My Spring Break in St. Louis or "Angst at the Arch"

April 14, 2015  •  2 Comments

Just returned from Spring Break and thought it was about time for a personal story on the Blog. I'm wondering if any of you can relate to what you're about to read as I'd love to know I'm not alone! Honestly, I wasn't sure if I should even write about this as it's a bit embarrassing, but here it goes...

This year I let my daughter decide where she wanted to go for Spring Break since we haven't had a mother/daughter vacation in quite a few years. It was really a pre-emptive move on my part. I figured if she chose our destination, I would avoid hearing that lovely "teenager voice" complaining about everything wrong with our trip.

So where did she choose? St. Louis! Not exactly what I had in mind for Spring Break, but I had never been, and knowing how much she loves history (and hockey), I agreed.


A Visit to the Gateway Arch

The one thing I knew for sure I wanted to do in St. Louis was see the famous Gateway Arch. After all, it's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of St. Louis, right? When I found out you could actually ride to the top for spectacular views of the city, I was SO excited! My daughter on the other hand was less than thrilled. It's about 640 feet high and at first she was hesitant to go. Being the adventurous type, I was determined to convince her we had to "not think" and "just do"!

We arrived at the Old Courthouse to pick up our "Journey to the Top" tickets, and walked past a few exhibits on the history of the Arch.

Side view of the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri where you can pick up tickets to the top of the Gateway Arch.Old-Courthouse-St.-Louis-MissouriSide view Old Courthouse St. Louis, Missouri.


This one in particular got my attention - a model of one of the original "pods" that carried passengers to the top. It looked like a tiny space capsule with 5 seats crammed inside and no windows. All I kept thinking was, thank goodness times have changed because you would NEVER get me in one of those things!


Gateway-Arch-Pod-to-the-TopSt. Louis Gateway Arch pod used to take people to the top of the arch.


We made our way to the entrance of the arch and patiently waited for our boarding time to be called.


Entering the tram ride to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri.Gateway-Arch-Journey-to-the-TopEntrance to the Gateway Arch tram ride to the top in St. Louis, Missouri.


Walking toward the boarding area felt like waiting for the Space Mountain ride in Disneyland. There were lots of interesting displays on the walls about the construction of the arch, but I never saw any photos of what the tram really looks like. We made our way down the stairs and were told to stand in front of the steel door with our boarding number on it. Here is what we saw...


Door-to-Enter-Tram-Ride-Gateway-ArchDoorway to enter tram ride to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri.


The door looked like something out of Alice and Wonderland. It was tiny to say the least. I had convinced myself that this was no big deal. Just a short 5-minute ride to the top. I was excited to hear we could spend as much time as we wanted taking in the the views (and of course taking pictures) before returning back down to earth. Camera at the ready, I heard the cars coming down to pick us up. As Door #4 opened, I stared in utter shock and disbelief at what was in front of me.


Tram-Pod-Gateway-Arch-St.-LouisTram pod to ride to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri.


The tram car looked exactly like the "pod" we had seen in the exhibit! (Note: this picture is a close-up of the pod in the museum. I was so stunned after that door opened, I forgot to take a picture of the actual pod!)

My daughter climbed in without hesitation along with another adult dad and his daughter. My heart was racing, my hands started shaking, and all I could say was, "I'm sorry, I can't do this."

I've never thought of myself as being prone to panic attacks, but there I was - completely frozen!!!

Just the thought of being closed into this thing with 3 other people sent me into a full-on panic attack. I said goodbye to my daughter (telling her to please take pictures for me), and walked away. I honestly thought I was going to cry. I was so thrown off-guard by how much this affected me.


Panic Attacks? - not me!

I never understood panic attacks before this. I've always thought I would never be "that person". And there I was, sitting in the lobby waiting for my daughter to come back and tell me how ridiculous I was. How could I have let the arch defeat me? Am I getting old? What the heck is wrong with me? I was so disappointed in myself.

About 20 minutes later, my daughter returned from her ride, took one look at me, and wrapped her outstretched arms around me. All she said was, "Come here. Poor mama." I think she saw the sheer terror in my face when that steel door opened.

We walked outside and she shared her iPhone pictures with me. Here's some of what I missed (Photo credits: Hallie Bigman).





Shaking it off

Once I started taking pictures outside, all of my anxiety disappeared and I was back in my happy place, looking for that unique shot of the famous arch. Here are a few of my favorites.


The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri photographed from the side.Gateway-Arch-St.-Louis-Missouri-Unique-ViewA unique view of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri.


Gateway-Arch-St-Louis-with-SunburstGateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri shot from one end with a sunburst.


Gateway-Arch-in-Spring-St.-LouisThe Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri at the beginning of Spring.


So that was our traumatic event at the famous Gateway Arch. I can only think of one other time in my life when I've even come close to feeling the way I did that day. I was getting ready to shoot a Bar Mitzvah party at UC Berkeley's Memorial Stadium and got stuck in a Field Club elevator. Felt like the walls were caving in!

I would LOVE to hear from anyone else out there who's experienced panic attacks or something similar. Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.


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Cheryl Bigman Photography
Thanks for sharing your experience MJ. Congrats on actually making it to the top! As much as I would have liked to have seen that view, reading your story reaffirmed I made the right decision.
I completely understand where you're coming from with this story.

I visited St. Louis whilst on a cross-country road trip in 2010. My friends and I were very excited to check out the arch since we had never been to St. Louis and figured it was a must-see attraction. I read some articles before departing that explained the tightness of the pods that take visitors to the top, but I never thought it could be as bad as people made it sound. I had never suffered anything that I would label as a panic attack, and I didn't even see such a thing as a remote possibility.

We purchased our tickets, waited in line, and eventually sat down in our pod. I felt fine until the doors shut. My palms got sweaty, and I started breathing heavily. If it weren't for a few minutes of Angry Birds, I'm not sure I would've been able to make it through that ride! However, what waited at the top was another story.

The doors opened, and we exited our pod. I was struck with fear as soon as we cleared the unloading area and the super-low ceiling appeared. I'm not a tall guy at all - about 5'10 - but even I felt boxed-in in such a closed environment. I took a few pictures and slowly made it across to the other side, but my legs felt like jell-o and I felt light-headed the entire time. I had to sit down on the steps near the 'down' pods to regain composure. I don't think I've ever felt more relieved than when our pod's door opened on our return trip.

I would absolutely tell anyone that they must see the arch when they go to St. Louis, but I always put it a cautionary notice for those who suffer from any degree of claustrophobia. It's great to hear that other people have felt this way as well!
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