Note: First published on Blogger on August 25, 2006
Sal scoots through the state of Utah, passing through it's capital by bus and doesn't appear to stop. You can move on too, or stay and linger awhile. As always, click the image if you want to see the map.
"...arriving at Salt Lake City at dawn--a city of sprinklers, the least likely place for Dean to have been born..."
On the Road, Chapter 11
Salt Lake City, Utah
I have never been to Salt Lake City, but I've heard and read much about it. My father, who passed through after basic training during World War II, thought it funny that the statue of Brigham Young was positioned so that "his ass pointed toward the temple." I'm not sure if that's true or not but it made him laugh, and I wasn't able to share a lot of moments like that with him, so I laughed too.
In high school, one of my best friends was Mormon. We had a friendship like any other. We drank Cokes and Pepsi together. I had heard that Mormans couldn't drink caffeine, and asked him why he did. He said that Mormons were allowed to drink caffeinated soft drinks, but they still couldn't drink coffee.
In truth, I was always slightly fascinated about Mormon beliefs even before I knew about the salacious history and the conspiracy theories. John, my friend, had a great family that was very close knit. I spent a lot of time at his house. He was very giving with his friends, often inviting our teammates from the cross country team to come to the church after hours in the evening. I think his dad, who was also our biology teacher, had a leadership position in the stake. It had a small gym with a basketball court, and we would shoot around. Eventually, this stopped because I think someone with the church may have said something to his dad.
I often wondered, after reading the Book of Mormon, how his father reconciled his scientific beliefs with the writings of Joseph Smith, which seemed to me like a wonderful setting for a fantasy novel but pretty out there for a religion. In hindsight, in the larger scheme of things, I've learned that all humanity believes in things that with a completely logical view do not make sense, but are accepted for their lessons or, on an even more general scale, on faith.
Just after our senior year ended, John went away on mission. He didn't talk much about it to us, because I think he felt we wouldn't understand. He was gone for two years in Brazil, and I really didn't learn too much about his experience. Eventually, we all moved away. He ended up in Cowley, Wyoming, way up in the northwest corner of the state, and I was living in Milwaukee when he called and asked me to be his best man. However, there was a catch. Because I wasn't Mormon, I couldn't participate in the wedding at the temple. I caught the big grey dog from Milwaukee and rode it 21 hours to Billings, Montana where he picked me up and brought me down to Cowley, and I was best man at the reception. However, after that regular contact became semi-regular and then irregular. He now has a huge All-American and beautiful looking family of four kids in all, but there may be five.
Occasionally I see bicycling, shirt-tie-slacks wearing Mormon missionaries wandering around the "war zone" or inner city of Albuquerque, looking extremely out of place, which only adds to the mystery and intrigue of the religion to me. The first Sherlock Holmes story I read, A Study in Scarlet, involves a Mormon assassin wreaking vengeance. I have also recently read Jon Krakauer's book Under the Banner of Heaven, which explores a murder among the fundamentalist offshoots of the Mormons and places it in context with the history of Mormonism. Needless to say, it is controversial. I have also noted the arrest recently on charges related to polygamy of Warren Jeffs, a fundamentalist Mormon leader on the Arizona-Utah border who literally ruled Colorado City and Hildale with an iron fist. Reconciling the experiences I have had with strong, upright Mormons and the mysterious and dark underworld hovering about them has provided fascinating fodder for discussion and reflection.
However, one thing that cannot be disputed is the Mormons' pioneer spirit, which led to Salt Lake City's establishment. After facing very real persecution in Illinois and Missouri and watching their leader, Joseph Smith, killed, they decided that the only remedy was to follow their charismatic new leader, Brigham Young, on a trek of over a thousand miles across unforgiving wilderness and settle their own Zion, which they named Deseret, far away from everyone. Jack and Sal, for a good part of their journey to Denver, actually follow the remnants of the Mormon Trail through Nebraska. Perhaps the energy, courage and fortitude of the early Mormon pioneers infuses Sal subconsciously, and certainly, his destination in California is reality in large part because Mormon pioneers blazed the trail. While Salt Lake City sits quiet and rates less than a sentence in On the Road, it is perhaps symbolically as important as any other site along Sal's journey.
Brigham Young University (not in Salt Lake but a big part of the present Mormon story)
Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints
Salt Lake City Tribune
Salt Lake City Visitors Guide
University of Utah
Wikipedia: Brigham Young
Wikipedia: Salt Lake City
Next up: Reno, Nevada