Babes in a Mazda
My friend’s new car was scheduled to have warranty work done at a dealership in Salt Lake City, so he fetched me at 8:30 a.m., Saturday. I brought a heavy jacket and hiking boots, a bottle of water, and two bananas. What if we got stuck and had to walk for help or wait in the car? Not so paranoid a proposition. While driving over to SLC the previous month to buy a new vehicle, my friend’s old Mazda conked out in the middle of nowhere. A passer-by picked him up, fed him lunch, and called a relative to come out of the city and get him. In exchange for the conked out car and a quick bill of sale, the relative delivered him at the dealership in time to purchase a new vehicle, the very one already scheduled for warranty work.
The driving was easy, the skies clear across our high basin, snow hiding pimples of sage as efficiently as liquid painting medium, the barest features sketched in with thin blue wash, the artist having walked away for a moment, or forever, leaving an unfinished landscape on the easel.
This was actually our second attempt on Salt Lake City: the previous Saturday we were stopped by a dense fog that wouldn’t budge, despite our complaints that it ought to, so we bailed out at the first and only opportunity, an outpost called Little America, its windbreak of black pines something to see within the grounded white clouds, the outpost’s colonial buildings an oddity in terra Wyoming. My friend and I marveled once again at one man’s conceit that what the Wyoming wasteland needed was a cartoon village. Our immediate goal was breakfast in the big dining room, where travelers are fed and watered like teams of oxen being fortified to cross the Great American Desert.
A couple from town happened to take the adjacent table; there were no other patrons. The four of us speculated on travel forward, their determination to drive on settled by a previous life-threatening blizzard, years ago, which led them to the novel survival strategy of never turning back, no matter what. My friend and I concurred that the weather would / might clear between here and SLC, but a part of the excitement of a road trip for stir crazy villagers like us, is letting our eyeballs loose on new stretches of countryside. And, should the dangerous fog persist, the remaining 145 miles into Salt Lake City might prove more stressful than our nerves would tolerate, so we returned home.
We departed again yesterday in my friend’s new car, shooting for an 11 a.m. slot at the Mazda dealership in Salt Lake City. A mundane trip, except that I rarely leave our high and dry province; scantily populated by a huddle of humanity that is notable for a lack of dynamism. The two towns that make up civilization in the desert of southwest Wyoming are like a binary star system that has a chronic lack of mass, therefore never gets spinning.
My friend’s car plummeted through a gap in the Wasatch Range, literally falling into the neighborhood of the Great Salt Lake and onto the streets of Salt Lake City – a stunning transition on a clear day, but a noxious wedge of pollution seemed to have no limit and it fouled the Promised Land and its promise of urban adventure. The smog, or crud, or yellow breath of God, who perhaps, now and then, takes up cigar smoking in order to annoy certain people, blanked out city and suburb alike. Objects just feet from the road were mysterious and unidentifiable.
The auto dealership, our primary destination, was as fresh as the architect’s final check. High-class coffee perked in a high-style coffee pot. Cooking videos cycling on a flat screen TV featured a pair of chatty chefs, one of whom prodded a plate of chicken parts in a somewhat predatory and sexual way, which bugged me.
“I wouldn’t eat anything prepared by a person who touches food that way,” I told my friend. He was seated on a heavy chrome stool, sorting magazines in the light of stylish overhead purple glass fixtures.
“Is that a Martha Stewart magazine?” he asked, motioning for me to pass it along. Ninety-two minutes passed pleasantly, without the smell of exhaust, boredom of torn auto parts catalogs and girly magazines.
Sealed inside the silver Mazda, we vanished into the noxious city, past an abandoned fast food site that had been taken over by an ethnic restaurant, displaying a practical succession of occupants reminiscent of a coral reef, whose creatures find new homes in discarded shells or vacated crannies.
“Jeez, this place is a pain. Can you figure out where we’re supposed to turn? I think I missed it.”
Rural persons like my friend feel that traffic signs, lights, and street markings are inimical to a happy life. I agree. My side of town used to have two stoplights, but the city sensibly disabled one of them because it was a nuisance.
“Make a U-turn,” I said.
“Don’t think I can do that,” he said, examining the rearview mirror.
“You know, if Salt Lake City was in Wyoming, the wind would blow the crap out of here in ten minutes.”
Lunch at a Greek Restaurant might have supplied an end to our growing disappointment, but our griping merely escalated. “Taste this soup,” I said. “It’s weird, like a bottle of vinegar got knocked into the pot.”
And inside a “big” store that supposedly carried the type of ceramic tile I had come all this way to buy, I said, “What good is a city if you can’t buy what you can’t get at home?”
We left for Wyoming hours earlier than expected with plenty of spending money still stuck in our pockets. At Park City, Utah, the rays of the setting sun colored clear skies. From there it was a short, happy shot across the Wyoming border, then home, following a final stop for snacks at a “restaurant.” The truckers lounging inside looked like 5th Century Goths waiting for the right moment to sacking Salt Lake City or to retreat to Cheyenne. I could have been mistaken. The people of the good ol’ United States look a bit rough these days, but I did feel like the rough stock regarded me as a barbarian hooker as I strolled innocently outside the café.
I offered to drive the rest of the way, powering the Mazda through a crumbly gray stretch of lonesomeness that improves once night has fallen black and complete.
“If we were in my truck we wouldn’t be able to hear each other talk and our butts would hurt,” I said.
“That’s why I bought a nice car this time. Every Joe in Wyoming drives a truck.”
Little America came and went as a nest of lights in the dark universe, the product of a distant aesthetic blending the cultures of Antarctica and Connecticut, an alien venture that has added so much to the impoverished Wyoming experience. The Mazda chased and passed trucks through the early winter night until we were home.
Six years ago, my friend was called on to make an emergency delivery to the Salt Lake City airport. I tagged along. A group of local high school students was poised to fly to Germany for the summer and one girl had actually forgotten her passport. We made the 185-mile distance, plus a sprint through the facility, in time to see all twenty-seven teenagers board their plane. I bumped into one of those students recently, now married and all grown up. She disclosed that thanks to that trip to Germany, she had lost any desire to ever leave Wyoming again.
When one thinks of the West they typically imagine mountains, trees and no pollution. However, Salt Lake City has become one of the worst places in America to breath the air according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
According to the Wyoming EPA, there are no advisories in the state concerning air quality. (No need.)