As I look over my notes for this column, I see that it begins as a travelogue through southern Idaho, then quickly becomes a meditation on class structure in America.
Here's hoping the ride doesn't have too many twists and turns for you.The scene opens in a Montpelier, Idaho, motel. My wife and I had taken a Friday night to get away - an attempt to kill several birds with one stone. We were there to hear my brother's band, take photos of the "lived in" Idaho farm houses and do a "border town" profile of Franklin.
To kill a little time I thumbed through the phone book to find a bookstore.
"I can't believe it," I said, "This thing lists 12 bars, 23 beauty parlors and no bookstores. I guess that's how you know you're in Idaho."
My wife didn't say anything. She couldn't. She'd spent a good chunk of her life as an Idaho citizen.
As I ran my own words back through my head, however, I was a bit surprised by the superior tone. I thought I'd outgrown my Utah cockiness years ago. But I hadn't. And that bothered me. Learning I have faults shared by other human beings puts a damper on my day.
I did some thinking.
As kids, we picked on Idaho all the time. When you grow up as provincial innocents in Utah - as my friends and I had - you look for somebody - anybody - to look down on. Like people from Idaho. I guess we figured if we could see someone was beneath us, it meant we weren't the low men on the totem pole.
Years later, I'd see that same pattern in other people and places. A trip to England showed me that Londoners look down on the rural English, the rural English look down on the Scots, the Scots look down on the Welsh and the Welsh belittle the Irish.
My father tells me of the "class" system that existed among local migrant workers in the '30s. I don't remember the pecking order, but blacks, whites, Indians, Hispanics and Polynesians all had their "place."
Still, my own "better than thou" feelings about Idaho troubled me. Oh, I could say things reformed racists say - like, "Some of my best friends are from Idaho," but that's not how I felt.
Down inside, I still felt Idahoans were "spuds." And they could call me names till the cows came home and it wouldn't matter. I was better off.
As my wife and I drove back to Utah, I did penance by thinking up 10 nice things to say about Idaho - the stars were brighter, the dance halls less smoky, the deer hunters less excitable. . . .
And once back at the Deseret News, I cornered John Hart - a born and bred Idaho boy - and asked why we Utahns always felt superior to people from Idaho.
He thought a minute.
"I'm not sure why Utahns feel superior to Idahoans," he said, "but I can tell you why Idahoans feel superior to Utahns. A lot of them see you guys as witless city slickers, idiots who don't know your way around in the woods."
As I left, I felt much, much better.