The Spelunking

If you’ve never been St. Louis, a visit to the City Museum is reason enough, especially if you have children. A sprawling paradise of scrap metal, concrete, driftwood, and threadbare tires, the City Museum is the playground you’ve wished others could be. Tunnels, secret passages, ramps, ladders, and slides fill every floor; most are made from recycled materials, including a fire engine, two airplanes, a castle tower, and a crane.

It is every boy’s dream. Girls’, too, but we have dibs, because only a boy can truly appreciate the thrill of climbing through a rebar tunnel, hundreds of feet above the ground. At the entrance, a warning sign proclaims that ‘you will get hurt’.

Naturally I was a little overzealous in my desire to bring Ian to this wonderland of goose-eggs and bruised shins. It was last year, and Ian was more than a little intimidated. Everything was so big, and so high, and so dark. I suppose it’s hard to relish the terror of slithering through a pitch-black tunnel when you’ve just learned to walk.

Ah, but now Ian is a year older. He’s had plenty of time at McDonald’s and Burger King to acclimate himself to narrow passages, winding tunnels, and precarious ledges. I was cautiously optimistic at the ticket counter; I knew Ian had more confidence in himself, and had become quite daring, but still…you can never tell.

The City Museum is the great equalizer – every man which passes through its doors is transformed into a 10-year-old. Circuit City once had a commercial where a couple enters the store. The husband’s eyes glaze over, he giggles once, and sprints heedless into the aisles. That was me. As such, Ian and I didn’t find each other until after I’d emerged from the first tube I could find, which led to the second floor. I asked him where he wanted to go, and he pointed, back the way I’d come. ‘That way!’

‘That way’ led to a small, wooden cave, dark and cramped, the floor covered in ratty hemp roping. The floor sloped upward to the opening of the small tunnel I’d through which I’d just passed, a tunnel which branched into several directions across the ceiling of the museum. I paused, Ian didn’t. He launched himself at the ropes, climbing for all he was worth. He only wanted my help as you want the help of a ladder or handle.

The real test, though, were the Enchanted Caves. These were new last year, and Ian had been terrified. The caves are dark, and lit with red, blue, and green; the walls sculpted into dragons and dinosaurs. The faces, the shadows, the teeth.

I quickly became ‘Dinosaur’, and Ian was my tour guide. Inside a passage just tall enough for me to crawl and Ian to crouch, filled with a cold blue light, he wrapped his arm around my neck. ‘This way, Dinosaur! Okay, Dinosaur? Over here!’

Who, me? Scared? Not this time.

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