Monday, March 15, 2010

Wild Piano Chase

For reasons related to the upcoming refurbishment of my church's pipe organ, I've been looking around for prices on renting and/or buying a digital piano. A few weeks ago, before Mozart and Monk pinned down most of my time outside of work for two out of the last three weeks, I decided to start by looking up Lacefield Music.

According to the internet, one of Lacefield's locations was in the city, only a few miles north of my church. I drove up and down the full length of the bad neighborhood where this store was supposed to be, but couldn't find it. I decided to cut my losses and drive out to the South County Mall, where I knew of another Lacefield location. Find it I finally did, after driving almost the entire way around the mall (because Google Maps gave me a very misleading impression of its location). The person who worked there seemed determined to give me prices on instruments other than the ones I was interrested in. But that was the most success I have had so far.

A few days later, I asked one of my sectionmates in the Symphony Chorus what piano store he would recommend. This knowledgeable person (a salesman at the city's venerable Shattinger Music) suggested that I try Ludwig Aeolian in Earth City. He described how to find it. I verified the directions on Google Maps. I even checked out their website, which still indicates that Ludwig Aeolian is alive and kicking. When I got to Earth City, I found myself driving around in an industrial park. All I knew was what street it was on - a street that makes a huge loop around the intersection of Earth City Expressway and I-70 - but I didn't know where on the street it was. So I drove around and around, looking and looking. I stopped at a couple of establishments and asked people if they knew where Ludwig Aeolian was. All I got was blank looks, of the "We just work here, we don't actually look at anything on our way in and out" persuasion. I called information. They had no listing for Ludwig Aeolian. Eventually I learned that the place had gone out of business months ago. Huh.

Today, I made a list of four piano dealers in the city and decided to visit them this afternoon. Two of them were recommended to me by a friend, two of them by a website. I scribbled down street addresses, phone numbers (in case I got lost), and directions from the nearest major streets, taken from a Google Maps search for each address.

I drove up Kingshighway looking for the first address. The street address was on Magnolia, but the Google Maps directions put it somewhere a couple blocks north of Manchester, and just west of Kingshighway. I first realized something wasn't right when I drove past Magnolia, knowing that I was still miles south of Manchester. I gamely went forward, deciding to trust my Google Maps. But there was nothing resembling a piano dealer (or a Magnolia Street) where Google Maps said it should be. And when I went back to Magnolia & Kingshighway, not only wasn't there a piano store there, but the house numbers were about a mile off the address I was looking for. So I drove east on Magnolia until I found the correct address. It was a pretty brick house with yellow trim, facing Tower Grove Park, in a residential neighborhood. There was absolutely no sign that a piano store was, or ever had been, sited there. I rang the phone number and got one of those "This number is not in service" error messages.

Now, you're probably wondering why I didn't just call all four of those numbers up front, and spare myself the frustration that you know is coming. By asking this question, you're revealing how little you understand the complexities of being a Fat, Stupid Jerk. If I had called ahead, I could have saved myself miles of driving and tons of frustration. But then I wouldn't have this hilarious story to tell, would I?

The second stop on my route was a few blocks south of a restaurant I had been meaning to dine at. So I forged ahead, way down Grand Blvd. (which, after all, was only a few blocks east of that brick house with yellow trim) to the southern tip of the city, near Bates Ave. I stopped to eat first, ordering enough food for two people at the Chimichanga Mexican restaurant, so that I could take a bunch of it home and enjoy a second helping later. I drowned my sorrows in a lime margarita, medium size, which is bigger than a pint but smaller than a bathtub. Then I hopped in my car, drove about a block, then swerved onto a side street (going the wrong way on a one-way) to park because the store was right there! Yes!

But wait - no! It was closed! It had a sign in the door saying that pianos could be viewed by appointment only. I called the number and spoke to a guy who, after listening to what I wanted, patiently informed me that he didn't sell (or rent) it. So that was no good.

Store number three was back in the bad neighborhood where I had tried to find Lacefield a few weeks ago. This time I had an exact house number, but the store wasn't there. Their phone number wasn't in service. The only thing I got out of my visit was an opportunity to run down a man in a stressed-out wifebeater, who ran out into the street heedless of traffic while wildly gesticulating and shouting and the women in the house he was leaving. Unfortunately, I missed him. But that's all right; the last time I was in that neighborhood, another driver almost hit me. Near misses seem to be a way of life on Cherokee St.

I turned around and went back down Gravois toward home, knowing that my last potential piano dealer was somewhere along there between Gustine and Chippewa - or so the Google Maps directions seemed to indicate. I was getting a bit disillusioned with Google Maps, though. The last address (on Cherokee) hadn't been anywhere near the block Google had flagged. This time was no different. I didn't start looking at house numbers until I passed Gustine, and immediately I could tell that I was in the wrong stretch of Gravois and heading the wrong way. I tried to turn around, but that's the part of town where the streets defy all conventions of Euclidean geometry, so that it takes (for instance) six right turns to get back to the street you started on, if you can get there at all.

Eventually I got back to Gravois and turned in the correct direction, but nothing resembling a piano store existed in the range of street numbers I was looking for. And though it's not unprecedented for a street number to turn up way out of sequence, I decided not to press my search any further. I did pull over and try the phone number, but I only reached a voicemail box with a generic "The party you are trying to call is not available, please leave a message" message. At this point, I frankly don't care if they're still in business or not. If they're that hard to find when you're really looking for them, they don't deserve the sale.

Or maybe that's just my headache talking. It's back for Day Two.

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