Young Man On The Road #6: God bless America. . . they’re going to need it.

Salt Lake City, UTAH

June 25-26, 2011

If Boise, Idaho, could impress me, I had some hope for Salt Lake City.  We did know people in SLC, so that was going to help.  But still, I wondered, what were Ian and I going to do in the Mormon capital of the world?

Not what you’d expect:

1) Hit the bars.

Anyone who knows the basics of the Mormon religion knows that alcohol is prohibited.  Therefore, I did not expect Salt Lake City to be the first place where Ian and I went out drinking.

Robert, our host and long-time school buddy from Livermore, is a University of Utah alumnus and resident of Salt Lake City.  He not only opened up his house to us for the night, but also acted as a guide to the city.  He first took us on a short tour of the campus.  Being a former pitcher for the Utes, Robert stuck to showing us the sports facilities.  The most amusing part of the tour was when we walked by a wall of gymnast photos and Robert walked along pointing out the athletes he’s dated.

Later that evening, my good friend Olivia, who left California for Utah during high school, drove into town to see me.  I used to hang out at her house after school all the time from about 8th to 10th grade.  People’s paths are constantly diverging, so it’s great when they cross again.  Robert continued his tour guide duties downtown.

Our first stop was Lumpy’s, where the ground level featured leather armchairs and a TV at each table, while the basement level had pool and darts.  It was awesome on two levels.  (So was that last sentence.)  Olivia ate deep fried mozzarella logs.  Logs.

The second bar. . . well, I don’t quite remember the name of the second bar.  Neither does Ian.  I do remember that the picture above was just one of many (free) rounds.  Robert knew the bartender, as well as a couple other patrons that night, so drinks were flowing but not our cash.

2) Talk to a local who was not white.

Like most popular cities, Salt Lake City was designed as a grid system with numbered streets.  Unlike most popular cities, those numbered streets run both north-south and west-east, which can cause problems.

Everything starts with the Mormon Temple in the center of the city (and by “the Mormon Temple” I mean THE Mormon Temple!).  Each street ascends in number in each direction, by increments of one hundred.  So, the street three blocks east of the Temple is 300 East, whereas 500 West can be found five blocks west of the Temple.  Locals usually call these streets by the ordinal form of the primary digit(s); e.g. 400 North is “4th North” and 2200 South is “22nd South.”  Simple, yeah?

Not so much.

When streets are numbered in all directions, you can have four similar corners.  “6th and 6th” can be one of four spots, so adding the cardinal directions is essential.  It gets worse.  “100 West,” for example, runs in both directions from the central west-east road, meaning you have a “North 100 West” and a “South 100 West.”  The addition of another cardinal number is for clarity, but it did nothing but confuse me.  It gets worse.  The directions we were using also used cardinal directions for instruction.  When Google Maps told me to “turn South on North 100 West,” I pretty much gave up.

Ian did have an easier time navigating Salt Lake City, but there came a moment where we needed help from a local.  He rolled down the passenger side window and asked the man in the car across from us where Smith’s was located.  That man happened to be black.  What were the chances?  No, really, in a predominately white city, what were the chances that the one random person we talked to was not white?

(I actually looked it up: 20% chance he wasn’t white, 2% chance he was black.)

3) Watch a Mexican league baseball game.

Since graduating from Utah, Robert has gone on to join several local baseball league teams, and coach at least one.  The morning after our night on the town, he had a game with the Mexican League.  Again, what were the chances that that was what we would experience in SLC?

Being the champ that he is, Robert woke up and left early while Olivia, Ian, and I just kinda lounged around until 10:30. . . or what I thought was 10:30.  My computer was still on Pacific Time so it was actually 11:30 by the time we left the house.  Our plans to stop by Robert’s game at 11 and leave by noon were out the window.  Ian and I didn’t get to Robert’s game until around 12:30, and we weren’t sure it was Robert’s game until we saw the backs of the players’ jerseys: Rodriguez, Sanchez, Garcia.  Yup, we made it.  There was no way another Mexican League baseball team was playing in Salt Lake City at the same time.

Ian and I had a few stops before and after seeing Robert pitch an inning, including a necessary stop at the Mormon Temple.  Not everything we did had to be unexpected.  We didn’t leave SLC until 2:30.  Oops.

Bonus: What DIDN’T I do that you that you WOULD expect? Find a keychain with the logo of the local university.

Before meeting up with Robert at his place upon arrival, Ian and I took a look around the main Utah campus.  Though a hot day, it was a pretty nice walk: wide pavements, rolling green hills, sleek and modern buildings.  My initial goal was to walk into the student store and buy a keychain for my collection, but the student store was closed on weekends and we weren’t staying until Monday.  No worries, I thought, there has to be a college merchandise shop nearby.  So we wasted some time at the student union (which not only has pool tables and arcade games, but a freakin’ bowling alley!  There ain’t even a bowling alley in the city of Berkeley, much less the campus).

What did I discover?  There were no college merchandise shops nearby.  The reason we were so late leaving the next day was because we drove all around looking for a place that might sell a University of Utah keychain.  Smith’s–their equivalent of Wal-Mart, Ross, and Safeway combined–came up empty, as did their Target-equivalent Shopko.

Keychain chain incomplete, we headed off to Denver, which we hoped we could make before midnight.

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