Friday, September 24, 2010

Must the Desert Be So Dry?

by John Gilstrap

Last weekend, I had the honor of teaching a couple of workshops and delivering the lunchtime keynote address to the League of Utah Writers meeting in Salt Lake City.  It was a terrific conference, I met a lot of great people, and the Wasatch Mountains make for a delightful backdrop.  As a special bonus, I finished the manuscript for Threat Warning (the next Jonathan Grave novel) while I was there.  Can it get any better?

Actually, yes, it can.  I had been to Utah before, but I didn't remember it being so dry.  Oh, I remember the desert; I just didn't remember that alcohol was considered a controlled substance.  The full realization didn't hit me until I attended the Friday night pre-dinner social hour in the lobby and saw that they were serving water.  Really, water.  Not tea, not soda.  Water.  And it smelled kind of bad.

Well, it's a small conference, I told myself.  Surely there'd be wine with dinner, if only through a cash bar.  They were serving beef tenderloin, after all, and nothing augments the flavor of a nice cut of beef like a good red wine.  Wrong.  In fact, the drink of choice during dinner was . . . wait for it . . . pink lemonade.  I'm not big on lemonade in general, and pinkness somehow makes it worse.  I stuck with the water.  I was tempted to ask for an olive to put in my water glass just so I could pretend, but I ultimately lost my nerve.

I understand that certain religious groups eschew alcohol, and I suppose that if the reception and dinner were held in a church meeting hall, I would have anticipated that there'd be no alcohol served; but this was at a hotel.  It never occurred to me that the Volstead Act still applied in Utah.  Given that I was flying in from Washington, DC, I'm a little shocked that no one thought to mention this one peccadillo of the Utah landscape.

I don't know why this annoys me so much, but it does.

Here's another thing that annoys me:

My flight from Washington to Denver en route to Salt Lake City was completely full.  I wasn't able to upgrade, so I had a window seat in coach, which was perfectly fine until the ENORMOUS middle-seat occupant arrived.  I'm not talking fat here--although he could have lost a few pounds; I'm talking linebacker big, probably six-six, three-twenty.  I'm talking seat-and-a-half big, with beefy arms that expanded way beyond the arm rests on either side.  Because of his girth--and I'm not slamming him for his size here; he is who he is--I had to spend three hours and change crammed between him and a very non-flexible bulkhead.  Our arms were continually pressed against each other, and this guy had the core temperature of a woodstove. 

How is this reasonable?  When the airlines upcharge for everything but the breathing air, how come I have to pay full price for two-thirds of a seat?  Stated differently, with all respect, shouldn't Gigantor have to pay for two seats?  Yeah, I know it's not his fault, but it's not my fault, either.

By the time I finally arrived in Salt Lake City, boy did I need a drink.  (See above.)


  1. LOL!!!! I'm sorry for your trials but at least it gave me a laugh. I personally wouldn't care about the "dry" part but I didn't realize you couldn't even get a drink in a hotel. And I don't want to have to sit close to other people, planes or otherwise.

  2. That means they must not have had the typical, raucous after-hours group of writers talking about writing, life, and the biz. That's always my favorite part of a conference. Sigh. But look at it this way--you got some good work done.

  3. Sorry for your trouble, but thanks for bringing a smile to my face.

    I think it annoys you because you're an adult yet someone else has made the decision for you. Therefore, you feel as though you're being treated unfairly - even as a child. (It's also a strong case for being politically aware when you vote, but I digress.)

    I guess it's all about being treated fairly. That's different for different people yet everyone seems to crave it under one guise or another. Bottom line: Life isn't always fair.

    To parrot Kathryn, congratulations on the work you got done.

  4. Thanks for the smile this morning.

    Sorry your hotel didn't have a bar. They do have them in Utah. Especially in the ski towns. But be forewarned: they pour tiny drinks. Each bottle has a little globe on the top with a spigot that only allows the bartender to pour about an ounce into a glass. If the drink calls for more they have to give it to you in a separate glass. Forget something like a Manhattan Ice Tea. The good news is that I think you can still get liquor on Sundays unlike dry parts of the south. But don't quote me on that.

    In defense of Utah, the skiing is amazing. Especially at Alta when the powder is hip deep. And they have bars.

  5. John--I can't even imagine a writers get together without proper libations. OMG! What did you do? How did you cope? No wonder you had time to finish your book. But my sympathies. Take two bloody marys and call me in the morning.

  6. I'm sure there were a great many people who enjoyed your presentations at the writers conference in Utah. Then you go and stick a thumb in their eye.

    Really big of you, don't you think?

  7. I had a similar experience once on an airplane. Cept I was one of the offenders. At the time I was at the peak of my weight lifting hobby* and sported a 52 inch chest and 18 inch neck. 5'8" 240lbs.

    I was in the middle seat. The guy at the window was a tiny English Professorish dude with a sour look on his face and a way to itchy looking wool tweed jacket. I tried my best to keep out of his way and stay within the lines. Just before take off the outside seat was still empty and it looked like I may be able to slide over to it when the doors closed. Then ... along came the biggest airplane passenger I have ever seen. And no, she was not linebacker big...she was Walmart/Jelly Donut/Jerry Springer fan big. Taller than me, and double my weight her fat oozed over the arm rests when she squeezed into the coach class seat. It was like being consumed by that 50's green monster the blob, except that it had a human face on it. And she was sweaty, way sweaty. The little professor guy was extra prickly when she sat down and looked like he would scream if I dared touch him, so the entire 6 hour flight from Anchroage to San Diego I held my body rigid daring not touch Professor Prickle on the right while Ms Stinkygoop attempted to consume my left via osmosis. So yeah John, I sympathize. At least though I got to enjoy a nice Long Island Iced Tea at the other end.

    * not body building...that's narcissistic...I just lifted heavy stuff and put it down nicely, preferring not to look in the mirror like the Schwarzenwhoser girly men

  8. John, I'm sorry you had so much trouble at Roundup this year. I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused. The League of Utah Writers is a non-profit organization with a limited budget, certainly not enough to pay for an open bar. If I had known of your discomfort, I would have done anything in my power to accomodate you. Utah is not as backward as you make it out to be, especially since the Olympics. The visitors at the airport hotels are by and large not native Utahns, but out of state visitors. I believe you can get a glass of wine at virtually any hotel, especially when the hotel is a Hilton property. As for Mormons in Utah, it is estimated that the percentage of Utahns that are active LDS is approximately 40%, and the largest concentration of them are in South Salt Lake Valley and Utah County. But you can still purchase a glass of wine at any location throughout the state. Your account of the weekend in Utah is a humorous anecdote at our expense, which I really don't mind. But when taken in light of the actual facts, your argument becomes post hoc propter hoc fallacious. I really enjoyed your visit to our League, and again I apologize for not having enough money to have a wine list. But the LDS Church had nothing to do with it.
    Mike Eldredge, Past President, League of Utah Writers

  9. Anon, I encourage you to look less for the my thumb in your eye than my elbow in your ribs. I was very serious when I said I had a nice time and met a lot of nice people. Still, the whole prohibition thing was a surprise.

    Mike, not to worry. I'm a man of resources and resolve. If I'd really needed a drink, I'd have found one. Yes, I had some fun at Utah's expense here at the Killzone, but at the end of the day, I was (and am) still impressed by your organization that has existed for 75 years (!).

    John Gilstrap

  10. I feel your pain, John. I was in Salt Lake City not too long ago for a few days and I found I couldn't get a drink at my hotel. Not without buying an $8 plate of crackers, that is.

    You see, you have to have food with the alcohol. That somehow makes it less sinful.

    I was told, though, that I could go to the state-owned liquor store and buy whatever I wanted.

    I don't know about you, but I hate going to liquor stores. I'm a wine drinker, and I buy it in supermarkets or low-cost places like Costco. But here I was in Utah, so I went.

    They had my brand of wine, for about double the price I pay here in Las Vegas. I swallowed hard and picked up a bottle. At the counter, I informed the cashier I wanted to buy a corkscrew. He said they're not allowed to sell corkscrews (!!!) but I could buy one at the supermarket.

    I left the wine and walked out.

  11. Next time you should accept the invite to the forensics conference instead. The first night is a getting to know you thing and everyone is invited to bring a six pack of their local brew to drink and share. Talk about cultural diversity. I'm a root beer fan myself, but again, all are welcome. And you would fit right in with the other "death dudes". It's a fun bunch.