Last January, our city, ill with Olympic Fever, opened its doors to the world. The first to arrive were the heavy drinkers masked as security and journalists. In one room we pounded shooters with the pistol packin’ personnel from the Secret Service, FBI and ATF. The CIA wasn’t here—so they say—but we drank with them anyway. In another, downing copious amounts of redeye, were equally powerful folks armed with barrels of ink—the journalists. It’s a toss-up as to who was most welcome or feared, but it was clear early on that the journalists were a force to be reckoned with, particularly since the first of them were not interested in sports, they were interested in Salt Lake City.
Welcome to Bedford Falls. That’s what everyone here wanted them to say and write. P-L-E-A-S-E tell the world we have a wonderful life here in the Great Basin. P-L-E-A-S-E let our fellow earthlings know we are of the world, too, that modern Utahns bear no resemblance to our former portrayal as quirky cultists. P-L-E-A-S-E sit down, enjoy yourselves, order a cocktail, relax, visit our many religious—er, ahem—historical sites, shake hands with our natives, mention the annual precipitation averages now and then, perhaps try your own hand at skiing, but above all else, have a good time. Then P-L-E-A-S-E go home.
Yes, what a wonderful time it was. The Utah Legislature unofficially or otherwise managed to move just about everything controversial safely out of sight and into the 2003 file. Meanwhile, the LDS Church, fearing any bad publicity would set it back in no small measure, was as nervous as the residents of a two-bedroom trailer at the news they were about to have quintuplets. Liquor laws? What liquor laws—you’re drunk as can be and you think we have weird liquor laws? Polygamy? What polygamy—do you see any kids around here griping about polygamy? Church and state separation? Look guys—that’s the temple over there and that’s the capital up there, of course we’re separated. What’s that? Oh, no, Mormons and non-Mormons regularly commune in a united voice built upon the notion of doing the right thing for each member of the community—once every 150 years.
Yeah, we put on a pretty great face. Pulled a fast one. Thank goodness the newsies aren’t here this year. What would they say? “This is Katie Couric reporting live from Utah where the economy sucks, where massive white collar crime goes unreported and where a major First Amendment battle was shaped by labeling free speech proponents—all of the them—as anti-Mormon. Yes, beautiful skiarific Utah, where political purges within the Republican Party rekindle memories of Leningrad and where child molesters are valued more highly than Democrats. This place, this Utah, this land of bankruptcies—moral and otherwise—this never-never land where the only thing your kid needs to know about the Pledge of Allegiance is that if he recites it often enough, he can get elected. And that goes for the girls, too, but they just don’t have the time. Matt, I’m movin’ in!”
No, Katie, don’t. Utah isn’t what you remember. It never was.