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September 2, 2010 | 26 Comments

An ‘STLLegend’ On Transit, Losing Weight, Finding Love, and Believing in St. Louis

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The first thing you notice about Charles Purnell is his smile.  He’s got the sort of warm, unassuming smile that conveys openness, with a hint of wisdom beyond his 26 years.  And talking with Purnell, about his life, his love of St. Louis City and transit, you get the sense that he travels well through life.

Purnell grew up in the North Pointe neighborhood in St. Louis City, surrounded by close-knit group of neighbors.  “Everyone in the neighborhood knew everyone else.  We were like family to each other.”  He attended Hazelwood East High School, and then Millikin University in Decater, Illinois for a degree in Communications and Theater.  “I always knew I would come back to St. Louis.  Some people like living in central Illinois, and it’s nice – don’t get me wrong, but I’m a city kid.”  And when talking about St. Louis, Purnell’s voice has an inspired, lightly reverent tone. “I know it sounds cliche, but this really is a beautiful city.  Every time I walk around, I find something new.”

And Purnell sees quite a bit of St. Louis.  He has never owned a car, preferring instead to travel by foot or by transit.  “I personally don’t see that much value in [owning a car].  It’s a useful tool, certainly, but it’s not what I prefer.”  He credits his love of walking and taking transit, along with better portion and dietary habits, with helping him lose over 45 lbs since college.  “My family has a history of high blood pressure and diabetes.  It seems we either die in our 40s – 50s, or live into our 90s.  I want to be the latter, like ‘Crazy Uncle Charles is telling his stories again!” he laughs.  “Plus, now I have to think about Stephanie, my fiance, and being there for her.”

Purnell and his fiance, also a graduate of Hazelwood East High School, reconnected on Facebook during his senior year of college and started dating shortly after.  “We chatted on Facebook for a while, and then when on our first date.  We watched “Rent” at the Mills and then went to Johnny Rockets for dinner,” he proudly recollects.  “We’re getting married on the fifth anniversary of their first date.  That way I don’t have to remember another date,” he adds laughing.

“At first my fiance had a pretty negative attitude about public transit.  But now sometimes on weekends we take MetroLink downtown.  It’s not as stressful.  I can see her attitude improving, and now she keeps up with the news about transit through me,” he grins.  They currently live in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood near Forest Park.  “I learned that my grandmother and grandfather lived on the same block when they were first married.  That’s pretty cool.”

Since being back, Purnell has kept himself busy exploring and participating in the community landscape.  After working at Hickey Elementary School for two years with AmeriCorps, he now works at Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis as a ticket seller and events assistant.  When he isn’t working, he loves volunteering through the St. Louis Cardinals’ Greening the Game, LouFest, KDHX, and other opportunities he finds around town.  If you’ve met Purnell, you notice immediately how open he is to what’s going on around him.  While being interviewed on an eastbound MetroLink, a long-haired guy in a red bandana overheard the conversation and piped in, and soon the two were chatting about KDHX and local music.

And chatting is something that comes easily to Charles Purnell.  If you are part of the St. Louis Twitter community, Purnell is known as @STLLegend, his handle on Twitter, where he tweets about music, volunteer work, St. Louis, civic engagement, news and of course, transit.  “At first I thought, ‘Am I only nut out here, on tweeting about public transit?’  But then I connected with other people who have similar ideas and interests.  And that’s what’s great about social media, you can find people with similar ideas, connect, get more ideas out there, direct people to different ideas and opinions.  It’s expanded the world for me.”

Purnell assures that his handle, ‘STLLegend’ is not a slight to the “real St. Louis legends, like Chuck Berry” but to a nickname from high school theater.

When asked about the future of St. Louis, Purnell’s voice drops and his eyes focus.  “I think St. Louis is a crossroads.  Either we can be a smaller city, or we can be a major city.  We’re starting to make the moves to be considered a big city…the restoration of bus service is good, Citygarden is great and gets people downtown, I think high speed rail between here and Chicago will be great too.  Let’s push ourselves out there.  We have to have the attitude that we are a major city.  It’s up to public officials and citizens to think that way.”

Have no doubt, Charles Purnell believes we can.

This Friday, September 3, Purnell is organizing a Pub Crawl with other Yelp members and anyone else who cares to join centered around MetroLink stations.  The evening will start at the Arch-Laclede’s Landing Station for live music at the Big Bang Bar at 5pm, and continue west.  Come out and enjoy taking transit to great local bars and meet other people interested in exploring St. Louis.

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26 thoughts on “An ‘STLLegend’ On Transit, Losing Weight, Finding Love, and Believing in St. Louis”

  1. Stllegend says:

    *slow, loud clap*

    Well played Courtney!

    My mom will like this since I never smile lol.

    A few editorial notes…

    Milliken is spelled Millikin

    Decauter is spelled Decatur

  2. RTBones says:

    OK, I call shenanigans!

    Metro Pub Crawl? You’ll notice all of those places can be accessed by Metrolink – nothing by bus. Why is that? Isnt Metro touting that it is a “system” – and not just “Metrolink” and “Metrobus?” What’s going on, Metro?

    Dont get me wrong – I have forever wanted to put together a pub crawl that entirely used Metro. In fact, I have actually done several. But to call this a Metro Pub Crawl is just silly because the early places listed are relatively easy to walk between, and the other two are a train hop away.

    I mean no disrespect to Mr. Purnell (who I believe as you say organized this) – that is not my intent at all. The event sounds like it should be a good time, and it is using transit. Good on him for organizing it. I am more carping at Metro. If Metro is going to have their logo on the site talking about the crawl, and really does consider itself to have a “system”, and really wants folks to USE the “system”, why doesnt Metro weigh in with a few options that might use the bus along with the train, and demonstrate it?

    1. Courtney says:

      It’s not a Metro organized event, RT. There are several Metro-oriented pub crawls throughout the year, organized by various people…Drink the Link, Metro Prom, I believe Metropolis organizes one as well. It’s not Metro-sponsored, just wanted to let people know about Charles’ event. I will ask him to please remove our logo from the events’ pages. If Metro does indeed organize its own pub crawl or Tweetup, then I specifically advertise it as a Metro-sponsored event. Trust me, I love promoting the buses and their use.

  3. RTBones says:

    OK, I now see what I missed the first time —

    In your article, Courtney, you say Mr. Purnell is organizing a “Metro Pub Crawl.” If you go to the site you link to, it is actually listed as a METROLINK Pub Crawl.

  4. Allison says:

    RTBones: Metro isn’t sponsoring the pub crawl. Yelp is a community-driven site with events that are created and/or listed by its users and community manager. The only reason Metro’s logo is there is because Charles put it there to draw attention to the event — any user can do the same with events that they organize. I’m sure Metro is obviously proud of the crawl (draws attention to transit, encourages safety when drinking and NOT driving), but they have no official part in the event.

    Also, and Charles can correct me if I’m wrong, I believe he set up the event as a Metrolink crawl. I’m a Yelp user myself, and I’m pretty sure there haven’t been many (or any) pub crawls that were designed around Metro. Being the (I believe) first one, I’m almost positive that Charles set this one up to make it as easy as possible for people, especially those who haven’t used transit much or at all. Staying on a Metrolink line instead of dealing with bus schedules makes it easy for those newbies to do that. Maybe the next one will include bus lines (would would be awesome!) – maybe you can help him organize it!

    Aside from all that, Charles is a very good friend and quite an asset to St. Louis City. Huzzah for Courtney for the interview, and hugs to Charles for being awesome. 🙂

  5. RTBones says:

    Courtney –

    What caught me off guard was that the Metro logo was in use on Mr. Purnell’s page describing the event. That led me to believe (even though it isnt organized by Metro) that it is sponsored by Metro in some fashion.

    Again, I was calling out Metro for having an event with their name on it and only using the train, not trying to take away from the event itself.

  6. RTBones says:

    Allison,

    Yes, I have a comment awaiting moderation where I realize what I missed (a Metrolink crawl vice a Metro crawl.) When I linked back to the crawl site a second time, I saw that.

    Courtney did call the link a “Metro Pub Crawl” in her article, though. Given that this _is_ a Metro blog, and Courtney listed the event as a “Metro Pub crawl” and linked to it, it isnt too far of a leap to make that its a Metro sponsored event.

    1. Courtney says:

      RT,

      When it is a Metro-sponsored event, I try to make sure it is advertised as an event explicitly organized by Metro or Nextstop or one of our Gateway Arch operations, but since Charles was listed as the organizer, it is not meant to be seen as a Metro-organized event. In fact, Charles has done all of the work himself. I just dropped a link. But I have corrected the issue, so hopefully no one else will be confused as to the originator of the event (whose credit really does belong to Charles).

  7. Jennifer says:

    I think the Twitter hashtag might be #drinkthelink so that definitely clears up the confusion. I love the idea, Charles, and glad you’re putting it together!

    If you guys have fun this time, you should think about joining the Santarchy crawl in December: The guys who plan that one use all buses & trains to get around, with the bonus that everyone involved has to dress up like Santa Claus. Fun times! This is what I call getting the greatest return on investment from transit!

  8. Jennifer says:

    Now that that’s all straightened out, I’d like to say that I’m pretty impressed by someone who makes it a point to get around without owning a car, ever. Many people are shocked that anyone would use transit in St. Louis, so it’s that much more awesome when it’s someone’s sole transport.

    Also, it’s great to see people who are invested in the progress and betterment of the city and their neighborhood. Give us a couple hundred more with that attitude and then stand back to see what we can do!

  9. Mom says:

    Hey babe…Luv the blog…talk 2 u soon….Mommy

    1. Courtney says:

      Hi Charles’ mom! 🙂

  10. RTBones says:

    Allison –

    I would be happy to lend a suggestion or three on places to go using the bus. St. Louis and the surrounding area are fantastic, and there are lots of places to go. And going by Metro is awesome because one can have a beverage or two and not worry about driving.

    As to making it easy for newbies to use…I will not give in to the Dark Side…I will not give into the Dark Side (there is a comment or two I could make that are too easy – I am not trying to rabble rouse here. I think I rile Courtney up enough as it is at times. 🙂

  11. RTBones says:

    Charles,

    I too think its a fantastic idea!

  12. Mom says:

    Hey Courtney…..:)

  13. RTBones says:

    Three more minor points and I’ll be quiet (I promise!)

    1) Jennifer, you mention the hashtag #drinkthelink and say that this definitely clears up the confusion. To me, it doesnt. Why? I dont use Twitter. For the record, I also dont use Facebook. Most of the info on Metro I get is usually from here or Metro’s regular website.

    2) This really isnt a point, more a “thank you” to everyone for clearing up my confusion on the subject.

    3) I hope the crawl goes well!

  14. Mike says:

    Charles,

    I read your article; very inspiring to say the least. I also read an article in the Post Dispatch that mentioned that St. Louis is “dead last” in spending money on public transit.

    I am an advocate for public transit although I rarely use it because it’s not convenient to use, especially in the suburbs. I hope what you are organizing will inspire St. Louis to began spending on public transit at a higher rate, making transit available to more people; not taking it away.

    Good work Charles!

    1. Courtney says:

      Mike,

      Just as a fair point to St. Louis, the ranking came before the passage of the St. Louis County public transit tax.

  15. Another Yelp member (and friend of Charles) piping in here!

    I don’t have much to add (I think Allison did a good job of conveying all that I felt about the Metrolink pub crawl), but I did just want to come in and show Charles some support!

    Great article. Charles, you give me hope that public transit in St. Louis will someday be GREAT. Not just good, GREAT. 🙂

  16. Mikey says:

    But our transit system likely still ranks at the bottom in state provided funding. Can St. Louis and East St. Louis flip-flop?

  17. Jeff says:

    Very inspiring anecdote. St. Louis is a better city because of people like Charles (and Courtney)!

  18. Mike says:

    That’s rather strange timing for the printing of the survey by the Post, especially after the passage of the tax. Obviously, someone was out to make a point of that survey.

    With all that being said, let’s just continue to move transit forward with further, future improvements.

  19. Mike says:

    Mikey’s comment (yes we are two different people) is right on point. Illinois does a better job in funding its transit systems than Missouri. Champaign, Il., whose metro area population is about a 10th of STL’s metro population, can actually support a “nighbus service” thanks in part to adequate state funding. They provide bus service, albeit limited, until 2 and 3 in the morning.

  20. Patrick Richmond says:

    I am proud of the man who is choosing to use Metro and loose weight. I am tickled that Metro has connected two hiking/biking trails with another line known as the Affton Shuttle! I did hear one thing from one MetroLink operator and she agrees with me about one stupid rule they have. They are not allowed to anounce the connecting hiking/biking trails. The MetroLink operators and the bus drivers should be given authoiration to anounce the connecting trails. Don’t forget that with the stop at Forsyth, you have the MetroLink station next to Balley’s Fitness Center. That stop is designed like a light rail stop should. The southern end is under Forsyth so you don’t have to cross Forsyth at street level to get to the Fitness Center.

  21. Patrick Richmond says:

    As youg as Charles is now, he keeps it up by staying fit, he will live a long life. I have seen it where some people are 50 and over and don’t look a day over 25. Some fitness centers will even have a punching bag station on site. For those who feel when they have been let down, call the fitness center near your stop and find out what they have on site.

  22. Patrick Richmond says:

    In Kirkwood, there are at leastfour bars that are served by two MetroBuses. MetroBus routes #48 and #56 serves all of them either on the line or just a block or two away from them. MetroBus route #56 along with MetroBus route #2 serve Weber’s Front Row! MetroBus route #56 also serves two bars in Old Webster along with MetroBus route #59.

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