It was a breakfast meeting with a community leader, like so many other meetings except that this was a sincere man with no visible personal agenda and the generosity of spirit to believe we can all still get along and the ambition to try to make it so.
We were meeting about a specific issue that took us less than five minutes to resolve. The remaining time at breakfast took us all over the map, from national politics to local ones and, finally, to the smallest large topic: What makes our small town unique. How do so many big ideas take root here, move here, and in some cases wither here.
I was surprised at his passion for a place he has lived for less than a decade. And I tried to remember my first decade in Park City.
There is a risk here of sounding like the old person who claims to have walked to school in the snow three miles, uphill, both ways, barefoot. I realize my view is skewed by the rose-colored thick lenses of time. But the truth is that this was a really small town, less than 1,500 people. There were no stoplights. No development beyond the old Mt. Air Market on the block where Starbucks is now. No Deer Valley. No fancy restaurants, save Adolph's. No parks except City Park, which was largely dirt and had one bad swing set. One elementary school, which is now City Hall. City Hall was in what is now the museum, the junior high was where the library is now, and there was not a single house of worship on the now-popular Highway to Heaven corridor.
The social life consisted of bad melodrama at the Silver Wheel Theater, now the reclaimed Egyptian, and the Kimball Art Center, which had real artists come to visit and then moved the walls to accommodate puppet shows. Politics were so dirty there was a grand jury investigation, and real decisions were reached in the Down Under, the bar at the Claim Jumper. Main Street ended at the Kimball and the Utah Coal and Lumber restaurant, now Easy Street, where the liquor laws were so arcane that folks brought in their own blenders and fixings and mixed margaritas to eat with the amazing Mexican food served there.
The schools and the Chamber ran through administrators like a hot knife through butter. We saw heated town meetings where I learned the words "histrionics" and "vitriolic." There was no radio station and yet there were two weekly newspapers. We were so badly redlined by banks that nobody could get a loan to build anything here. If you applied for a credit card at a department store in Salt Lake City, they asked if you had another address, besides Park City, to use. The silver mines were still mining silver.
I didn't move here in the '50s. Honest. I moved here in the late '70s, when I was in my late 20s. A group of vagabond travelers had started to move here a few years before me, so by the time I arrived, there was a handful of non-Utah-born folks who were finding their collective way with no real adult supervision in sight.
In the off-season - everything except December through March and the Fourth of July - we would take to naming to largest potholes on Park Avenue, once even planting geraniums in one, to get the attention of the city to fill them. April 1 was Clown Day at the Park City Ski Area and wacky young people dressed up in outrageous costumes, paraded down Main Street and, filled with libations, jumped on the lifts in a "farewell to winter" ceremony. At the high school football home games, every law enforcement person from the city and the county was on the sidelines. All half dozen of them. There were lots and lots of potluck dinners with young families who had limited resources and little else to do for entertainment.
There were no computers or cell phones. No wide-screen televisions or cable hookups. A two-lane road from I-80 into town. Open space - before we knew to call it that - filled the Snyderville Basin. I don't think anybody moved to Park City to make a difference, or a fortune. We just wanted to live here and, bit by bit, we just wanted to make things better for our kids, for ourselves, for our friends who started to come to visit. And with such a blank slate, we could make up the rules, and the roads. If there was any vision, it was just to make the place we found, better.
There was one diner serving homemade pies and staying open until 9 o'clock, seven days a week. The pies are sadly gone and the diner is now serving healthy food in a thoughtful, environmentally smart space. It is still the favorite spot for locals to meet and dish up solutions to stuff that needs fixin'.
I appreciate the passion of my newer friend. And I'm glad he agreed to meet at Squatters. Sometimes it helps to be in a familiar spot to discuss far-reaching ideas. Sometimes, to appreciate where we are, it helps to reflect on how far we've come. Which I will try to do as fall takes hold this cooler Sunday in the Park ...
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.