The road rose gradually heading west towards a three dimensional vanishing point , as it does in all good western discovery stories. It was night so we could not see the mountains floating like clouds on the horizon, but we could feel them. The road was still straight but the vertical curve to the west steepened imperceptibly at first but ultimately exponentially. Indiana and Illinois were flat as pancakes. Iowa introduced some rolling hills as the lush natural vegetation faded away. In Nebraska the undulations increased in amplitude and period as the surrounding population receded and we had to slow down to miss the cows grazing lazily on the Interstate. By Wyoming we were definitely going up.
We were three young men, escaping the maddening traffic of New York, the inferno of Brooklyn or the crowded ash-tray beaches of Long Island. We were recent east coast, yuppie college grads making the awkward transition into real life and we had everything we needed. We were heading west for sun, snow and adventure, for a year or two or for the rest of our lives. We didn’t know what we wanted but we knew what we didn’t want and we left that in our rear view mirror.
The old rickety Country Squire station wagon we drove was chaotically packed full of all our possessions; one large quadraphonic Stereo with an eight track tape deck, three sets of skis boots and poles, three relatively small suitcases full of clothes, three down jackets, a cooler full of empty beer cans and week old groceries, one laundry basket full of toys –a football, basketball, Frisbee, ice skates, hiking boots, one bike tire, a lacrosse stick, a very large brassier and a cowboy hat.
We broke down in a blizzard between Cheyenne and Laramie and spent a few bleak days waiting for the plow and a part and decided, then and there, between living in Jackson Hole or Park City. Jackson was gnarly but Utah had jobs. We stayed left on the freeway at all three opportunities to head north. That convenient, almost unconscious choice of the road more traveled would set the stage for the next forty years of our lives. How many other pioneers’ fate has been decided, for better or worse, by a casual decision, lack of ambition, or a minor misfortune?
In western Wyoming, at first light, the Uinta Mountains revealed themselves, like a blushing bride. We were so taken by the site of the snowcapped mountains that we failed to notice our speed or the cop hiding in the divider monitoring it. Pulling over quickly while stashing beers and bongs, we found our shoes and socks so we could address the local law officer at his car window instead of at our smelly one, a move that would get you shot where we came from. We tried explaining our oblivious wonder at the spectacular mountains but the officer laconically replied ‘Yep, we like them… 130 dollars please’ - which we paid with all our cash on the spot and we were on our destitute way.
On the last long ear popping drop from the Colorado plateau to the smoky Basin Range valley of The Great Salt Lake, we slipped under a blanket of hazy pollution. We smelt something else burning and realized it wasn’t just the inversion, it was our asbestos brakes. Maybe Neutral was not the best gear to ascend these long grades into the valley of the Saints, our new western home, but what did we know.
The well planned, ecumenical streets of Salt Lake City spread out before us in every direction, converging in a multi-dimensional parallax. With less than a million people sprawling across the valley, it was not quite a real city yet in our eyes because there was no there, there. It seemed like the suburban Long Island we had escaped, with mountains. The sepia colored, smoky skies were a surprising disappointment because we could not see the mountains we came west to live in. We knew, however, that above Salt Lake City, in Park City, the sun was shining, the slopes were uncrowded and the mountains were covered deep in snow. That is where we would go to live.
So this was our conscious escape from the overly ambitious middlemen millionaires of the east, the boring industrial agriculture of the mid-west, the over blown, Mork and Mindy, Rocky Mountain High grooviness of Colorado and the conspicuous consumption of California. Utah was off the radar, out of the box, ecclesiastically edgy in the shadow of the Temple, so we redefined ourselves one more time under the protection of the Zion Curtain. Montana was too cold, Arizona too hot, Wyoming too bleak, California too crowded and Colorado too cool. Utah was just right. We were home.
We could hardly imagine that both of these small cities in this backwater state would be redeveloped soon and obtain a critical mass, that the world would be welcome here for a major Film Festival and the Olympics, putting them on the map and making this place the center of winter activities and an international destination resort. The population here would double in no time bringing with it diversity and depth, definition and character and we would help with this transition. We would cultivate lifelong friends and fortunes, homes and families, and we would develop a rich, recreational lifestyle that would be the envy of our friends and the rest of the nation. We would perfect this lifestyle and make this place our own.