I found Salt Lake City nestled high up in those mountainous rocks, and I arrived completely drenched in sweat because the FLAT-ness leaves you exposed to every drop of sun in the August sky. Task number one was to find a swimming pool. I didn’t care about finding a place to sleep or charge my phone or get gas, I just wanted to be in a pool. I found a community indoor pool and got a day pass for $4. After cooling off in the water for a bit, I sat outside and admired the little park with a pond right behind the community center. See the pack of geese coming down the hill to dip in the pond?
I freshened up and left to go explore the city. I was in a neighborhood called Sugar House, which was an upscale shopping/dining area. Here’s the thing: If Denver is an uber-stylish young artist, then Salt Lake City (at least this neighborhood) is her healthy, Mormon mother. She kinda knows what’s in style from her kids, but it still has to be whole-grain and eco-friendly. Here, the hip jewelry stores sit right alongside the Bed Bath & Beyonds. In Denver (and most other cities), these would have been in totally different parts of town.
^^^ I saw a car with a Romney bumper sticker in the parking lot of THIS place. That’s Utah for you. ^^^
I ate lunch at a raw foods restaurant called Rawtopia, and the waitress asked me where I was from. I told her about my trip, and she said, “Oh wow! So you’re just running, do you have like a backpack or what?” I said, “No I’m not running, I’m driving in my car with all my stuff. You thought I was just Forrest Gump-ing it across the country? Ha!” She said, “Oh right, road trip, you mentioned that. So have you been eating really healthy while you’re traveling?” (This was clearly one of those questions that people ask specifically to make you say no and admit your own failure. I refused to concede.) “Yep, I make sure I eat a veggie omelette every morning, and, well, I’m here, aren’t I?” (I win.)
As I waited for my burritos, which came wrapped in bok choy leaves rather than tortillas, I flipped through their local publication, SLUG magazine, to see if there was anything to do on a Monday night. By sheer coincidence, that same reggae-rock band I’d met in Omaha, Resinated, was playing their next gig in SLC that night! I made a mental note not to go anywhere near that venue, lest I look like a psychotic groupie following their tour across the states.
I told my friends back home that when you eat dinner at a raw-food restaurant, then browse Barnes and Noble, and then have to RUN into Whole Foods to take a dump, you’ve arrived in Salt Lake City.
This place was nice, but something seemed off about it. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Before long, it hit me – Oh! I know what’s weird about it: EVERYBODY IS WHITE. EVERYBODY. There were a smattering of Asians and a couple Hispanics, but in the 2 days I spent there, driving all over town, I literally saw FOUR black people. I’m from a city in the South, we’re just not used to that. It’s not good or bad, it’s just different.
Later that night, I went out, but my trip had landed me in SLC on a Monday, so I didn’t get to see much nightlife. At all. I got an Uber ride from my airBnB house to a bar with this hopelessly awkward, single 39-year-old Mormon guy. If I’d had more time with him, I would have gently advised him that the most likely reason he wasn’t getting second dates is because women typically don’t enjoy being barraged with machine-gun questions to fill every silence. It makes you feel like a murder suspect. But alas, you can’t help them all. He said he wasn’t actively practicing his faith as much these days because he had recently started to notice a few hypocrisies in the rules of the Mormon church. No, you don’t say! Really? Do tell!
The bar I went to was called Whiskey Street, and it has a fascinating history, which I read about in the flap of their drink menu. When Brigham Young was around, he started calling this main street through downtown “Whiskey Street” because it had become so inundated with liquor houses and brothels. Brigham Young had written into the Mormon rules for life that all alcohol was prohibited, except for ONE specific type of whiskey. Interesting, right? B.Y. claimed it was because the distillery was nearby, and allowing it would support the local economy in case people needed whiskey “for coughs or wounds.” After he died, the owner of a liquor store on that street revealed 235 records of that particular whiskey being purchased by the Mormon prophet himself, which equate to two bottles of liquor per month for the last ten years of his life.
Take that as you will.
I hung out with one of the bartenders when he got off work. He was a 40-ish, punk-looking guy who had lived in both New York and San Francisco before moving back to his hometown of SLC. He says it’s a cool city with a good music/arts scene, and that I just didn’t get to see it because I came on Monday. Fair enough. I believe you. (No really, I do. I’m not being sarcastic this time.) He failed, however, at convincing me that SLC is not as homogeneously Caucasian as I thought. He insisted, “No, there’s a neighborhood about 10 miles away that’s ALL Hispanic. There’s a lot of crime there, like murders and stuff.” (Really? A whole Hispanic neighborhood nowhere near here? With real murders, like on TV? Nooo!!! This place is crazy!!)
As I waited for my ride home, I overheard two young guys talking outside the bar. They looked like they might be DJs, and by DJs I don’t mean the kind who actually know how to arrange and mix music, but rather the kind who have simply downloaded the ProTools app on their laptop. A snippet of their conversation: “Yeah there’s that place that has metal shows over there by the Wal-Mart. It has carpet, what kind of bar has carpet? Gross. Well maybe it’s not metal, but it’s, I don’t know, they’re definitely rockin’ out.” I wanted to jump out of my very skin!!! Readers, do you understand what this means? There are living, breathing, otherwise-able human beings in America who don’t know what rock and roll is – nor any of its subgenres, apparently. I cringed and tried my very hardest not to extrapolate the cultural deprivation of these poor souls to the whole city.
My phone was dead, so I had to ask the concierge to call me a cab back to the house. What I got didn’t quite live up to my expectations. The driver was a SLC native and claimed he could never learn his way around another city. He didn’t know how to get to the neighborhood, which was 15 minutes away, nor how to use the Google Maps app on his phone to get directions. I actually had to help him get to the freeway and use the GPS the rest of the way. At the end he charged me $30, “because this is a cab, not Uber,” but I hustled him down to $20 because I had to help him so much.
Salt Lake City is pretty easy to get around in terms of the major highways that loop around downtown and go to the outer neighborhoods, but within center city, it’s a NIGHTMARE. The streets are not given names, but rather 3- or 4-digit numbers, such as 3500 Street South crossed with 300 Street East. But when referring to the 3-digit numbered streets, they verbally say 1st or 2nd instead of 100 or 200. (I was told to go to a store “right at 3100 and 3rd.”) And sometimes the direction sticks to the end of a name and a different direction is tacked on in front, for example, W 3500 Street South. A hypothetical (but very possible) SLC address could be like, 3702 W 300 St. So. That looks, to me, like two addresses, both missing the names. Between this and the next time I visited SLC, I probably could have figured out the grid system, but I think my brain was so turned off by all the numbers that it didn’t even try.
When I woke up at the airBnB house the next morning, I panicked because both my laptop and phone were dead, and I couldn’t find my laptop charger, aka my only guide the world at that point. I was contemplating where I might find an electronics store that sells the kind I need when I found it buried under a bunch of junk in the backseat. I took that as a sign it was time to clean out my car.
The airBnB house I’d stayed in was lovely, but I could tell from the family photos and knickknacks that they were so white-bread and wholesome, I would have certainly been sent to Mormon boot camp or whatever if I’d been their kid.
I went to get breakfast and write at a cool coffee shop called Alchemy. Charlotte people, it reminded me of Central Coffee or Smelly Cat back home.
Random city pictures:
^^ Dental Spa? What the heck is that? Sounds like something only rich white people could make up. ^^
The rest of the city is okay. Most of the streets are corporate logo conglomerate manmade eyesores, but any view is spruced up by the giant Rockies in the background.
When I left Tuesday evening, I did another long night-drive all the way to Winnemucca, Nevada. My thoughts on Nevada are next.