Monday, April 08, 2024

Visting St Louis: From Jail to the Arch

[Composed: 11/3/2023]

I just got back from visiting one of my long-time customers in St. Louis, Missouri. This customer specializes in jail communications. Think specially secured Zoom for prisoners and their loved ones.

This has been a fascinating field to write code for, as it has intense security and legal requirements that must always be met.

While I've worked for this customer for years, this was my first visit and very much felt like a homecoming. When the company started, it consisted of a few individuals; now they have grown into a truly impressive operation.

After our meetings, they asked me what I wanted to check out in the area. Simple: While I wanted to see the famous St. Louis Arch, top on my list was to go to jail. I was hoping I could see the system that I'd been working on for so many years actually deployed in the field.

They were kind enough to oblige, and in relatively short order, I found myself face to face with a hardened kiosk in a local jail that was running the comms software I'd helped build. We got a full tour of the small facility, at least the parts that didn't contain active inmates. I even got to hang out in one of the cells they use for isolating prisoners. It was all quite the experience.

After leaving jail, we made our way to the Arch. While I'd certainly seen pictures of the famous Arch since I was a kid, I'd never appreciated just how massive it is. Nor did I realize that you can go inside of it.

In the lobby, while tickets were being bought for our group, I noticed an obviously 1960s-era tram car. Hmm, I thought, back in the day, that must be what they used to ride up to the top.

Eventually we found ourselves lined up outside narrow hatches, waiting to ride to the top. The doors opened, and people climbed out. At that point, I realized that the retro car I'd seen in the lobby wasn't an artifact; it was a preview. Four of us squeezed into our tiny car and up we went.

The ride takes a few minutes isn't particularly scary. A few times, my brain tried to chime in to trigger a fear response, but I was like, "Brain, chill. It's a fancy elevator ride. We're fine with elevator rides."

The view from the top of the Arch did not disappoint, though again I found my brain trying to convince me to panic. I kept reminding myself to stay cool; the Arch hadn't been blown over in the last 60 years, and it wasn't going to blow over today.

After the Arch, we partook in another St. Louis tradition: eating Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. Now, this is a tradition that I can fully get behind.

Upon ordering, they asked me if I wanted concrete or not? I mean, how could I not want concrete? Of course, I had no idea what they meant, but it was ice cream, so what could be bad about it? Apparently, 'concrete' refers to a "shake so thick that it is served upside down".

At the end of the long day, our little group returned to a shuttered office so I could grab my rental car and head to my hotel. As we pulled into the parking lot, a system alarm went off. In a few minutes, our group had laptops out on a picnic table and were debating the source and fix for the alarm. As I problem-solved with fellow programmers, in person as opposed to over Microsoft Teams, I had to smile at what a surprisingly meaningful way this turned out to be to close out the day. We'd gotten back to our roots.

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