New Year's In Pictures: 20 St. Louisans Share Their Big Moments

By Jeremy Nulik
In Culture

Hands

All photos by Jarred Gastreich

On New Year’s Eve last year, Zak was homeless–again. He thinks he may have spent the holiday drunk in the parking structure above the St. Louis Public Library in the Central West End. He stayed there from time to time during the three years he lived in his car. Other nights, he slept in what is called ‘Tent City’ Downtown. What remained constant no matter his location was hopelessness and alcoholism.

“It does not matter what you look like or where you come from. If you was homeless in St. Louis, the most dangerous city in the United States, no one gives a crap about you,” says Zak.

On this New Year’s Eve at about 7pm, Zak is standing behind the counter of the Coffee Cartel. He is the shift manager tonight. Though many would be bummed out about working on New Year’s Eve — a night reserved for revelry — Zak is grateful. If he has any regret about the last year, it is that he waited so long to find a 12-step program and get serious about sobriety.

“I watched my father die from drinking at the age of 14. I know I am defenseless against the first drink. For a lot of people drinking means a good time, but I drank to put myself into a coma,” he says.

Zak started his journey about nine months ago by attending three or four recovery meetings a day. He found a sponsor and worked the steps of the program. Instead of sleeping above the library in the parking garage, he stepped inside and started sending out work résumés and applications. Since then, his life has been a country music record played backwards – he got a job, found a place to live, has a girlfriend and some money saved. His life is building in momentum. It’s a direction he plans to continue for the next year.

“I’m going to stay on my upward spiral. I’ve never had one of those. And when I get the urge to drink, I am going to remember the pain and loss it brought me,” he says. “I love being sober and boring.”

Like most folks that I meet on this New Year’s Eve, Zak reports that he does not place much weight on the significance of the occasion. Unlike most holidays, New Year’s Eve has few prescribed formulas. There is not a feast or gift exchange. There is no religious duty or familial obligation in our culture. But that is part of the beauty of the holiday. And whether Zak wants to acknowledge it or not, the occasion serves as a time for introspection. People grapple with their past–defeats, disappointment, successes.

At least, that is what Jarred Gastreich, an accomplished photojournalist, and I experienced on this past New Year’s Eve some 1,000 miles from Times Square, Miley Cyrus, Ryan Seacrest and dropping of balls. We traveled to six locations and conducted over 30 interviews in seven hours around St. Louis. We were searching for what New Year’s Eve means to the humans in this scrappy Midwestern city. Here is what we found:

7pm – Coffee Cartel

ZAK

What is something that most people don’t know about being homeless in St. Louis?

ZAK: If a homeless person is asking you for money for food, it is a lie. There are about six places you can go in St. Louis to get free food. They are really asking for money for cigarettes, drugs or something else. The only way you would go hungry in St. Louis is by choice.

7:30pm – Coffee Cartel

FAHIME MIRANDA

It had been two years since Fahime and Miranda had seen each other. Fahime is the owner of Sameem, Missouri’s only Afghan restaurant, and Miranda is a former Sameem server. New Year’s Eve doubles as Fahime’s birthday and, this year, he turns 40. Miranda, a St. Louis native who lives in New York, was in town visiting family and sent a text to Fahime wishing him a happy birthday. Turns out they were in the same part of town.

What are your plans for 2014?

MIRANDA: I want to marry rich. Preferably he is also good looking and interesting. I want to meet a really cool rich guy.

What is it like being the only Afghan restaurant in the area?

FAHIME: St. Louis is a great place to have a restaurant business. With the modest cost of living, people have more expendable income. In the next year, I want to be able to foresee what influences the economy. I have always had an interest in global economics and what gives people confidence.

8:15pm – The Royale

BYRON KAREN

There are berets galore at The Royale. Each New Year’s Eve, Steve Smith, owner of The Royale, throws a special party. This year’s theme: Beat poetry. Before the poetry reading, two decade-old friends, Byron and Karen, met up. They are on their way to a private party later in the evening, but Karen had written a poem, “Ode to the Royale,” and wanted to make certain Steve received it. She reads it to us. Poetic highlights include phrases such as “Steve, the daddy-o of the patio.” It also describes him as “cool as a cucumber–locally sourced.” Byron is an accomplished writer and food critic for Sauce Magazine. As a result, he is deft at avoiding direct questions.

What is your aspiration for 2014?

KAREN: To find love. That is tough part, though, right? When you look for it, you don’t find it.

BYRON: I see myself tap dancing.

9:30pm – Bikram Yoga St. Louis

ERIN

Erin, owner of Bikram Yoga St. Louis, is folding towels as we knock on the locked door to her 10-year old yoga studio in Richmond Heights. No one has shown up yet for the 10:30pm special New Year’s Eve yoga session. Each year around 50 of her students take part in a 90-minute, candle-lit, silent Bikram yoga session. For the uninitiated, Bikram is yoga that takes place in a humid, hot (at least 105 degrees Fahrenheit) environment. This year, celebrating yogis paid a donation of $40 that goes directly to Bi-State Pet Food Pantry as an entrance fee.

Why would Bikram yoga be a good way to welcome in the New Year?

ERIN: If you asked every person who came through the door, they would all have a different reason. It is a healthy way to ring in the New Year. Instead of filling your body with toxins, you welcome the new year with a final savasana. It means you get to start fresh.

10:05pm – Bikram Yoga St. Louis

ALI CAT

Allison started participating in Bikram yoga classes four years ago and was hooked instantly. She was able to use the practice to meet weight loss goals. Now the people in her studio have become a kind of (very sweaty) second family to her.

What does Bikram yoga mean to you?

ALLISON: These people are my family. We take care of each other and hold each other accountable. It also is the time that I get to defragment my brain. Tonight, I get to close out my year and start clean by doing something I love.

What will 2014 bring you?

ALLISON: Well. This last year was my year of rediscovering me. So I hope that this year will be the one where I blossom and flourish.

11pm – First Night

RACHEL ANDREW

Rachel moved to St. Louis just a few months ago from Beaumont, Texas. She says the Beaumont region is known as “the cancer belt” due to the number of chemical plants. Thus, Rachel was happy to leave her hometown to study nursing at UMSL. And even happier that the first person she met in St. Louis was Andrew – her now boyfriend. He was her server at an Olive Garden in South County.

How did he go from being a server to something more than a server?

RACHEL: My mom. She asked him if he was into online gaming, and he was.

ANDREW (nods): Elder Scrolls Online. (I have to ask him to repeat the name of the game three times, partially due to cold and partially due to my ignorance.)

11:07pm – First Night

JAKIRI RICK

Rick and Jakari are out for a quiet, drama-free night. They first met on Rick’s birthday in 2010. Jakari made the first move. She said, “So, you are the birthday boy? Do some shots with me.” Fast forward to 2013 and Rick has now moved in to Jakari’s place – though most of his stuff is in the basement because it clashes with the Jakari’s furniture. Rick nods with a knowing smile throughout most of the interview.

What are your plans for 2014?

JAKARI: We are planning to travel to Atlantic City in February and Memphis in May. I’m looking forward to going back to school also.

RICK (nodding): We will take it as it comes.

11:16pm – First Night

MARK RENEE

Standing in the lobby of the Big Brothers Big Sisters building are three police officers. A man stands up from a bench and grabs one of the officers by the arm. He motions to a woman seated on the bench. “I need you to arrest this woman,” says the man. “Why?” says the officer. “She stole my heart.” That is how I meet Mark. He was out with Renee, whom he met on Plenty of Fish just last year.

What was the most significant thing that happened to you in 2013?

MARK: I met her (motions to Renee). It has been the most profound and significant event in my life. It capsized me. I mean, just look at her. She is a captivating person.

11:24pm – First Night

GINA TRAVIS

Travis was Gina’s rebound guy–not usually the guy you end up with in the whole happily-ever-after sort of way. The Fresno couple met in 2010 at a Boozestorming, a drinking and brainstorming event. The couple moved to St. Louis in 2012 and, last year, Gina and Travis made it official. They were married in a small ceremony on the abandoned church property across from the Contemporary Art Museum. The couple also moved from a Downtown loft to the Old North Neighborhood in 2013. Between the two of them, they have creative projects galore they have unleashed upon St. Louis–and they have plans for more next year.

What are you most looking forward to in 2014?

TRAVIS: Gina’s book comes out in the spring of 2014. She got a book deal based on her blog, iworkatapubliclibrary.com. We are also looking forward to hosting more Boozestormings and getting more involved with the restoration of the Old North neighborhood.

GINA: Some of the kids in the neighborhood know I work at the public library, so they keep asking me, “When is the library?”

11:37pm – First Night

JORDAN CACHET

Cachet traveled with her boyfriend Jordan, a St. Louis area native, to his hometown for New Year’s Eve. The two are students at Arkansas State University. Jordan is graduating this year, and he plans to move back to St. Louis.

What are you looking forward to in 2014?

JORDAN: New beginnings. I am graduating this year. But it’s only a four-hour drive or an hour and a half flight. I think we can make it work.

Seen at First Night – Midnight, Jan. 1, 2014

FIRST NIGHT

FIRST NIGHT 1

FIRST NIGHT17

12:03am – First Night

18 SALLES AMANDA_Resized

Tears stream and freeze on a young woman’s face. She grasps onto the man next to her and lets loose more tears. Amanda, a 19-year-old St. Louis native, first met Salles, a 21-year-old native of Brazil, a couple of years ago at Wentworth Military Academy. They fell instantly in love. Amanda has been learning Portuguese ever since–the language Salles used to propose.

How do you say “marry me” in Portuguese?

SALLES: Casar conmigo.

I guess that worked. How do you feel right now?

AMANDA: Amazing. I feel amazing.

12:10am – First Night

20 JARRETT_resized

Holding his own dance party in the entrance of a bus is Jarrett, a St. Louis native who is a student at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo. He is studying nursing and plays running back on the football team.

What are you looking forward to in 2014?

JARRETT: I want to continue to accomplish good things and see 2015. I want to stay alive. I am from St. Louis, man. Right now, I am just floating.

12:45am – Contra Dance

contra

Compared to the icy wind outside, the inside of a humble dance hall on the campus of Webster University is a warm, glowy celebration beacon. The revelers inside swing, promenade and do anything else that a “caller” instructs from the stage. Though they have been dancing for hours, the sweetness of their expressions and the vigor of their steps has not fatigued. With the four-person sets and the nature of the instructions, the untrained eye may call this square dancing. But it is in fact contra dancing–a hybrid of Celtic, Appalachian, Old Time and New England style dance. This particular group of dancers meets on a weekly basis and some even travel to contra dancing celebrations. The music is a mixture of Irish, Americana and Norwegian folk complete with a flute and banjo.

12:53am – Contra Dance

DANA ROBIN

I sit down next to Dana. He is one of the few people seated during the wild dervish-like frenzy. His wife, Robin, has been coming for several years. As the dancers wrap up the routine, Robin approaches.

Why did you choose to spend your New Year’s Eve contra dancing?

ROBIN: Unlike some dances where you are bound to one partner, this is a highly social form of dancing. It changes with every person and with the music. Some people flourish greatly and others shuffle. You cannot find a group of nicer group of people. And where else can you pay $10 and dance all night?

1:24am– Contra Dance

KATHY

By day, Kathy is an oncologist and physician. But even before she chose that as a profession, she was playing the guitar. For the last 12 years, her passion has been contra music. She picks the guitar, banjo and assorted other strings.

What did you plan to do in 2014?

KATHY: I am going to be writing a lot more tunes and growing musically. Contra music is more fun than other music that I play because you can manipulate the dancers with the pace and volume of the music. It’s an organic experience.

1:55am – Coffee Cartel

TEARFUL

Clearly he is not getting the hint. After a whisper argument, a young woman turns and covers her face. The suit-clad man with whom she is arguing turns around in frustration. He storms off in the opposite direction. When he tries to approach her again, she torques her body further away. The rest of the crowd, too full of alcohol to drive home, looks on awkwardly. They look at their phones and busy themselves during their wait for cabs.

2:01am – Coffee Cartel

CARTEL 2

There is a disagreement at the bar. A young man tosses up his arms in frustration and begins to chide the barista for slow service. He turns to a couple nearby to back up his cause. “I have no idea what you are so pissed about, dude,” is all he gets in reply. The barista threatens to call the police if he does not sit down.

2:03am – Coffee Cartel

CHRISTOPHER AND JEREMEY

Jeremey has been living homeless off and on for the past six years. The St. Louis native says that most of his childhood was spent in group homes or youth centers. It was not until he met Christopher that his life began to take a significant turn. For the first time in his life, Jeremey got a place of his own in October 2013. The only tough part is that it is in Chicago – five hours away from Christopher. The two are determined, however, to make their relationship and their vision for the future work.

What did you learn last year?

JEREMEY: I had to learn to trust myself and not depend on old, familiar relationships. I came to a new understanding about myself when I saw the suffering in the eyes of someone I love. I saw the affect that my actions have on the people I love. It’s made me a better person.

What is your greatest aspiration for 2014?

JEREMEY: We are getting our careers in order and researching how to start a new youth activity center. I grew up in those environments. And a lot of them don’t give you the feeling that they really care. They just try to provide a safe place with a facilitator to keep an eye on you. But these kids feel alone. And when you feel alone, you need someone to say that they care about you. I want to create a place where kids feel loved.

Special thanks to Rebecca Kerley, Coffee Cartel, The Royale and Bikram Yoga St. Louis.

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