If you’ve ever struggled to figure out the best things to do in Columbia on a Friday or Saturday night, there’s a new book for you.
100 Things to Do in Columbia, Missouri, Before You Die by local author Stephen Paul Sayers provides a bucket list of activities, sights and iconic traditions to explore in our community. It’s one in a national series of similar books put out by the St. Louis-based Reedy Press and something Sayers saw as a good opportunity. “It was a really good chance to just pay homage to the city I called home and raised a family for 20 years,” Sayers says.
When he first took on the project, Sayers says he thought the book would be meant for new residents, visitors and maybe even new students to the University of Missouri. But what he found was that it actually would be perfect for longtime residents who may need to get out of their routines. “I realized it was more for people like me who had gotten into a rut of doing the same thing over and over,” Sayers says. “It really got me out to see things I hadn’t been doing for a long time … to see the beauty of Columbia. It really opened my eyes again.”
The book was released in September and Sayers has been slowly trying to get the word out through a variety of local events. Broken down by category, from food and drink to shopping and fashion, each page provides a new task, with a few even including a pro tip to keep in mind. For instance, No. 42’s “Carve out some pumpkin time in Harstburg” comes with an expert tip to get around the traffic jam that happens on U.S. 63 every October. (Using East Christian School Road will take you the back way into Hartsburg or ditch the car and take your bicycle out on the Katy Trail to avoid the traffic that comes with the annual Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival.)
“There’s lots of little tidbits of knowledge you can learn,” Sayers says of the book. “You can learn how the big tree in McBain has survived six lightning strikes.” Or how Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream has featured a cicada flavor. “Little things like that are fun to know,” he says.
Sayers grew up in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, coming to Columbia 20 years ago after taking a research professor position at MU. His creative writing started after being inspired by his daughter, who he describes as an exceptional writer. That led him to sit down and write the first of what ultimately became a trilogy of supernatural thrillers. But each of those tales are rooted in Sayers’ East Coast background, so it’s been a particular pleasure to have something more relevant for local readers.
Sayers says he realizes that most people won’t read 100 Things to Do in Columbia, Missouri, Before You Die cover to cover, but will instead flip around to find the activities that fit them best. But if you do read each and every page, Sayers says you’ll begin to notice a few underlying themes that connect the community. “In researching, I really found some themes that tie Columbia together. Real things that we value,” he says. “This town is really into the idea of sustainability and the thought of being responsible for the next generations.”
Sayers points to some of Columbia’s more iconic events, such as the Roots N Blues Festival or the Unbound Book Festival, where in addition to the public events, organizers arrange tie-ins at local schools so young students can learn more about blues music or creative writing. He also notes the times when tragedy has struck a beloved community setting, including the fire that burned Maplewood Barn Theatre to the ground or when the lights used for the Candy Cane Crib were stolen. In both instances, the community was quick to support those who needed it and find a way to continue. “I don’t think you notice that until you research 100 different places,” Sayers says. “It’s wonderful.”
For those who want to tackle each item in Sayers’ book like a true bucket list, he’s already done the math for you. “If you do one thing per weekend, you’ve got two years of things to do,” he says.
And he readily admits that if anyone else were to take on creating a similar list, it may look completely different. But that’s part of the fun and Sayers is eagerly awaiting feedback. He’s even created a Facebook page, Facebook.com/100thingscomo, where people can discuss what they liked or didn’t like and make suggestions for what should have been included.
“Hopefully, in a few years we’ll do another one and we’ll just keep adding good things,” Sayers says.
In the meantime, 100 Things to Do in Columbia, Missouri, Before You Die can be found at local bookshops including Skylark and Barnes and Noble, as well as on Amazon. Learn more about Sayers’ other works at stephenpaulsayers.com.