The motel’s sign requested that guests refrain from using the white towels to clean shoes, equipment, or tackle. Observing the size and color of the ground-in stains, I thought that the list served more as an offer of good suggestions rather than limitations. It appeared that the only thing the remaining washcloth had not touched in its lifetime was a clean body. Margie had taken all but one piece of removable fabric from the bathroom out to the parking lot. As I used 8 sq. inches of dirty material to dab myself dry, I realized that there are two types of people in the world: those who believe that motel linens/towels were created to serve their pleasure and the rest of us who have to deal with skin rashes that result from cleaning our faces with shop rags.
While Margie was outside toweling clean the backseat of the car, she made a tragic discovery. Everything in the car was frozen. In hindsight, the snow and ice on the ground should have clued us in that it was brutally cold outside. Only the food stored in the cooler escaped the deep freeze. We had forgotten to refresh the ice supply. Submerged in three inches of what-was-once-ice, our cheese, luncheon meat, and condiments were all spoiled. We had no breakfast. The lingering smell of sulfur from the shower’s tepid brown water was the closest I would come to eggs that day. All hopes that any part of this trip would be easy and vacation-like were dissipating.
Margie had her own plans for our “holiday” and declared an end to “dawdling on scenic back roads.” She planned our route for the day to consist solely of driving on interstate highways. Granted, we were behind schedule and had seen more of Utah than I would wish on most people, but I thought that Margie’s decision was contrary to the true purpose of our trip. The homogeneity of interstate rest stops defied the local uniqueness of the key chains. It was difficult to discover much of anything about the country along its interstates. Margie countered that if we stuck to the slower back roads we would miss cocktail hour in Logan, where we would be spending the night with two of her old friends. She had figured out my Achilles heel. After two days in Utah, I was ready to have a drink somewhere other than a motel room. Fifteen minutes after breakfast, we were racing eighty miles-an-hour sandwiched between a church van full of Mormons and a big-rig filled with Coca-Cola.
One hundred miles away from Logan, Margie conceded that we were ahead of schedule and allowed us to stop for lunch in Salt Lake City. I was thrilled with the offer, until we actually reached downtown. The majority of Temple Square was off limits to those who hadn’t reached a level of divinity worth 20% of their income. We were relegated to the walkways, museum, and the studio where the sermons were televised. Standing still and walking appeared to be an invitation for the numerous guides to inquire, “Have you read The Book?”, “what is it about finding peace and love that scares you?”, and “why do you want to know what is behind that door?” We toured the tabernacle in the same manner as we had the last half of the state. Jogging at a steady trot, we passed those who paused to read plaques and admired views like they were old couches discarded on a crowded freeway. Occasionally we swore and gestured at people who were particularly obstructive but we never slowed our pace. Clocking a record-breaking time through a hallowed landmark was the most boastful thing we had done in three days.
Soon enough we were on the cusp of another shutout in terms of keychains when we encountered Ted, the one-man show behind Ted’s Service. He was an impressive figure who navigated the narrow maze of grease and clutter that covered his office from wall to wall, appliance to appliance, with grace and deliberation. The only clean spot was a coffee-table book documenting renovated gas stations that he flipped through as he talked to us. His sentences were direct and concise and not overblown with extraneous wordplay that many use to garnish their language in a futile endeavor to appear superior and erudite.
An aberration to Utah’s open door policy, Ted locked his bathroom because there was no toilet. We had to promise not to actually use the bathroom, before he would allow us to photograph it and his keychain. I had to wonder, did I strike Ted as the type of person that would mistake a sink as a functioning toilet? Or did I just seem like someone who didn’t care and would urinate in any room, as long as there is at least one plumbing fixture? Maybe it was a basic human need to have an interaction with someone other than Margie, but I needed Ted to know that we were on the same page as far as understanding what constituted a useable restroom. I just didn’t know how to come out and say such a thing without it sounding weird, so I opted for the subtle approach and tried to convey my message by standing too close to him and overselling our project. He just nodded and directed his response towards Margie , “Well, everyone has to do something.”
We arrived in Logan at 4:00; at 4:02 we were in front of the fire with cocktails in hand. Anne and Jay had been in Utah a long time and knew instinctively what out of town guests needed. It was a household tradition that there had to be a toast before the first drink. It could be “international, national, local or personal.” The only requirement was that the toast reflected what was in our hearts. Far away from home, living in a country on the brink of war, there was a long list of international, national, local, and personal concerns. Sometimes, the first drink of the night offered an escape from those fears and hopes. We toasted to seeing old friends and clean towels.