Look out heavy metal world, Salt Lake City has the Sinister Urge!
I couldn’t believe it either, but take it from this “cynical New Yawk bastid,” rock and roll (and debauchery) is alive and well in the land of Mormons.
For weeks leading up to my Olympic experience, I could not help but wonder if I’d be able to keep my “sanity” and actually have FUN during my three day, two night stay there. Questions like: “Will they try to convert me? Will I become instantly clean and sober when my plane lands? Will they confuse me with Satan for wearing a Pantera shirt?” and my most torturous thought, “How and where will I be able to get my hands on some beer?” kept ricocheting through my brain. After all, I was going straight from four days in Sin City (Vegas) to a place where AC/DC really DOES have something to do with household appliances.
Here’s what happened:
My sister in N.Y. had set up the trip. Seeing as all the hotels were booked, we had gotten “lucky” to find a guy who was renting out rooms in his condo… for the low, low price (by Olympic host city standards) of $200 a night!!
After being forced to sit the last 30 minutes of my flight due to security reasons (the pilot assured us that if ANYONE even stood up, he would divert the plane away from SLC), I met Sis at the airport. She called our host to pick us up. The designated white early ‘90s Thunderbird pulled up and Sis gives me the signal that this is our soon-to-be new buddy. Immediately the butterflies in my stomach start going nuts. The car stops and out steps “Utah Bob.” He seems like a nice enough guy in his mid-‘40s and since he tells me he is originally from N.Y., I decide to give him the benefit of the doubt. He throws our luggage in the back and away we go. A few minutes after some small talk, Utah Bob asks me what kind of music I like. Trying not to scare him, I answer with a generic and somewhat sheepish, “rock.” Like the Fonz, he hits a pre-set button on his car radio and said, “Oh cool, we have a great rock station here.” I was 100% convinced I was about to hear some Abba or Barry Manilow, when instead I heard the angels sing…well actually it wasn’t angels, it was OZZY!!! I ripped off my winter hat just to be sure, and fuckin-A, there it was, “Over the Mountain.” I couldn’t believe it, but when the next song that came on was Led Zep’s “No Quarter,” I breathed a definite sigh of relief.
A few minutes later, around midnight, we pulled into Utah Bob’s driveway and he electronically opened the door for us to enter the house through the garage. Once inside the garage I noticed a pretty hefty stack of Playboys and case of Bud-Light. With a wink and a nod ol’ Bob told me to “help myself” whenever I wanted some. I was wondering how he managed to “infiltrate” the scene here, but not enough to keep me awake.
The next morning Utah Bob took us to the transportation area where the Olympic event shuttle busses/trains (TRAX) leave. On the way, he excitedly told my sister and me that we should get our cameras ready, as we would be soon passing a historical landmark. I thought besides the Mormon Tabernacle, what else is up here. Judging by the mining/logging area we were in, I highly doubted the Mormons had picked this to be their Mecca. “There it is folks,” Bob exclaimed as he frantically pointed. When I looked over, what did I see but a Kentucky Fried Chicken. “That’s not just any KFC,” Bob half-yelled. “Look at the sign on the side, that’s the world’s FIRST KFC!!!” I sarcastically wondered aloud if they served beer.
Across the street from the entrance to the E Center, where I was about to watch the U.S women’s hockey team defeat Sweden, I noticed a bar called The Puck. I immediately grabbed my sister’s arm and made a beeline for it. Once inside, a waitress behind a counter who asked if we were members greeted us. When I said no, she asked if we wanted to buy a one-time $10 “membership” or a $17 “membership” which was for two weeks. Both of which she said would “cover” five friends and me.
When I said “neither” and took a step towards the bar, a huge bouncer looking like Nanook of the North said I needed a membership. I asked him “What for?” and he grunted, “To get in.” Basically, it was Utah’s way of bending you over for $10, but at this point I was getting sucked in by the Olympic spirit anyway, so I happily forked it over.
At the perimeter of the arena, which had airport-like security checkpoints, everyone entering had to empty their pockets into small plastic tubs, open up their jackets and turn ON their cell phones and pagers before passing through a metal detector. If metal from your belt, shoes or jackets set off the detector, you then had the pleasure of being searched with a hand wand by TWO National Guardsmen, who were outfitted in camouflage, complete with fully loaded semi-automatic rifles. One of which told me that if I turned my belt buckle sideways and held my hand over it that there was less chance of it being detected. Is it me, or did that Guardsmen resemble Timothy McVeigh???
Once inside the arena, I was standing in line to buy a $5, 16 oz, plastic bottle of Bud (No Membership Required!) when I heard the angels singing again. This time it was Rob Zombie singing “Feel So Numb.” “No way!” I thought. So, I asked a guy in the beer line if he knew who was playing over the PA system and he said, “Yeah, they play this song on 95.9 The Hawk. I think its Rob Zombie.” After I picked myself up off the floor, I went inside to watch the game. As soon as a penalty would be called, a ten second slice of Judas Priests’ “Breaking the Law” was blared over the PA as the offending player entered the penalty box. Was I really in Salt Lake? Where were all the religious “robots” I had heard so much about while living in N.Y. and L.A.? What would the Robs, Zombie and Halford, make of all this?
After the game, Sis and I decided to stop at The Training Table for burgers before heading into the Olympic Village downtown. When I went to the counter to order they handed me two menus and told me to go to a booth and “call them” when I knew what I wanted. So we went to a booth and found a phone where a mini-juke box would normally be. When we decided, I picked up the phone and a girl asked me for our order. After ordering, she asked if I’d like to have some extra Fry Sauce (a mixture of ketchup, mayo and mustard) for my burger and fries. When I declined her offer, she countered with “That’s okay, because we just love our ketchup here.” Apparently on a yearly basis, Utah consumes the highest amount of ketchup in the world, nearly 2.5 million pounds. I wonder if Colonel Sanders knew that when he opened up that KFC?!
Later that night, after passing through another security checkpoint, we entered the Olympic Village. Like hookers in Vegas and kids selling chickletos at the Tijuana border, people approached you inquiring if you wanted to buy, sell or trade pins with them. This phenomenon is so big that Coca-Cola had sponsored four Trading Centers in the Village, all to able to hold about 60-75 people. Apparently, there are even “unwritten rules” for pin traders. Such as: Only wear pins that you are looking to trade and you should also be able to give a brief history or significant meaning to the pins you have. And did you know that the top pin of 2001 was a Green Gelatin pin, which was a bowl shaped pin complete with green gelatin, carrots, pineapple and cottage cheese? I guess you had to be there…
The next morning as Utah Bob drove us to the TRAX, we passed a bar called Cruzrs. When I asked Bob if he ever went there, he candidly told me it was a “pasty bar” and that, yes, he enjoyed going there. I thought it was strange he would admit frequenting a titty bar with my sister in the car, but he then told us how great their food was. He continued to say that he couldn’t understand how other “pasty bars” in his area hadn’t yet figured out the value of serving food and how “behind the times” they were. For some reason all I could think of was the Ren and Stimpy episode were they were selling rubber “neeples.”
After what seemed like my 100th time being searched by the National Guardsmen (although it was quick and did give you peace of mind), we entered the E Center again. Inside, we witnessed tiny Belarus upset Sweden 4-3 on a 75-foot slap shot that crawled over goalie Tommy Salo’s shoulder and into the net with only about two minutes remaining.
During the game, Sis and I sat next to three Swedes from Stockholm, who proudly wore their national jerseys and waved a Swedish flag. Even though the game will go down as one of the biggest upsets in Olympic hockey history, my most memorable (and enjoyable) moment did not happen on the ice. It came when Sweden tied the score and my new middle aged Swedish friend stood up and screamed “YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!” with a growl that would have made Sully of Godsmack proud. For some reason, it reminded me of the ending to Hansel and Gretel, when the two very nice kids torch the old witch in the oven.
After the game, we notice lots of scalpers selling tickets for the U.S. vs. Germany, which would start in three hours, also at the E Center. My financial advisor (Sis) told me to find out how much. The scalpers were all saying “face value’ which was in fact $250 per ticket. I asked Sis what our budget was and she told me $220….for the PAIR. Even though I felt like I was about to box Mike Tyson, I figured that maybe if I landed a “lucky punch,” we could get in. After being laughed at a few times, a jovial Australian guy asked me how much I had to spend. I told him I wasn’t gonna try and bullshit him and that we only had $220. For whatever reason, he said, “You look like a fine Yank looking out for your lady friend, so here ya go mate.” I checked the back of the tickets, and the hologram on the front, ripped the money out of my sister’s hand, shoved it into his and in we went.
For two full days, everywhere I looked, I couldn’t avoid seeing the Canadian National team apparel made by a company called Roots. It was everywhere. However, I also notice that it said Roots on all of the U.S. berets that everyone seemed to be wearing as well. I wondered why, during a time when patriotism and national pride were at an all-time high, would the U.S. be having their stuff being made by non-Americans? So I walked up to an older man plastered in Roots apparel and asked him why. Apparently, Nike provided the 1998 U.S. apparels and some of the U.S. athletes complained that they were either ugly or uncomfortable. So when the bidding took place for the 2002 SLC Olympics, Roots, which was started by two American expatriates, outbid Nike and was awarded the contract. The man then went on to tell me that in Australia, Roots means “fuck.” No wonder my Australian scalper seemed so happy. He was probably laughing his ass off at how dumb us “mates” are.
During the warm-ups, Soundgarden’s Rusty Cage blared as the U.S. team took the ice. I thought that was a good selection, to get both the fans and players pumped up and my national pride was starting to rev. But, when the next song was Germany’s own Rammstein, singing “Links-2-3-4,” my national pride quickly went out the window and I was frozen with indecision. Rammstein is one of my favorite bands. When my sister saw me trying to sing along, she sarcastically asked if I was gonna root for the Germans. Knowing that she had just spent $220 to get us in, I said, “Hell no!” but in my heart I somehow felt it wouldn’t be so bad if the Germans won. Sounds crazy? No crazier than hearing Ozzy on a Salt Lake City radio station, that’s for sure.
Back at the TRAX after the game, Utah Bob picked us up and drove us to the airport. On the way, he had The Hawk on the radio and seemed to be proud to be a “rocker.” He drummed his steering wheel when Night Rangers’ “Don’t Tell Me Ya Love Me” came on and told me he missed going to concerts like he did when he was younger. I told him it was never too late and that mullets (which I had to explain) were coming back in style. He asked if I could recommend any bands I thought he might like. I wondered if he would ever be able to recover from a Slipknot, Pantera or GWAR show and realized he wouldn’t. So I told him that Pamela Anderson was rumored to be stripping on-stage during the next Kid Rock tour. He nearly drove off the rode as he yelled, “Dude, I am THERE!” It sounds corny, but after all the negative stuff I had heard abut Utah, the old cliché "Don’t knock it ‘til you try it!” never rang more true. If Utah Bob could be this cool, it wouldn’t surprise me if the next huge heavy metal act was discovered in Utah...well, maybe not!