Welcome to Uberdance
January 23, 2016
I was in a store the other day, and as I left, the cashier cheerily said, "Have a great Sundance." I suddenly understood how Jewish friends feel when they are wished a Merry Christmas. The event is unavoidable even if they aren’t celebrating it. And there’s certainly no avoiding Sundance.
I gave up on it a long time ago. The ticketing process is complicated, the traffic is impossible, the movies by and large are disappointing, and I don’t care about celebrities. It’s just not my deal. Other people really get into it. Whatever pumps your water.
Sundance loves our little town so much that they completely take over. They love us so much they put false fronts over our historic buildings and displace our local businesses. Temporary buildings sprout up in Swede Alley, taking up parking that is already scarce. I’ll see TV coverage of Sundance and only vaguely recognize Park City. It’s like the town gets a bad botox treatment and looks sort of familiar, but with huge puffy lips. Fortunately, it wears off after a week or so.
Every year, as the production team on the "Park City Follies" is working on the script, we start out thinking this is the year we parody Sundance. And every year, we come to the same conclusion: it can’t be done. The event is so over the top that there isn’t anything that can be done to parody Sundance that Sundance hasn’t already done itself. Is there anything left?
It turns out there is. This year, Uber is one of the corporate sponsors of the circus. Uber has joined forces with Airbus, and reportedly is going to provide helicopter service between the Salt Lake airport and an undisclosed location in Park City. Could be your backyard, for all you know. So far it’s all hypothetical, but it’s been reported everywhere from here in The Park Record to The Guardian in London. I even saw it in Variety, and it’s disturbing that I’m reading Variety online during Sundance. As far as I know, no actual Uber helicopters have been spotted landing in the Deer Valley roundabout.
But if the news reports are to be believed, the plan is to shuttle people from the airport to Park City at a price of $200 each during the daylight hours, and $300 at night when the stars come out. The articles all quote the CEO of Airbus as saying, "It’s a pilot project." Yes, a pilot project.
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They claim they can fly the glitterati from the airport to the secret landing pad in Park City in 15 minutes. That seems plausible in clear weather. It seems unlikely that they would be able to take off at all in stormy conditions, stranding important people in some hay field.
The City and County say there have not been any applications filed for a heliport. And if you are Uber, the last thing you would do is apply for a permit to build a heliport for 3 or 4 days of Sundance. You’d just find a place to land, and let the City and County try to figure out how to stop it. The landowner might not even be aware until it happens. The publicity value of the stunt will be huge, and by the time the authorities figure out what to do about it, the last Kardashian will have been Uber-flown back to whatever asylum they live in.
The whole nature of Uber is to disrupt (to use the annoying business buzzword), and there’s nothing really disruptive about filing a permit application and grinding through the planning commission process for a year. When all is said and done, somebody might get hit with a $299 misdemeanor fine — more likely the land owner than Uber, since the City isn’t going to chase them around the world to enforce our local helicopter landing regulations, if we have any. Uber will have obtained a lot of free exposure (such as this), and the residents of some neighborhood in Park City will have had a lot of exposure to all the joys of having their neighborhood turned into an all-night airport for the benefit of Uber’s stunt and Sundance’s excess. Nothing says "rich jerk" like landing a helicopter in a neighborhood.
The City clings to the belief that it still has some control over the festival. The parts that are formally under the Sundance umbrella are more or less regulated. The camp followers are free-range. If we really do have random Uber helicopters landing at the hot party spots around town in the middle of the night, it’s pretty convincing proof that the City has completely lost control.
Yes, have a great Sundance — especially those of you in the flight path.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.