Utah: Land of Mormons and terrible drivers

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North America » United States » Utah » Salt Lake City
December 19th 2018
Published: December 20th 2018
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What to say about Utah? Lots. But before we get to that, let me tell you how we got here.

I realized early on that if I was going to plan this trip, it was going to be a lot more fun if I invited someone along. And I also realized that I was going to be spending basically the same amount of money while I was here, whether I was alone or with someone else. Because hotels and rental cars don’t care if it’s just one person using their service, or two. The only thing that would take extra money was the flight out to Salt Lake City, and once I found cheap flights, it was pretty easy to ask someone to come along.

Enter my friend Nick. His only task was to get us to and from the Atlanta airport. Normally I take the Groome shuttle to the airport, and that’s over $70 round trip. So not having to pay that price, and getting him to take care of arranging all that, while I took care of his flight to get out here was basically an easy trade off. Our flight left at 11:06 AM on Tuesday, and we left my apartment at 6:30 AM. I expected we would be able to make it to the airport easily in time. It was much closer than I anticipated, thanks to some crazy traffic once we got to Lawrenceville. And I had never taken MARTA to the airport, but I can cross that off the list now. Truly, MARTA is not as bad as many people complain about. It was pretty straight forward and a direct train to the airport, which is the terminus, so there’s no mistaking it. Plus, it lets you out right at the main domestic terminal, where you check in and go through security. We didn’t have any crazy or smelly people on our train for the entire 30 minutes we were on board, so in sum, it was an easy way to get to the airport and avoid all the midtown Atlanta traffic.

We were at the airport for less than an hour—as I said, not as much time sitting around as I had expected. That’s not a bad thing for domestic flights. International, and I would have been losing my mind in all that traffic. But we made it through security and took the Plane Train to our terminal, got some food, and by the time we finished eating, they were calling our group to board the plane. Pretty easy.

We also discovered that Nick’s wallet likes to fall out of his pants at odd occasions as we were exiting the Plane Train. But luckily I carry around a small messenger bag most everywhere we go, so I feel a bit like a parent or something with his wallet and mine in there now. Whenever he needs to buy something, I open up the sack and hand him his wallet, and usually I get it back afterwards. Of course, that has taken some getting used to, especially for him, since like most guys he sporadically checks his back pocket to make sure his wallet is still there and has a mini panic attack every time, until he remembers.

I should also mention that we were up pretty early on that first day. For some reason, my mind got going around 4 AM, which meant I was awake, and so by the time we landed in Salt Lake City, I had already been up for 12 hours. He had been up for 11. And local time was only 1:30 PM. Once we left the airport, we got tickets on the train, a light rail service that gets around the city and goes further in some places. Not a bad ride, but not very fast either. We made it to the hotel, which was a 4-minute walk from the train stop, at about 2:30, got checked in, and then had to make a choice: take a nap or get to Enterprise and pick up my rental car. So we went for the car.

Easy service there, which was only 3 blocks from the hotel. We ran into a family from Gainesville, GA, and when the mother saw my UGA sweatshirt, she gave us a good “Go Dawgs.” Speaking of this phenomenon, we have seen so many people from Georgie here. And since neither Nick nor I are ashamed of our university, we kinda draw that out from people. There was a guy at the coffee shop on the second morning who was from Atlanta, the checkout girl at the BYU Creamery from Dahlonega, and a homeless woman who asked if she could get a ride back to South Carolina. These are the ones that I remember for sure, but I know there have been others and probably will continue to be more.

Anyway, after we got the car, a 2018 Nissan Altima that is really nice, we were going to drop it off at the hotel and walk to the Temple, which is only about 5 blocks from the hotel. I made a wrong turn, and so we just went with it all the way down University to the University of Utah. As my loyal readers will remember, on my “bucket list” is visiting every FBS college football stadium. So we had to visit UU while in Salt Lake City. One of the goals of this trip is to add as many of them to my list as I can, which should be about 1 per day, for at least the first 4 days.

The University of Utah is home to Rice-Eccles Stadium, which housed the 2002 Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. So that was neat to see the big Olympic torch outside the stadium. We couldn’t find a way in, though we did see one of the team kickers practicing on the field as we peered in through the gates. Since we couldn’t get in, we just walked around and saw what we could. We made a stop by the campus swag store, where I got my pennant for the pennant wall back home. And we found a big red U on a hill outside the store, so we stopped by and took some pictures. We got into a little debate/rant about the Utah U and the Miami U, and we decided the Utah U was better, since Miami’s U only signifies that it’s a university, and that’s not particularly unique or something to brag about in the world of college football.

It was getting dark, so we headed back to the hotel. We checked out some places to eat or whatever for the rest of the trip, but we decided we were going to just walk around for the rest of the night once we parked back at the hotel.

We have also discovered that Utah drivers are horrible. We’ve seen so many near misses (and one that should’ve been but wasn’t) and almost been hit just standing on the corner of the street. It’s pretty crazy, and every time we cross in a crosswalk, we take our lives in our own hands.

On my original agenda was checking out the Mormon Temple area on our first night, but we decided that 1) we were too tired to give it our full attention, 2) it was too far to walk, and 3) we were already pretty hungry and needed to eat. So we decided to walk down the main street, Temple, which takes us directly from the hotel to the Temple, until we found something we could eat. The Christmas lights were pretty nice along the street, which made the walk much more pleasant. And the temperatures have been much better than expected, along with zero precipitation.

So what did we find? Olive Garden. Yes, it’s lame, but it was there and we were about done. They gave us a little buzzer and said it would be about 30 minutes, so we walked across the street to some local “burger emporium,” where Nick got a glass of fun with a side of onion rings, and I enjoyed the ESPN on the TV. By the time he finished up there and we walked back across the street, our buzzer was buzzing. We got a LOT of food, and Nick got an earful from his dad for eating at a chain restaurant while in a new city. I get it, but we were tired and hungry and something familiar was just what the doctor ordered. I had done some research before leaving Georgia, and I discovered quite a few local places to try on this trip, but for some reason, our first night didn’t have any listed on my makeshift itinerary. So we improvised. And I don’t regret it.

We got back to the hotel room, watched the rest of the only bowl game on TV, and then we crashed. It wasn’t even 9 PM local time.

Day 2 involved checking out the Mormon Temple area. I am VERY glad we chose to put it off until the morning, because it was much better in the daylight, plus we had people to show us around, AND we got to see a free organ concert in the Tabernacle.

We went to the North Visitors Center, and we found nobody there. It was open, so we looked around at the exhibits. Very informative, for those of us who are not Mormons. And when we encountered people later in the morning, they were impressed by how much we had paid attention. They had a cool diorama/model of the city of Jerusalem, supposedly ca. 33 AD, that you could find certain places on, as the narration took you through the Passion Week. And I may or may not have stolen a copy of the Book of Mormon from the front information desk. No one was there, and they had several just lying around, so yeah.

After that, we walked around the Temple area. Non-Mormons aren’t allowed in the Temple itself, so we had to satisfy ourselves with looking at the façade and then checking out the South Visitors Center, where there were lots of people and a cutaway model of the Temple so that outsiders can at least see what they’re missing.

We contemplated converting to Mormonism just to see what was inside the Temple, but we concluded that it would probably be much more complicated than just saying we wanted to be Mormons. They had a cool pool outside the front of the Temple, and you could see the entire Temple reflected in it, though the pool was only about one foot deep. So we took some pictures, and we saw a group of 4 Mormon missionary boys run past us taking selfies as they ran. That’s not something you see every day.

We walked around the LDS Office building and saw some fun ethnic nativity scenes and then made our way to the Conference Center, which was an unexpected treat. We really just wanted to see the tower at the top of it, but you had to take a free guided tour for that. So we went inside and spent probably an hour with a sweet elderly lady named Gloria, who showed us all the good stuff: the auditorium, which is the largest internal auditorium in the world and where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir routinely performs in high seasons; we saw the paintings by Friberg, who illustrated the Book of Mormon in the 1950s; some other artworks along the way, including the portraits of all the Mormon apostles, ever; and we went up to the roof, which was semi-off limits. I say “semi” because it clearly was off limits, but Nick persuaded Gloria to let us walk outside on it for a minute because he wanted to take pictures of the mountains in the distance. So we didn’t get to see the tower, which had been our original objective, but we got a whole lot more. And the fact that it was a private tour, and our guide was pretty good, was worth it all.

After our Olive Garden “fiasco” from the previous evening, Nick’s dad had got him in touch with someone who used to live in Salt Lake City, and so we took one of his recommendations for lunch: a cool mall about a block from the Temple area, divided in two by the light rail line and with a skyway connecting the 2ndfloor of each side. It was pretty nice, with a little creek running through the center of the main concourse. We got some lunch there and headed back to the Tabernacle (which had been closed earlier for rehearsal) so we could see the daily organ recital at noon.

The Tabernacle is a oval building with a kind of shell for a roof. It’s rounded on all sides. Inside, the ceiling follows the roof pretty well, but there aren’t any cool decorations or even color on it. The rest of the room is pretty cool, though. And that organ is so big. It was illuminated from behind, and periodically the colored light changed, so it started at blue but changed to green, then orange, and finally red, which we UGA fans took as a good sign. It was a fun little concert, about 30 minutes, and it featured several styles of music. No pictures or video during the performance, but definitely permitted and encouraged before and after.

After the concert, we walked back to the hotel to get the car and head to Provo. So I’ll save that for another entry.

When we came back from Provo, we went directly to The Pie pizzeria, a local favorite. They even stylize their logo as the number pi. It was the “underground” version of the restaurant, so we parked and had to go downstairs. It’s a very hole-in-the-wall place, but the clientele was all over the place: dates, families, old and young, and then us. Live music, ESPN on the TV (my current school, Ohio, was playing in their bowl game, so at least that was something I wanted to see), and some pretty good pizza. It was right across the street from the big “University of Utah” sign and what appeared to be a main quad area. Primo location. Anyway, we had our food and once again decided that we had had a long day and deserved a good night’s rest.

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