You can’t figure any place out in one night but that hasn’t stopped me from taking random guesses and wallowing in conjecture. What I ended up doing was looking for the familiar to fight off feelings of alienation while wandering around downtown Salt Lake City but getting a sense of a place takes more time than I had.
After spending the holidays in Colorado, we made our way back to Oregon and stopped in Salt Lake City, an urban oasis that ended the first day of a two day drive. As recommended we took Highway 6 from Grand Junction and drifted through empty, yet scenic landscapes of hills, rock formations that grew mountainous and expanses of snow covered terrain. There was a point where I stumbled onto some random Hindi Diwali music on the radio, an oddly perfect soundtrack to my surroundings. As I looked down on a cloud covered valley I had to consider for a moment whether I was driving in heaven. Many hours later, I was spit from the scenery into the five laned concrete morass of Interstate 15 as it ran from from the exurbs and suburbs into downtown Salt Lake City.
I arrived at the hotel, seething with white line fever thinking this couldn’t be good for the composure of the poor kid who was doing the valet parking. Here’s where I made my first generalization based on an interaction with one person: Everyone in Salt Lake City is nice. The valet parker was patient in every way possible no matter how many questions I asked or requests I made. He accommodated me as I made an effort to unpack the car and dog while juggling the needs of the other cars that needed to be parked. This may be more about what I want to believe, that there could be a place where everyone is hardworking, honest and clean cut. I’m not even sure why that’s a need in my search for a utopia.
All I wanted was a comfortable bed to hide in. It was New Year’s Day so my expectations for anything to be happening were low. The empty downtown reminded me of Omega Man, a trippy sci-fi movie from the late 60’s. I’m sure my big brother hyped it up so much that it became legendary in my mind. The movie starred Charlton Heston back when he was freaking out making ape movies and before he was so publicly obsessed with guns. In the movie, Heston was one of the sole survivors of some kind of plague and had to roam city streets dodging zombie-like creatures. Despite seeing a parallel in an empty downtown, I had a dog to walk so into the desolate streets I went.
The first thing I noticed were wide streets laid out in a numbered grid, a kind of Mormon ingenuity and order. I checked out holiday lights on trees and the tops of the buildings. In this downtown old buildings had ornate trim while all tall buildings seemed to have been built by and for bankers. I stumbled upon a block that had a pub next to a Scottish store with an Italian restaurant a few doors down—the ethnic section of town. It made me think that it might be cheaper to skip the United Kingdom trip and just stay blotto in that Salt Lake City pub while making occasional side trips to the Scottish store. There’s sure to be someone with a brough in there for the sake of authenticity. This is the thinking that explains why I’m not a travel agent.
I had just scratched the surface of learning anything about Salt Lake City. I knew they had a Max train type system. I saw bike route signs and wondered how bike friendly the city was. I was in the heart of the theater district where there were at least a couple of theaters. On any other night the area might be crawling with hardcore patrons of the arts, the only people who can be lured downtown anymore, but I encountered few people or zombies besides a guy screaming at one of the train stops. I decided not to get too close. Turning a corner I peered into an empty Olive Garden. It seemed sad. It may have been the juxtaposition of the barren restaurant with the lively music, blaring from outside speakers, sounding like the Big Night soundtrack. The hotel was right up the street so we headed back to the room.
The next morning I walked the dog around the hotel. It had snowed the night before. I was lamenting that my boots were packed away in the valet parked car but the powdery snow didn’t cling to my shoes. We turned down a street with coffee shops and a Used and Rare Book Store, a sight for sore eyes. There was a guy in a sleeping bag blocking the display window so I couldn’t get a good look at the coffee table book with the picture of 70’s Elvis on it. There was snow to sniff and while the dog focused on that, I found myself disoriented. The blocks were huge and all I wanted to do was to get ready for a long day’s drive and not be lost. The only way to reorient myself was to look up at the buildings, the same ones I had been looking at from the hotel room. I had a sense of where I needed to go when when I recognized an area of town from a previous visit. Then I heard the familiar strains of the big band spaghetti music blasting from outside Olive Garden that led me back to the hotel. The music must have played all night, a soundtrack to gentle, falling snow.
From the confines of the hotel restaurant, I could look out and see a guy shoveling the sidewalk while across the street someone was clearing walkways with a small Cat bulldozer with a plow attachment. The people of Salt Lake City were up early and working hard. We had more miles of slushy driving conditions then we could imagine ahead of ourselves so it was nice to take a few more minutes to catch our breath and have an extra cup of coffee. My brief visit to Salt Lake City produced very little salt, no evidence of a lake and not nearly enough of the city and without a dog to walk even less would have been seen or smelled. I hope this inspires people to take their pets for a visit to Utah’s state capital.
PS I’m not sure anyone besides an outsider like me refers to Salt Lake City as SLC but I was reminded of a movie recently that used this shorthand. For some reason that abbreviation seemed cooler than spelling it out.
We’re back next week with an Art Racks–an Orbit staple!
3 thoughts on “One Night In SLC”
I have an acquaintance who writes for The Wall Street Journal who hipped me to this old journalism saw: “You can only write about a place if you’ve been there less than ten days or more than ten years”. I think I know what that means. If calculations are correct, it also means you’re more qualified to write about SLC than PDX!
Thank God you’re not a subeditor taking me to task, I think. It felt more like I was there for ten minutes. Recently saw something about SLC having an amazing ballet scene. Some times you can get a feel for a place quicker than others. I’m certainly not willing to declare that there is no there there.