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Welcome to St. Louis: A cribsheet for out-of-towners

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 29, 2008- The St. Louis Beacon extends a warm welcome to our 3,100 media colleagues and the various political entourages descending on "the heartland" / "middle America" / "the flyover zone'' for Thursday's vice-presidential debate at Washington University.

You will find the October climate in St. Louis warm, cool, hot, cold, wet, dry -- so dress accordingly.

Should you be wondering, it is equally acceptable to pronounce the state's name as Miz-ooh-ree or Miz-ooh-rah, but there is no noise in Illinois. Also, winning Tigers college football is played at Miz-zoo. Which is not to be confused with the St. Louis Zoo. Don't look for moose at either location.

St. Louisans are, in general, a friendly and neighborly people. But they can be riled up. Topics best avoided in local bars: the InBev takeover of Anheuser-Busch; Jim Edmonds and the Chicago Cubs; the erstwhile coach of the St. Louis Rams; Jim Edmonds and the Chicago Cubs; the St. Louis Rams offense; Jim Edmonds and the Chicago Cubs; the St. Louis Rams defense; Jim Edmonds and the Chicago Cubs; the InBev takeover of Anheuser-Busch.

Here are some more facts and statistics you probably won't find in the tourist brochures:

2.7 million: Number of people who live in the Greater St. Louis area. That is just about equal to the number of people -- 700,000 -- who live in Alaska, if you add 2 million.

1965: Year the Gateway Arch was completed. (Sen. Joe Biden was 22; Gov. Sarah Palin was 1.)

630 feet: Height of the Gateway Arch. On a clear day, from the observation windows at the top -- if you look REALLY, REALLY, REALLY hard -- you still can't see Russia. (Or, Barack Obama's one house in Chicago.)

1927: The year Charles Lindbergh flew the "Spirit of St. Louis" on his record-setting, nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. (Should it come up, Sen. Biden, the flight was NOT carried live on cable TV, and FDR was NOT the president.)

20: Number of ice rinks in the St. Louis area where you might interview an undecided / decided / used-to-be-decided / Republican / Democratic / Libertarian / Independent / liberal / conservative / middle-of-the-road hockey mom who is wearing or not wearing lipstick and who has / or used to have / or never had a pit bull. 

41 and 42: The U.S. presidents (George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton) who participated in the first presidential debate hosted by Washington University in 1992.

$1.35 million: Cost of holding the vice presidential debate at Washington University, which is equal to ... oh, do your own math.

821: Chapter number of the nearest Moose Lodge in St. Louis.

700 billion: Approximate number of calories in such favorite regional foods as toasted ravioli (yes, we're talking deep-fried pasta); pork steaks (frequently pronounced "park" steaks); and gooey butter cake.

3,100: Media representatives who requested credentials to cover the vice-presidential debate. This figure is just slightly higher than the number of reporters who will open their stories with some version of "Meet Me In St. Louie, Louie." (You know who you are.)

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.

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