So I think I’ve got a system worked out. It goes like this: Spend one day walking around for so long that my legs threaten to defect from my body, and spend the next day sitting for so long (in a car) that my brain threatens to abscond unless I give it something more challenging to do. It’s all about the yin and yang.
After a brief and lovely 3-hour drive this morning, I arrived in Salt Lake City already impressed. Nestled among the mountains, you almost don’t realize SLC is happening until suddenly it does, a small sea of low-rise buildings and wide streets, with a background of snow-caps in almost every direction.
While I was wooed by Elko’s Thunderbird Motel, it was mostly because of the kitschy sign and rock-bottom prices, and I have to admit that I slept terribly there, woken up repeatedly by dreams that someone was breaking in through the door of my first-floor room. So I was pleased/relieved to check into SLC’s Red Lion Hotel, where I was placed in an equally affordable and spacious room on the ninth floor, past a maze of amenities that include a gym, laundromat, pool, restaurant, bar, gift shop and hair salon. Which isn’t to say that potential hotel murderers don’ t know how to use elevators; just that maybe they’ll get distracted by cliche keychains or the possibility of a fresh haircut first.
Although its downtown is of a relatively manageable size, SLC doesn’t appear to be the kind of place where everyone just walks around, and so my travels over the next few hours were rarely in the vicinity of more than two or three other pedestrians. This might have also had something to do with the weather, which at a nippy 45-50 degrees (though otherwise sunny and gorgeous) had me layering sweatshirts over t-shirts over tank tops to make up for the only flimsy spring jacket I brought along on this trip (with basically just California in mind).
I decided to split my afternoon between bookstores and sight-seeing, and so started my journey at Utah Books & Magazines, a surprisingly quirky used bookstore downtown. Home to an enormous selection of hardcovers, paperbacks, magazines, piles of VHS tapes and an assortment of bizarre decor (like an anatomy skeleton wearing a Darth Vader costume) Utah B&M doesn’t seem like the kind of place you go when you’re looking for something specific, but rather when you want to get lost in the shelves/piles of material and stumble across something unexpected. And I mean literally stumble.
From there I moved on to Ken Sanders Rare Books, a spacious outlet with an adorable storefront and a great selection of used paperbacks, rare editions and I guess either lost, stolen or donated library hardcovers. With a makeshift living room set up in the front of the store, BSRB is the kind of place I’d hang out in if I lived here (and only in part because, I’ll be honest, there doesn’t seem to be a ton else to do).
After Ken Sanders I donned my tourism cap and walked over to Temple Square, aka the Mormon mothership. Hidden behind some tall hotels when you’re walking from the east, Temple Square pops up on you, and the Salt Lake Temple in particular is an incongruous thing to see in the center of a city’s downtown (though DC’s National Cathedral is equally enormous). Regardless of my feelings on Mormonism, I have to admit that it’s a rather beautiful place, quiet save for other visitors and the sound of gurgling water from the Reflecting Pool. I also feel like I have to give props to the Mormons for not using Temple Square as a recruiting zone. Admittedly, I didn’t set foot in any of the various visitor centers (and my stop into LDS-oriented Deseret Book was a mere five minutes long) but it was nice not to be accosted with religious material when all I wanted to do was take some pictures and send snarky texts to my friends. (By contrast, I received a Scientology flyer in San Francisco just for walking within 10 feet of one of their centers.)
Feeling sufficiently Mormonized — which, Temple Square is hardly the beginning and end of the church’s footprint in SLC; there were times when it seemed like every other building had something to do with the LDS — I commenced a long walk back east to Weller Book Works, a spacious and gorgeous new/used/rare bookstore located in the Trolley Square shopping complex (along with a Whole Foods and a bunch of other mundane suburban stores). Despite its humdrum location (though I will say Trolley Square was one of the nicest, and emptiest, malls I’ve ever been in) Weller is a cool place, with a lot of armchairs and resting places for book browsers (or in my case, people whose legs are about to fall off).
Overall, Salt Lake City is pretty lovely. You know how New York gets early on Sunday mornings, when everyone’s still sleeping off their hangover and the streets are quiet and the birds are chirping and you kind of forget for a second that there are nine million people there, at least 4% of whom urinated on your street the night before? SLC seems to be like that all the time; it feels like a bigger city whose population was only recently abducted by aliens, or maybe the creepy subject of a Shirley Jackson short story, a town where no one walks outside for fear of some obscure tradition involving stoning. That is, of course, until dinnertime rolls around, and you realize that all of SLC’s 180,000 residents appear to be eating in the same three locations, and so you have to wander around for an extra 20 minutes to find a place where you can sit down without waiting and treat yourself to a fancy dinner for one.
So tomorrow it’s off to Denver, the sixth and final city on the Great American Bookstore Tour (counting Elko). I find myself both happy and sad that this journey is winding down; I miss my friends and my cats (shutup), and the deep dark stupid side of my brain has been chanting a subtle “televisiontelevisiontelevision” for the last few days (on principle, and with the sole exception of one movie rental in SF, I have kept all hotel TVs turned off). I’m also not super thrilled that Denver appears to be mid-recovery from a surprise snowstorm that resulted in 500 canceled flights and means I have neither the appropriate clothing or footwear to really be there. But I’m excited to see Colorado, and to close out this trip spending some time with my cousin, who happens to live in the area. If the last five cities have been any measure, I’m sure it’ll be fantabulous.
GABST DAY 10 BY THE NUMBERS:
Books bought: 3
Ravelstein, by Saul Bellow (Utah B&M)
Americana, by Don Delillo (Ken Sanders)
Einstein, by Walter Isaacson (Weller)