There’s a guy following me. He’s got closely-cropped, sandy blond hair, light acne. He’s fair skinned. He’s stopped next to us at a light driving the car next to us. Then I see him bike across the road in front of us. At the library he sits across from me, then I see him browsing the magazines when I turn around. What’s going on?
He probably goes to BYU — everybody seems to here — along with all of his clones. This is the second time in my life I’ve had any interaction whatsoever with this school. Years ago, I met an engineering student that was halfway through the program. She seemed disappointed when I told her I had never heard of BYU, never heard of Provo, Utah. She earnestly explained that it really was a good school, that it had a top-rated engineering program, etc. Maybe it is. They brag about being #78 on their website.
Well, let’s not get stuck on all the residents sharing a bit too much DNA. I should say something nice. Something nice … about Provo. We found some tasty tacos here at Taqueria el Vaquero, a restaurant on the only semi-dirty block in town owned by some of the only Mexicans around. The tacos really were good — freshly cooked meat on top of a double-stack of tortillas. Toppings were chose-your-own from the salsa bar where there were heaps of onions and cilantro and various salsas. Delicious and perfect.
But Provo is far from perfect.
We’re here for a concert — going to go to a rock show. We’re camping at Utah Lake State Park — just west of the town. We’re a bit worried because we found out a bit late that the park gates close at 10PM. We’re going to have to either leave the concert early or jump the gate. Why the gate anyway, Provo? I thought you were safe and serene and sanitized? 10PM is pretty early. We ask the gate attendant what the deal is, what we should do.
“The gate?” she seems surprised. “As far as I know, it’s been broken for a while.”
Well, OK. Problem solved. Let’s rock, Provo!
So we go to the concert. The person at the door tells us to have our IDs ready. No problem. We’re ready for some fun. IDs out. Line moving slowly. Doors opening over an hour after we had been told they’d open. Last minute changes — we understand.
We enter. They wave my ID away. Wow! I’m surprised. We’ve been getting double-ID’d lately even when buying 3.2 in this state. Temporarily, I feel happy to be back in a good-sized town. Then …
What the hell? Soda? Candy? Where are the beer taps? Where are the bar stools? Is this a movie? We’re at what one online reviewer called the “best place to see a show within 100 miles,” and they don’t sell beer (nice website too). There’s no bar. It’s a high school concert. I’m too old for this shit. They only wanted Lisa’s ID to verify the tickets she purchased online. Oh man. PROOOOOOOOVVOOOOOOO!!!!!
Fine. We don’t need booze to have fun, but we’re not just going to stand here in a room with a bunch of high-school wannabees staring at each other like we’re at a homecoming dance. Fuck this. We leave to find a bar to wait at while the bands set up and the openers drone out a few songs.
But there are no bars in this town. Scratch that — there’s maybe one bar in this town. We have to search a bit. We find Abeuford Gifford’s Libation Emporium (“AGB’s” to local drinkers, all 7 of them). You can buy a 1/2 liter of beer, but if you want a shot, you have to order it with a mixer, and they serve the mixer on the side. Want a shot of whiskey? You order a whiskey and soda. It comes in two glasses — one for booze, one for soda. You take the shot, the bartender pours out the soda. The people next to us order another round of these. They follow the rules here.
All the liquor bottles have special valves that restrict the flow of booze. The bartenders use a special collar to pour government-approved portions. But you can order beer by the 1/2 liter. You can get drunk. You can even order a shot if they pour it right. It’s exhausting and maddening and annoying and pathetic.
We go back to the concert. The concert is fine. The crowd is weird. Instead of a group of drunken ladies dancing in front of the stage, there’s a short, bearded gent dancing around instead. He really, really wants to rub up against the woman he’s with, but she’s shy and doesn’t seem to really want to dance. Maybe she needs a beer.
Another guy goes through the motions of what, at any other concert venue, would be the logistics of a shot order, and then he returns with lollipops. Lollipops. The group sucks their lollipops together and listens to the music. The group also sucks.
“It’s great to be back in Provo,” he singer says from up on stage. “We’ve been touring a lot, and I’m from Seattle. It’s great to be closer to the west coast.” The crowd cheers. It’s great to be closer to the west coast — that’s the compliment, the nicest thing he could think of to say. Provo is more west than the last town he was in. It’s not a compliment, it’s a statement of geography. We laugh at the zing while everybody else cheers.
The next day we make it to Salt Lake City. “Why’d you stop in Provo?” our friend asks. We tell him we saw a concert. “No beer, right?” he guesses. Right. No beer. And that’s all you really need to know about Provo.