The days are long this time of the year so we had a lot of sunlight left with which to admire the scenery, but by this point we’d pretty much been sceneried out. It’s lovely country, really, but it doesn’t change, at least not on the scale of a human lifetime. So we drove on, listening to a four-part podcast about a murder in Illinois as told by a reporter who went back and interviewed all the main people involved (well, all but one) and never did come to any conclusions about the matter. Neither did we.
Eventually we decided that Provo would be good enough for the night. It seemed like a decent place. And it had a Culvers.
For those of you who have not had the experience, Culvers is what fast-food burger joints want to be. It’s a Wisconsin chain, with fresh grilled burgers, crispy chicken tenders, frozen custard, and deep fried cheese curds, and after a week in the Southwest it felt like home. And we met Joe the Cashier there.
We walked in to place our order and Joe noticed Lauren’s curling club sweatshirt. “Where are you from?” he asked politely. “Wisconsin,” we said. “We’re from Corporate, here to check on your authenticity.” And Joe just rolled with it. It turned out that not only did he have a good sense of humor, but he was also both a teacher in the local schools and a Doctor Who fan, and that was when we decided that we would have brought him back to Wisconsin if our state government weren’t so unremittingly hostile to education in all of its forms. Joe agreed, and then he told us about two important things.
One was a decent hotel one exit up, where we stayed the night. And the other was “fry sauce.” This was something that the Culvers back in Wisconsin do not have. Apparently in Utah they don’t put ketchup on French fries – they put this pale pink sauce on them. It took us a while to place it, but it’s essentially Dorothy Lynch’s Dressing – a condiment beloved of Nebraskans (and introduced to me some years ago by my aunt, who is from there) which is basically ketchup, mayonnaise, sugar, and some mild spices. It’s surprisingly good on fries, actually.
The next morning we headed off toward Salt Lake City.
Our first stop was the Utah State Capitol, a grandiose stone pile in the approved “American State Capitol” style, much like Wisconsin’s equivalent structure though without the gubernatorial Praetorian guard that we have protecting our Fearless Leader from contact with reality in all its glory. Like most of Salt Lake, the place was immaculate. It was also much brighter and airier than Wisconsin’s capitol, and unlike the Dairy State, the Utah state government actually posts public notice of meetings and doesn’t spring them on people hoping to catch them unawares. So props to Utah, I say.
From there we drove on down the hill and found a parking spot underneath the giant mall in downtown Salt Lake, which gave us easy access to most of the downtown area.
We made our way over to the Mormon complex, carefully stopping at each crosswalk. One does not jaywalk in Salt Lake. It simply is not done.
Most of the big Mormon buildings in Salt Lake are contained within a walled compound just off the mall. As non-Mormons we weren’t allowed in the Temple but we were allowed to walk by it, and the Visitor’s Center had all kinds of exhibits describing its construction, layout, and – if you buy the story – divine inspiration. There is nothing remotely secular about the place, from its architecture to its site to its uses. But the legions of enthusiastic multicultural Mormons surrounding the place were friendly enough and they didn’t try to proselytize too insistently, so that was nice.
We also visited the Tabernacle (sadly just after a concert of some kind had just let out – it’s a big round room with pews, really) and the Assembly Hall, which is where our most eager young convert worked on us for a while. Eventually we made our way back out to the mall, where we stopped at the Deseret Book Store – an entire store devoted to books from the Mormon perspective. It’s interesting, in a liberal arts sort of way, the way three-headed frogs are, um, interesting. But the people there were very polite. One cannot stress that enough.
By this point we were hungry, so we found the food court for lunch.
The joy of food courts is that everyone can get what they want without arguing over where to go. We each took some money and went off foraging and eventually came back to a table to eat.
Having not had enough Mexican food in Tusayan, I went to the Red Iguana and ordered nachos.
Let me tell you, the Red Iguana does not screw around when it comes to nachos. I got a tray that was a foot wide, eight inches front to back, and piled to about two inches depth. It had chips, beans, cheese, jalapenos, olives, salsa, and any number of other things, enough food to feed three starving teenaged boys. I was suitably impressed. It was tasty. And immense. I would highly recommend the place the next time you have a high school boys track banquet you need to cater, as they will certainly do the job.
We then headed over to the Scottish Store.
It’s not actually called that, but we decided that it ought to be – that actually naming it would be bad luck in much the same way that Shakespeare’s Macbeth is never openly named inside of a theater and is simply referred to as The Scottish Play. It was a lovely little store catering to all things Scottish and run by an actual Scotsman who was delighted to meet people descended, however many generations ago, from his native land and who spent the better part of an hour talking with us. He was fascinating. We found quite a few things that were worth purchasing there, and then headed off to see the Salt Palace where Kim had been grading AP exams before going back to the mall. Because we are Americans, and there is no more American place in the world than the mall. And we were on vacation, which means we get to do what we want and that was what we wanted. It's nice when things work out.
At this point we just let the girls go for a while and we all went our separate ways. It’s always a bit surprising to me that the girls are old enough to do that now, but there it is. I walked over to the intersection just outside the mall and got a picture of the sculpture there, which I had rather liked - I had to stand in the middle of the intersection to get that picture, but I made sure to do so inside of the crosswalk while the Walk sign was still on, so I figured I was still within the "no jaywalking" ethos of the city - and then put our Scottish goods in the car, retrieved my book, and sat down to read by one of the many fountains for a while. Eventually a group on a photo-scavenger hunt came by and asked me to take their picture. Go Yellow Team! I hope you did well. Kim and the girls did their shopping, and we met back at our spot to decide what to do next.
We decided that Kim would go get her hair cut – something she’d been trying to do for weeks by this point – while the girls and I would wander around some more. We ended up at a store that sold nothing but soda, which my dad had always said would be the next big thing in retail. He was ahead of his time that way. Eventually Kim called us to go down where she was and we went to what must have been the largest used book store in a three-state area, which was both fun and kind of sad since we really couldn’t buy anything there. That is the problem with having to carry everything home in airline luggage. Oh well.
But we were not sad for long! Because our next step was to go back to our friends Zac and Mindy’s house.
We had a lovely time visiting with them and their two children. We enjoyed a very nice home-cooked meal with conversation and good times – the best kind of meal – and they let us stay the night. It is nice to have friends in far away places so you can visit them, but the rest of the time they are just too far away. It was good to catch up.
The next morning we visited Zac at his new job - located in a building that had formerly been the high school where Mindy’s dad graduated and was now a college campus - before having a lovely breakfast at a restaurant across from a nearby park and then heading off to the airport and from there back home.
And now we are back. Our regular lives have picked up again. We have to cook and clean and go to work and do all the things that one does, but we had a lovely time while we were gone.