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Tom goes to Salt Lake City--and neither will ever be the same

I was in Salt Lake City last month. Nice place. I don't know if there's another city in the entire United States about which there are more stereotypes and preconceived notions. Boy, was I surprised.

I had told myself that if I happened to run into a black person in Salt Lake City, I would ask, "Are you Karl Malone?" Turns out it took me all of about 30 seconds outside the airport before I saw the first of many African Americans. And she didn't look anything like Karl Malone. Luckily for her. Actually, I was astonished by the number of people of color I saw there. I had figured that if I saw such people in double digits, I'd be surprised; in triple digits, I'd be amazed; in fourple digits or beyond, astonished. And they appear to be living there of their own free will.

My daughter, Darlene, was playing in her last-ever collegiate volleyball tournament, so I had to be there. She had arranged my hotel and car rental on one of the online services. I had never heard of the car-rental company, but I figured maybe they'd try even harder than Avis.

Try to piss me off, is what they tried to do.

I went to the counter, told the guy my name and gave him my driver's license. He asked if I had the confirmation number, and having seen it when I got out the paper to check the company's name, I recited it to him from memory. (Believe me, this is much more of a curse than a blessing.)

He looked as though he was about to press some kind of Terrorist Alert button, but then decided that he didn't want to stick around for all the paperwork. So he asked for a "contact number." I didn't know what that was, so he asked again, louder. I still didn't understand, then I asked, "Do you mean a phone number?"

"I mean, a contact number," he huffed. So I gave him my home phone number. Then he asked for another one. I told him I only have one.

"What about a work number?" I told him I work at home.

"Well then, how about a cell-phone number?"

I told him I don't own one, and he let out an audible gasp. "How can you not have a cell phone?" he sneered.

Usually, I try to joke in those situations to lighten the mood, but he didn't deserve levity, so I said, "I was given a choice, and I chose to have testicles instead."

He insisted that he needed another number, so I told him to make one up. He said he couldn't, so I said, "You might as well, because I'm going to."

When he said that I wouldn't be allowed to do so, I told him to just put down the number for that rival car-rental company across the aisle, because that's where he could contact me in a few seconds. He finally relented, but he got the last laugh. When I got to the lot, all they had left was this giant Jeep-like thing, even though I had reserved a small sedan. I felt like Chevy Chase in the original Vacation movie.

The tournament was held in the Salt Palace, which is indisputably the coolest name for a sports arena, anywhere. Unlike those soulless arenas that are named for banks or disgraced energy companies, this place is named for SALT! And it's a PALACE!

The Utah Jazz used to play there, but now they play in the soulless Delta Center, a couple of blocks away. (The reason that the NBA team in Utah is called the Jazz is that the team was originally in New Orleans, and they just kept the name when they moved to Utah. After all these years, it still seems incongruous. Even Donny and Marie were only a little bit country and a little bit rock 'n' roll.)

Downtown Salt Lake City has streets named for Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez and John Stockton, who helped break down the color barrier in the South, the Southwest and the NBA, respectively.

With hundreds of teams in hotels in the downtown area, all of the nearby restaurants were booked for hours in advance every night. Darlene and her teammates wanted to eat at a sit-down place, so I volunteered to take them to a place a few miles away, out past the University of Utah. (The stadium still has the sculpture from the 2002 Winter Olympics, which is way cool.) So seven or eight of them piled into the Jeep thing, and off we went.

The three in the back didn't have seatbelts, so Darlene asked what would happen if we got pulled over. I said, "I'll tell the cop that we just drove in from Colorado City for the weekend."

Darlene laughed nervously and asked, "What if he doesn't think that's funny?"

"Then I'll offer to sell him the three in the back."

You know, if we don't all work to keep ridiculous stereotypes alive, we'll be stuck with a world full of love, peace and understanding. And no one I know wants Elvis Costello to emerge as a prophet.

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