Saturday, March 01, 2008

In the Belly of the Beast Looking for Coffee

If you're me, and you get nervous around pushy strangers, you spend your whole life avoiding Mormons. You learn to recognize them from the earnest way they wear their Jansport backpacks securely fastened over both shoulders, the straps somehow barely wrinkling their freshly pressed white dress shirts, and their ties swinging between their arms as they bike through the Philips neighborhood looking for converts. They travel in pairs, being all freshly scrubbed - the whitest, youngest, most earnest men in the neighborhood. And I, uncomfortable around all that cleanliness and conviction, cross the street when I see them, avoiding both their intense eye-contact and their pamphlets.

And so it's all kinds of odd to find myself in Salt Lake City, the whole town scrubbed clean, the streets wide and orderly, the lights gently whistling at me when it's safe to cross the street, a subtle reminder painted in the street at my feet, telling me to look both ways. There are even bright orange flags in cups at crosswalks, so you can carry them with you when you step into traffic, and leave them on the other side when you make it safely across. It makes me worry even more about those fresh-scrubbed biker Mormans in Philips. Minneapolis must seem like the Most Dangerous Place on Earth to someone used to a town built to protect you from traffic and from the whole wide world.

Anyway, I'm here, and I'm me, so I need coffee and the Internet. All of this orderliness makes me long for the chaos of the World Wide Web. It would drive me to porn if I were the type. It's not the easiest task in the world to find a coffee shop among all of these clean-living people, and my first route took me to a plaza owned by the Mormon church. So there I was, after spending my whole life avoiding the Mormons, walking right onto their sacred ground. Would I have to stare at my feet the whole time in order to avoid being converted? No, it turns out, because, at least on Saturday morning at 9:00, the place is deserted, quiet, like a museum. I see one man in a tie and jacket, and because I am in his land, I make a point of smiling at him and meeting his eyes. I figure as I do so, that really, the safest place on Earth from an attempted Mormon-conversion might be here, at their very doorstep. As far as he knows, I am already saved. There's something freeing about it. Here, at least, I don't have to avoid those poor clean boys and their convictions.

And, besides, after I passed safely out of the Mormon sanctuary I found myself on a street (wide and very well-regulated) that looked promising for what I really needed - coffee and at least the knowledge that there is always something unseemly and unsafe just a click away.

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