UTAH – THE STATE THAT ENDED PROHIBITION
My trip to Utah is nearing the end. I cannot thank the people of the state enough for their hospitality, especially the staff and fans of Real Salt Lake.
With the games over, I spent a day touring and visited two special places; Park City and RSL’s former home, the Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Park City is an idyllic enclave up in the Wasatch Mountains. There was a fair on the day we visited. Row after row of eco-friendly this and that lined a steep incline. If jewelry, corn dogs and tie-dye could save the planet, then no-one could accuse Park City on what they call “Park Silly” day of failing to contribute.
Old frontier western charm was reflected in the architecture, and dovetailed gracefully with the ecological concerns of the illuminated sector of the modern world.
Most charming of all was the tour at the High West distillery. There I learned that the flavour that infuses whisky comes not from the type of grain, but from the wood of the barrel in which it is distilled.
I also learned that all whisky starts off as beer and that vodka is essentially flavourless. Okay, I kind of already knew that.
But the biggest revelation of all was yet to come. Utah was the 36th state. Not the 36th state to join the Union. (It was 45th). No, something even more important than that.
On December 5, 1933, the State of Utah ratified the Twenty-first Amendment.
By becoming the 36th state to do so, the amendment reached the number of states necessary to repeal the infamous 18th amendment, the law that had enacted prohibition of alcohol.
The 21st amendment is the only one ever to specifically repeal an earlier one, and was the only one to be ratified by specially created state conventions rather than their legislatures.
And Utah cast the final vote. Utah can rightfully claim the mantle of the state that ended prohibition.
Several RSL fans beseeched me “Please make sure you write that about us.” That’s the kind of publicity they wanted about their state.
They should form a fan club called the 36th State Platoon, whose purpose is to drink RSL to victory. Why ‘Platoon’ and not ‘Army’? Because it sounds so like saloon of course. Maybe High West could sponsor it.
Earlier I had undergone a pilgrimage to a place with a large part in MLS history, the Rice Eccles Stadium. The University of Utah arena was RSL’s home from 2005 until October 2008, when Rio Tinto Stadium opened its gates.
It was also a venue for the Winter Olympics and the five rings were much in evidence.
The RES holds a special place in the hearts of RSL fans. Many I spoke to talked of the good times they had there, while admitting the team had sucked. There is that slither of fans who view days of poor results and lower crowds with nostalgia for some reason. If you don’t believe me, visit Portland. I’ve met plenty who express that a certain innocence has been lost with the arrival of MLS.
I looked across Rice Eccles stadium and tried to picture old matches in the formative days of RSL.
Talking of connecting the past with the present brings me to a couple of interviews I conducted on the last day of my trip.
Garth Lagerwey is the larger than life General Manager of the club. Unlike Cascadian general managers, he smiles a lot. At least at me.
He thanked me for coming out to Salt Lake and for covering the club. I’m not sure Adrian Hanauer ever said that to me!
Interviewing Lagerwey is like playing highly competitive chess with your brother. There is a general backdrop of bonhomie, with the understanding that he knows you’re going to try and lure him into an explosive headline, and that he’s smart enough to stop you.
Nowhere more was this illustrated than the cut and thrust of the MLS question where I asked him to assess the job performance of MLS and Commissioner Don Garber.
After a meandering non response about how difficult the job was and the number of competing interests to satisfy, I parried with a classic “.. and if I ask you the question in a slightly different way, will you actually answer it?”
“Not a chance,” he beamed. “You do know I used to be a lawyer don’t you?”
The full interview will be transcribed and featured in weeks to come and is well worth a read if you want to understand the role of a GM, the DNA of Real Salt Lake and the enigmatic Jason Kreis a little better.
I them spoke to CJ Brown now an assistant coach with the side who gave a good insight into San Jose, the club he supported as a child.
He remembered that ok, but feigned to have mentally mislaid the last game I saw him pay where Freddie Ljungberg dived over his feet and got CJ sent off.
He concluded it must have happened enough in his career that he couldn’t remember them all.
After that I was privileged to have two hours in the company of Brian Dunseth, the former player and now color commentator who is a veritable encyclopedia of MLS knowledge.
Brian gave two hours of his time and gave us an informed vignette of the start of play in every club we asked about. I’ll be unrolling those over the next few days, starting with his views on the dismissal of John Spencer.
Brian also gave us the quote of the year, as far as I can recall when speaking about San Jose. It’s a headline and a statement everyone will be discussing, though don’t expect MLSSoccer.com to link to it.
It will probably prompt polls and heated debate across every market. Maybe even in the locker rooms.
And that time spent with Dunseth in the looming shadow of the Wasatch Mountains was the last participatory act in my Utah Week.
It really is quite a beautiful state from the small part I was exposed to.
From pot guts to Posh Spice dolls, by way of high altitude, to the sad realization I was the last Cascadian journalist in a Timbers locker room under John Spencer, it will be a week I will never stop reminiscing about.
And finally to keep one last promise to every Salt Lake Citizen I met who asked me to include this ….
The beer is excellent in Utah.