Friday, June 27, 2008

The BIG Beehive

Despite having spent my entire youth in the Salt Lake valley, I’m always blown away when I return just how BIG the mountains there are. The mountains, part of the Wasatch Range, rise abruptly from the valley floor to form an 11,000 foot granite barrier which is broken only by a series of deep gashes that have been sliced into its side by millennia of snow, ice and raging waters-Little Cottonwood Canyon, Big Cottonwood Canyon, Millcreek Canyon and Parley’s Canyon. It’s difficult to explain the immensity, majesty and sublimity of these mountains to anyone who has not seen them up close and personal; it’s even more difficult to get the residents to see the grandeur of these spectacular mountains, the laps of which they sit on daily. If familiarity has not bred contempt in the locals, at a minimum, it seems to have bred blindness and apathy.

Although the bigness of the Wasatch Range is impossible to miss, the general culture of bigness which permeates life in Salt Lake City may escape notice. That is not to say that it is any less obvious than the upward thrust of the mountains that encircle the valley. However, the “culture of big” has become so pervasive that your chance of recognizing it is probably no better than your chance of getting a Salt Laker to see the peaks that surround and protect them. It seldom happens.

But it happened to me on a recent pilgrimage. I gained my sight as I was driving through Riverton (granted, not Salt Lake proper, but Salt Lake in spirit and kinship) on one of my ritual treks for substances forbade by the Word of Wisdom. BIG SUVs crowded the roadways. BIG trucks pulled BIG boats and BIG trailers down the wide highways. BIG (nay, gargantuan) homes sat on BIGGER lots to house even BIGGER families. BIG churches and BIG temples dotted the landscape to serve the BIG Mormon population. BIG box stores littered every nook and cranny of what were once beautiful green fields. BIG women wandered the aisles of BIG supermarkets buying BIG steaks for their BIG men. Suddenly, I understood how Gulliver must have felt on his visit to Brodingnag.

They say everything is bigger in Texas, but I don’t know. The Beehive State just might give the Lone Star State a run for its money. And with a lot of extra notches still on their belts, Utahan’s sure seem intent on expanding further until their Mr. Mac slacks are good and snug around the waist.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The End of the Universe

So this is what we have become. The other day I passed the Starbucks down the street…wait, there are about five Starbucks down the street. This was the one that has the drive-thru window as opposed to the one in the Albertsons or the other one on the corner in the exact same development as the Albertsons or the other one adjacent to the Ralph’s just up the street or… Actually, that reminds me of the scene from Shrek 2 where the giant gingerbread man terrorizes a Starbucks in the Kingdom of Far, Far Away causing the frightened patrons to run screaming to the Starbucks directly across the street. Riot. That scene was supposedly inspired by a comment by comedian Lewis Black to the effect that "...and if you walk to the end of the block, there sits a Starbucks. And directly across the street -- in the exact same building as that Starbucks -- there is... another Starbucks. There is a Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks! And ladies and gentlemen, THAT is the end of the universe."

Anyway, as I went by, I counted a string of 16 vehicles in the drive-thru lane which snakes around the building. It’s certainly conceivable that there were many more folks idling in their climate controlled boxes while waiting to pay $4 for a shot of caffeine, but No. 16 was the last car I could see. Not surprisingly, most of the vehicles were gargantuan trucks and SUVs occupied by a single passenger who was either talking on the phone or primping and preening before the mirror. Also not surprising was the fact that the parking area immediately in front of the Starbucks was populated by tumbleweeds.

If you need any evidence that prying people out of their automobiles will be next to impossible, this has got to be it. Lazy suburbanites will gleefully burn $5/gallon gas while they endlessly circle the Costco parking lot looking for a spot “up front” instead of walking in from one of the gazillion unused parking spots further out. Those exact same folks will demand that we both despoil ANWR and drill off the California coast in order to knock a few pennies off the price of a gallon of gas to protect that way of life. And you know what? One day in the not-so-distant future, the clambering from these politically conservative upper-class wannabes will become so intense that it will happen. And just like it has for the past forty years, it will happen at the expense of developing other energy and transportation alternatives. And THAT ladies and gentlemen, with all due respect to Mr. Black, is the real end of the universe.