Hey all. Seems like it’s been a little while since I’ve posted here. My main writing project these days is over at at ezrasessays.com – since August ’12 or so, I’ve published 478 of my grandfather’s essays about life and language there, along with a few lines of my own commentary on each one. I’m currently trying to stay on track with about five or six a week until all 775 are online. Clearly I still have quite a way to go, but you should check it out in the meantime because there’s a lot of great stuff there. If it’s your first time on the site, try the “favorite” tag.

The last year and a half has been fun for me. I’m still In San Francisco and still working at PayByGroup, which has been growing steadily and has gathered a really outstanding team.

Back on the subject of the China Match, the whole deal with this blog is that I nominally post when I travel. Now the thing is I’ve been traveling plenty, but just not to anywhere particularly exotic. Off the top of my head, in the last year I’ve gone to Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Vegas, Nashville, Savannah, Austin, Monterey, Las Angeles, New Jersey, Miami, and Corning.  Several of these trips, as well as several others that I can’t even remember because they were simply that underwhelming (Scottsdale, AZ?), can be attributed to business travel on the Vacation Rental Conference circuit, which is roughly as exciting as it sounds. I basically show up in these cities, cab immediately to the conference center, set up our sweet booth, then talk to property managers for two days and go home.  On the average PayByGroup trip, I’d say that I spend 60% of my time inside the conference center or hotel, 20-30% of it asleep, and 10-20% of it out drinking with aforementioned property managers. Occasionally that leads to me drunkenly riding a mechanical bull in a “Honky Tonk” bar called the Tequila Cowboy, but generally it’s nothing to write home about.

Salt Lake City was a little bit different. For starters, I recently saw Book of Mormon in LA, which got me extra-jazzed to go hang out with some real Mormons. Beyond that, I decided to take a 45-minute lunch break (gasp) by myself (double gasp) on the first day of the conference, which turned out to provide more than enough material for the series of photos you’ll find below.

It was also plenty of time to get accosted by homeless person after homeless person, because holy shit is Salt Lake City full of them. I had no idea that homelessness was so pervasive here. Usually I can’t write about the cities I visit because I am only experiencing the outdoors part of the “city” for the few minutes it takes to walk from building to building. In Salt Lake City, though, a 10-minute round trip to and from dinner results in — literally — six different people very politely asking for any spare cash you may have on you.

As a San Francisco resident, I’m no stranger to panhandling, but the people begging in SLC totally took me by surprise. On that dinner trip, five of the six people asking were white, all were able-bodied, and most were relatively young. They were polite and extremely articulate. In 2013 in San Francisco, “63 percent of the total number of homeless counted reported having a mental illness, addiction or debilitating physical condition.” SLC’s beggars (outwardly) seemed zero for three. Two of the guys who asked me for a meal were wearing nicer coats than any that I own. It was very very weird, and I’m still trying to figure out how to explain it. Maybe Mormons are a particularly generous group, so the bar for pity-based fundraising is low? Maybe SLC residents are easier to guilt trip? Who knows, but it was undeniably unique.

Fast forward to the fateful lunch break where I got to do some of the hard reporting that the China Match is famous for. I escaped the conference at around 12:30 and began to wander aimlessly. Three or so streets was enough for me to reach two distinct conclusions:

1) Aside from the homeless, nobody actually walks around Salt Lake City. It’s a Spooky Mormon Ghost Town. Seriously, even on major avenues with broad sidewalks clearly designed to hold crowds of people, absolutely no one was out and about. At prime lunchtime! What the hell? In this, it reminded me forcibly of Houston, Texas. Being compared to Houston is never a good thing. At least unlike Houston, the centerpiece of the Salt Lake City downtown is not a Federal Jail. (Map) Instead, SLC features a gigantic fortress-temple. Big step up!

2) Book of Mormon songs were going to be stuck in my head for two days and there just wasn’t going to be anything I could do about it, so I should probably just accept that.

 

After some more meandering, I eventually wound up at the temple grounds, which were gorgeous. The temple itself is huge and imposing and very-well designed.temple It’s also extremely secure, patrolled by fleets of security guards (who might detain you if you’re gay, so heads up), who are clearly Not Messing Around. I was more paranoid about being on my best behavior in front of them than I was in front of Chinese plainclothes cops.  I’m not sure why, it’s just the vibe the place puts off.

I wound up eating lunch on the temple grounds, in this nice little cafe by the edge. An elderly couple for whom I had opened a door earlier showed up when I was in line for my sandwich and gave me a 10% off coupon, so, score. I chowed down in the company of another rad Joe Smith statue:

joe

From there, I was basically out of time and I had to head back toward the conference. On the way back, I noticed a ton of run-down buildings basically two blocks away from the temple grounds. We’re talking decaying walls, closed storefronts, the whole nine yards, right next to one of the most sacred places in the city. Weirdness abounds.

rightbytemple

Opulence and Poverty — best bros, or at least close neighbors, in the small slice of Salt Lake City that I got to explore. As a disclaimer, I’m sure there’s tons and tons more out there and there’s a high chance that my experience wasn’t representative of the city at large. Still, I wasn’t expecting this.

I’d like to write more about the rest of the trip, including getting stuck for the night in Long Beach due to a canceled flight and some absurd airport shenanigans but it’s almost 2 and I’ve gotta be back at the airport for boarding in four hours, so I should probably go to bed. Here’s an old post you can check out if you’re in the mood for reading about Kevin in airports (particularly those which have recently been struck by earthquakes).

Cheers!

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