Well here I was, dammit: Salt Lake City – its wide illuminated streets stretching out and converging in the darkness, out by the salt flats – the city, the landscape looking cold and inhuman, the night sky immense and awesome, and the neon-lit downtown resplendent.
When the sun goes down, the facades of the office buildings downtown are set ablaze with warm light and the evening is like a drug. Businessman amble home from work and the faithful converge in the public halls and community centers.
Until I met Mark, I found that nothing ever happened in my life in Salt Lake. My life was totally uneventful. Here, each day I was conscious of the sun as it traced its trajectory incrementally across the sky. The days were long, but short.
In my mind I travelled out to all those rinky-dink towns stretching into the desert between Salt Lake City and Reno and Las Vegas which still had the same vibe they had a hundred years ago: Main Street – and that was it, essentially, and then a dozen truncated streets that ended abruptly in tumbleweed and desert. The same tiny, clapboard houses put up in a jiffy, and out front a huge-ass truck, almost as big as the house itself, these trucks built for smoothly cruising the endless highways, the driver seated high up with an extra peek on the horizon, gun rack at his back.
Of course the best place was four hours west, in Wendover, Nevada, right on the border to Utah. The “fun bus”, a shuttle with some kind of casino connection, ferried people out there from Salt Lake. You’d pay fifteen bucks and the first thing you’d do when you crossed the state line was request a plethora of exotic booze and cocktails, and once you got off you got your money back in drink tokens and casino chips. But that was before the vice squad caught wind of the scheme and banned the cocktails bit – and the fun.
I made it to Las Vegas once, wandering through Caesar’s Palace, marveling at the crass vulgarity of the architecture and the quiet desperation o the gamblers, and then the next morning with a feeling of relief I left the city. The whore of the west, they called it. Just as Salt Lake was the saint.
In the center was the Eagle Gate and Temple Square, a fantastical blend of turrets and spires. That was where Brigham Young came and shoved his cane in the earth and said, “This is the place, and here I shall build my temple,” or some such bold statement as that.
And there was the bronze statue all shimmering of the Angel Moroni blowing his clarion to the east from atop the temple. They said on Judgment Day the statue would spring to life and toot his horn for real honest to goodness I shit you not, just like Walt Disney. You could take a tour if you wanted, conducted through a spacious red carpeted halls by women in flower-print dresses, the sisters, who gave you a Book of Mormon for your perusal upon parting ways.
This was the one side.
On the other hand you could still get all the fun you wanted in Salt Lake. Come Superbowl Sunday you’d go to certain low-key, unpresupposing bars off State Street and everyone was throwing their money around. All these bars. They had a pot and they had bookies. Just like you had in Vegas. Of course, in order to play they had to know you. They wouldn’t let a stranger play. Might be a cop, or something. As soon as anyone looking vaguely like a cop showed his face – bang the whole place shut up.
My Salt Lake was the underground scene. Of boozin’ and partyin’, trippin’ and brawlin’. Folks, let me tell you, back in the early nineties, when this story takes place, this town’s sorry-ass, but rising underground scene was something to behold. It was going strong and gaining strength and SLC probably had some of the finest practitioners of alternative lifestyles of any city in its class, whatever that means.
SLC wasn’t as goody-two-shoes as people often portrayed it to be.
It was the place where bands like Bad Yodelers, Subject to Fame, Idaho Syndrome, Massacre Guys, Zionoiz, Vampire Lezbos, Shit Howdy, The Atheists and Slaughterchrist fought it out. So allow me to introduce you to the independent-minded people in Zion, who were rebelling against the prevailing powers. Listen closely, for it is a tale of base savagery and paganistic hedonism in our fair little city, this Dead City by a Lake. Ladies and gentlemen, come as I lead you Behind the Zion Curtain.