Teri Orr: All that glitters
Park City has long attracted grifters and shady ladies and flim-flam men. It floats in our mineral-filled water and mine tailings dust. When I moved here in the spring of 1979 the silver mines were still running. Months later the price of silver had remained so low for so long and the water table was so high, the mines shut down for the last time. A few months after, the (original) Cozy Bar closed. It was the place where the miners hung out to play pool and women with faded flannel shirts, faded hair ribbons and dreams played pool, too. They all ate the pickled eggs from behind the bar. The swinging wooden street sign read First Chance as you headed up the street and Last Chance as you strolled down. Main Street ended there — in the dirt in front of the old train depot. The Utah Coal and Lumber building next door with the weathered wood and the faint paint was the best Mexican restaurant in town. Never mind it was the only one.
Enzo Mileti’s parents ran a poplar Italian restaurant/bar in town across the street from the Alamo, the old brick building that once housed the power company. Mileti’s was never empty. Sometime in the ’90s, Enzo reminded me not too long ago, I spoke to his class about being a journalist. His teacher, my friend, had a hole in her lesson plan and I filled in.
I don’t remember how I met Al but it was someplace in the ’80s after I wrote about a drug-related murder case when I was the Park City correspondent for the Salt Lake Tribune. He drove a giant Harley and had long “Easy Rider” hair, a red bandanna and leather vest. He worked undercover for the FBI. I loved riding on the back of that bike. Cocaine was the dust that spilled out on the bar counters back then. It mostly arrived in the southern desert on small planes that came up from Mexico and criss-crossed the Rio Grande and landed on dirt roads on the Native American reservations.
Deer Valley was a dump. Really — it was the place where folks tossed out old mattresses in the summers long before it was a shiny ski resort. It was “outside” of town. My first few summers here an endurance race took place there sponsored by Levi Strauss — the Ride and Tie. Horses and men competed mostly against themselves. The mayor of Salt Lake City at the time — a democrat! — Ted Wilson, teamed up with his buddy, Bob Redford. The competition started at the base of the not-yet ski area and ended up over Guardsman Pass at The Homestead, I think. Both runner and rider started out together, and then the rider would tie the horse up and keep running and the runner would catch up to the horse and ride. Redford ran across the finish line and saw Ted already there. The first team! Neither man had the horse. On the final leg, Ted had tied it up and Redford had run past it, resulting in a DQ. Ted’s daughter, Jenny, well she’s now the mayor of Salt Lake County.
We were still the Wild West as we had been since the early silver mining days in the 1800s. We were a constant embarrassment to the rest of the provincial parts of the state. We were good with that.
A lot of folks died in those modern Wild West years in a variety of ways that all had a common thread — drugs and a cult of “happiness.” There were flipped cars in open fields at 2 a.m. and self-inflicted gunshots in the middle of the day. There were some guys back from ’Nam who relived those horrors on bad “trips” and drove off into the desert — their bodies found weeks later. A police officer — due to testify in a federal drug case the next morning — a fit handsome guy, had a “heart attack” the night before his testimony. A Parkite and former Olympic diver — due to testify in California for a Utah drug case — “hit his head diving in his own swimming pool” and died. When a drug dealer from Florida showed up in Salt Lake City, he gave his half of a dollar bill to the guy who had the matching half at the airport. Then they went to a board room in Park City and assembled around the table were the dealers for about five neighboring states. The briefcase was opened, the drugs were cut on the conference table, parceled out and then lunch was served. They were all on their way by 2 p.m. the same day.
Two local dealers who knew too much and talked too much were taken duck hunting. And though more than half a dozen men were on that trip, just those two men reportedly went out in a boat together very early one morning. Three weeks later their bodies were found floating in the opposite end of the large lake from where they had been reported missing. If all these stories sound just too fantastical, I can assure you they all are true. I reported on each of them. I sat in a locked jail cell in Coalville with a charming handsome convicted drug-dealer and killer before he was transferred to Point of the Mountain. Before he was then transferred to a prison in New Mexico before his father with the Columbian wife du jour arranged to land a helicopter in the prison yard and break him out — he was on the lam for three days — before he was rearrested and returned to his forever home. His name is Preston Mitchell — you can look him up.
So why the trip down memory lane?
During this COVID time of too much time — a young British producer of crime stories came across some of my articles from that period I had honestly long forgotten. She reached out.
And during COVID I revisited two old classic films — the musical “Paint Your Wagon” and “The Flim-Flam Man.” Neither is what you might call “literature on the screen.” But in “The Flim-Flam Man” — there was an exchange that always stuck with me. When the main character, played by George C. Scott, is asked “Don’t you feel bad cheating honest people?” The flim-flam man answers, “You can’t cheat an honest man.” In “Paint Your Wagon” — a spaghetti western in which two men fall in love with an extra wife who a polygamist is looking to unload, they have built a shanty town on top of miles of mine tunnels. In the end, the entire town collapses in dust due to having ignored the fact — it was built on top of miles of mine tunnels.
For those of you new here — Park City has more than 1,200 miles of mine tunnels that run under our town. Make of that what you will.
And Enzo Mileti? The kid who grew up in the shadow of his parent’s iconic restaurant bar on Main Street — is now a writer/producer in Hollywood for the Showtime series “Black Monday.” And a producer/writer for the FX series “Fargo.” He is a handsome man with a lovely smart actress wife and a backpack full of memories about his hometown. His IMDb bio mentions his Park City upbringing and the characters he met here … including “a one-legged coke dealer who hid his stash in his prosthetic leg” — which I had totally forgotten. Park City still attracts flim-flam men but now they drive Sprinter vans, throw lavish parties and speak of happiness with whispered sadness. This town has a cellular memory — in the timbers of those old bar buildings and the dust on the trails. If you are quiet — you can hear ghosts whisper warnings some Sundays in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder and director emeritus of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
Correction: A previous version of this column misstated Ted Wilson’s first name.
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Some “Rocky Mountain states seem locked in competition to pass the most brazenly anti-democratic election laws,” writes Jeff Milchen.