The Olympic torch finally reached Utah this week after 12,000 miles, thousand of runners, thousands of torches, finally circling Utah the way a shy suitor drives around the block one more time with his roses. I mean, it was in Northern Arizona two weeks ago then last week in Idaho. Didn’t they see Utah in the way? This is no way to start a fire. The poor guy in the Jack London story could have given us some valuable advice. I’m kidding. Who hasn’t enjoyed carrying a torch? Chuck heard on his scanner that the Olympic Stadium cauldron froze, the pilot light, and they were working on it yesterday morning. We can just see an edge of it from our front window.
Today it is gray and foggy in the morning, and the officials are worried about the potential inversion, the least attractive feature of this valley. The mountains, which once held only the city in their hands, now hold also its pollution, and in the right conditions it can become a dark ceiling. I am again transported by TRAX downtown, exactly 14 blocks west and four blocks north, and sure enough the coordinates are right: There’s Temple Square. This is the center of all Salt Lake addresses. (Moab, where the torch arrived in southern Utah, would be something like Two Million South, Ten Thousand East.)
Temple Square, of course, is a big history lesson, which you can read later, elsewhere. I haven’t been here since the Mormon Church bought a block of Main Street and wove it into their larger plaza. When you couple that with the fact that the elegant Hotel Utah is now the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, it underscores the fact that this intersection, which was once celebrated as a crossroads of the West, might need a new name. My favorite building here is the Tabernacle, which was the seat of the Tabernacle Choir for years and years. The domed building is celebrated for being built without a nail (wooden pegs served) and for its wondrous acoustics; I remember a grade-school tour where a guide at the back lifted her hand and dropped a pin. I graduated from high school in there.
In a corner of the square, a person emerges in an unmistakable costume: a bride. She is lifting her train above the icy walkway, and I regret that I don’t have time to get her photograph. By the time I walk over, here comes another young couple, and the word I want to emphasize here is “young,” and I take their photograph. Are they 20? I congratulate them but don’t ask. They go out onto the plaza with their photographer. Here comes another bride with her mother; this one is 20 tops. For a minute in the morning I am surrounded by brides, and what can I say: It makes me happy. I have no advice on this matter for anybody. The best thing I ever did was get married. I was 21.
In a bookstore coffee shop I ask four healthy young men in red and gray parkas if they are skiers. I already know they’re Austrian. They look at me … how? I don’t know, but it’s a look, and I smile, a goodwill ambassador, and say what I suddenly understand: “Hockey.” They nod at me, but they don’t smile. I coached hockey in another life, and I’ll just say as a sporting tip right here: Watch out for the Austrian Hockey team; they’re not here for idle chatter.
On South Temple Street I ask another guy in an official parka where the Olympic Superstore is, and he says, “Across from the Delta Center,” and I thank him. Then he asks me where the Delta Center is. He arrived this morning from Detroit.
In the Olympic Superstore (which is housed in a large fabric building), all the handsome help in their red vests are from Brazil. They’re college kids staying with host families. The place is packed with shiny souvenir gear including, for some reason, an arresting display of cowbells. I ask a tall guy with a tripod and camera what he’s up to and find he’s filming odd bits for Swedish TV. I tell him my name and the name of the town my grandfather came from, and he smiles, “We’re everywhere.” Around us the store is filling and it drives me back into the sunny cold.
Outside, we are everywhere. From in front of the Delta Center I can see five men in separate areas on industrial lifts. The streets down here across from the Olympic Medals Plaza are now filling with families filing by all the utility trucks. I can hear the rehearsal from the distant speakers inside the plaza. The guy is pleading with somebody to get in line and if they haven’t done something yet, to come up and do it. “O, Canada!” begins, a recording, and it worries me that there’s a fix. Let’s watch and see if Canada wins some medal. Why would they rehearse the song unless somebody knows something? There’s more to this reporting than I first thought.
Hoofing it back toward the train, I fall behind another newlywed couple. They’re marrying people all the livelong day. I can see from the way the bride lifts her dress that she’s wearing tennis shoes. A pragmatist. This marriage will last. I look up at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. There’s a beehive on the roof, for this is the Beehive State. I’ve been married a long time, and this is true: I spent my wedding night in there.