We met in Old Town | ParkRecord.com

We met in Old Town

Core Samples

By Jay Meehan
Park Record columnist

In the beginning, our old town theater-of-operations basically concerned itself with a smallish user-friendly clump of buildings straddling Main Street. In practice, it appeared so perfect as to beg explanation.

Had the Planning Commission been hipped to an impending influx of a ski bum sub-genre they might wish to corral, to keep huddled together, as it were? By placing a saloon, art gallery, laundromat and unemployment office directly across the street from the post office, they must have received a heads-up of some kind.

An untrained eye might even have come to the conclusion that they were figuratively "chumming" for existential flat-water trout. Even the folks tending the establishments in question possessed an allure that was almost too inviting. Where did they find these people, the Casting Department at Warner Bros.?

It's somewhat natural, I suppose, that during the ensuing years (it's closing in on 50 for some of the earlier arrivals) we would lose a few of these most special friends to space and time.

She also happened to be drop dead gorgeous with a smile that could stop traffic.

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Jerry Hanley from the post office, Darlene and Darrell (Mon Chief) LaFranier from the Alamo, plus John & Suzie Staggs and David Chaplin from Ink, Paint & Clay come quickly to mind. As much as anybody, they defined our small town and gave it a "street-cred" cachet.

Late last August, Bob Dean, legendary owner of the Alamo, also galloped out the front door. Bob was the kind of guy who would invite you out to his house, turn you completely sideways on Martinis, and then, once you had hit the floor, bring out his camera. With the Alamo, he had given us a home and we loved him dearly.

And now it's time to talk about our dear friend Sheila Loritz who worked at the Park City Unemployment Office before assuming chef duties all over town. Sheila, who passed last week at her home in Cedar City, had, in so many ways, embodied the best and most vibrant tendencies of us all.

Only part of her popularity in those days came from being the human interface between the recently-arrived looking-for-work ski bum and a weekly unemployment check. She also happened to be drop dead gorgeous with a smile that could stop traffic.

A poster child for "quirky," Sheila possessed an almost unmatched enthusiasm for life, often manifested by her unique style of wayward wandering, especially in the wilderness.

There was that time she and one of those classically singular Kaibab squirrels from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon became frozen in time — both locked "on point." The squirrels, products of a geographic isolation that kept them from mixing genes with their cousins on the South Rim, seemed to see Sheila as some sort of goddess from their creation myth.

They would slowly circle each other in a primal dance of which only they knew the steps. Intruding upon their space was never an option. The squirrel with the long bushy upright white tail and the human with the jungle-like disheveled morning hair stalking the other in a pre-breakfast ritual inexplicable to others but perfectly logical within their respective order of things.

No matter where she roamed, the interaction with nature was a given. Even grand specimens of petrified wood picked up the tempo when she came around. Something in the way she moved, I suppose. Light did have a way of refracting upon the boundary between the two as they seemingly winked at each other.

There was something in the reflection off a shard of "scree" on the summit of Mt. Ellen that once engrossed her for hours. From what arguably was the most glorious viewpoint of the Colorado Plateau, Sheila, eschewing the "macro" for the "micro," settled comfortably within.

On our first jaunt down the "Box" of Box-Death Hollow, a pas-de-deux ensued with at least half of the 8-mile dance floor knee-deep in the pristine water therapy of the Pine Creek drainage. Her dawdles became much more flora-driven, her sighs more rapturous. A more complete wandering pal would be hard to imagine.

We punctuated her long goodbye via phone and text. We must have actually said "adios" dozens of times over the course of our final interactions. As each new opportunity arose for further conversations, however, her willingness to wander the next dimension never seemed to sway. She was "Sheila, Queen of the Kaibab!"

Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.