named for the massive park a block away, a place in warmer months populated by picnics and a Saturday farmer’s market and a kiddie wading pool and sometimes even corkball, a game played pretty much only in St. Louis.
You know this because you used to live here. In this city. In this town.
This was home. And now there is fire. Destruction. There is anger. There is hurt. And fear.
The images fly past. But they look different from afar, separated by distance but not familiarity.
And you are not alone. So many people have connections to St. Louis. You run into them all the time. St. Louis expats, bound by nothing if not a baseball team. Maybe they grew up there. Or their mom did. They used to live there. They went to college there. They worked there – maybe at Boeing or Anheuser-Busch or Edward Jones. Distant ties to the area are not uncommon for a city that in the 1950s was the nation’s 8th largest city by population and now barely ranks in the top 50. All those people had to go somewhere.
They were watching Monday. And they remembered what they could of what the city had been like, how the destruction was not just symbolic.
Across from BreadCo is a pawnshop that carries a mix of power tools and musical instruments. The window there was smashed. Same at the new restaurant Rooster a block down. And at Baida, the Moroccan place. They even smashed the windows at the Watkins’ Fuller Brush and Avon store, a shop that you could never believe managed to stay open, even in good times.
You know that when protesters shut down Interstate 44, the Compton Hill Water Tower soared in the background, just outside the camera’s frame.
And you recognize the parking lot in Clayton — filled by TV trucks and reporters doing stand-ups, just outside the courthouse where the grand jury’s findings were announced — as the place that hosts a big art fair in the summer.
You know that Quik Trip is the gas station chain that feels like it’s on every corner, where the clerks move fast and always say, “See you next time.” And that Walgreens are as plentiful in the St. Louis region as CVS or Rite-Aid in other markets. And you wonder if the Walgreens in Ferguson, which burned, stocked those cheap T-shirts near the front that were printed with the name of a local neighborhood or street, such as Kingshighway or St. Louis Hills. Did they sell Ferguson T-shirts there?
You know West Florissant Avenue, the scene of many clashes, can take you straight into the heart of downtown St. Louis from Ferguson and Florissant, two towns you once always had trouble telling apart.
And so you watch the protests from a distance wondering how it feels there, what it’s like for friends or family there, knowing that this is not just some stage for projecting a larger message. This was home.