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Gin, Women & Song: Utah & Nevada (July 10-14)

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I wanted to stop in Salt Lake City solely for one purpose: to see the Tabernacle Choir perform. I'd heard a lot about them, and Mormon friends advised me that Music & the Spoken Word tapings are open to the general public and well worth attending.

We reached SLC early on a Saturday afternoon, dropped our stuff at a downtown hotel, and headed to the fancy nearby shopping area to see if the Apple store had a useful case in stock for the new iPhone. No joy there, but we got lunch and enjoyed watching children play in the fountains, and came back that night to see Despicable Me. While Tony was at the hotel getting some paperwork done, I went to the not-so-fancy mall to acquire a sundress suitable to wear to church. Technically the summer performances of M&SW are at the Conference Center, not the Tabernacle, and no dress code is mentioned on the website. Still, I felt certain that I'd better be looking like Sunday morning.


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Unfortunately, my "nice casual" assumption of what's appropriate for church (informed by time spent in Southern Protestant/ evangelical churches) underestimated what was the norm for Music & the Spoken Word. Not only the male performers and ushers, but also most of the men in the audience, were in suits and ties. The women's dresses were mostly longer than knee-length and covered their shoulders. Nor was our appearance improved by walking to the Center through a morning downpour without umbrellas. However, I'm afraid that what truly made clear that I was a guest and non-member of the Church was the moment after the performance when, after a long process of making our way through the crowd, we were about to exit the Center and I realized I'd forgotten my purse inside. "Oh shit!" I said. Then I covered my mouth and scurried back to my seat with my head down.

My self-consciousness aside, the musical performance really did live up to my friends' recommendation. We particularly enjoyed the rendition of "Down to the River to Pray," which is one of those old hymns that sounds reasonably good sung by a regular congregation, but is amazing when performed by professionals -- the Choir, despite their officially volunteer status, seems to be kept to a much higher standard by the rehearsal demands of their director. If you're in Salt Lake City on either a Thursday evening or a Sunday morning, I definitely advise attending a rehearsal or performance.

Tony got some more work done at the hotel, and then we rolled out toward Nevada. Right around the state border, I started feeling thristy and requested that we stop for a drink, possibly of the alcoholic variety. At Montego Bay, we thought we could play a few rounds of blackjack while getting a free drink from a roving cocktail waitress. We failed to attract any of the hostesses' attention and ended up having to go to the casino's bar to get our G&Ts (hey, it's never too early to start staving off malaria), but the slots winnings balanced that cost out.

Wendover and West Wendover, where the cluster of casino/hotel complexes that includes Montego Bay is located, exemplify what I always think of as the Texarkana phenomenon: basically the same town spread over more than one state, with the differences in the states illustrated by different areas of the town. Wendover, Utah is a town of less than 2000 people, a quarter of whom are below the poverty line. West Wendover, Nevada, despite being the more recently-established part, has about 5000 people and a significantly lower poverty rate thanks to the employment provided by the casinos. Unsurprisingly, Wendover has tried to get itself annexed by West Wendover, but the shift in state boundaries has yet to be approved by the Senate.

Reno was too far to make before bedtime, so we stopped in Wells, Nevada for the night. Wells appears to be a town of no significance except for the operation of two legal brothels. We were tired of eating fast food, so we opted for the only restaurant open for dinner: Luther's Bar. The fried pickles were interesting. We had better luck with breakfast the next morning at Bella's Espresso House, which has friendly service, high speed wireless, bottomless coffee mugs and ginormous cinnamon rolls. We got the "mini" rolls and even those were bigger than my face. Bella's turns out to share a name and owner with one of the brothels. There's no attempt to hide the connection; indeed, a 2002 WSJ profile of said owner -- complete with pen-and-ink sketch -- was blown up and proudly displayed on the wall of the restaurant.

There really isn't much for me to say about Reno. It's pretty much Vegas-lite: gambling and shows, but on a smaller and slightly dingier scale. I don't think I'd want to return.


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