After being in Salt Lake City almost a month I started to long for a shot of that well-known Northeastern nastiness. Just to make me feel at home. You may think I'm just kidding, but there is a startling difference in the two cultures.
When you live in the East you get accustomed to the filthiness of the cities and the lack of a civil tongue. There is, after all, an enormous difference in the numbers of people anywhere - on the way to, in the middle of, or on the way back from.Those numbers undoubtedly contribute to a general lack of patience - in allowing people to cross the street, in awaiting your turn to enter a roadway, in getting somewhere on the freeway, in standing in line after line after line. The police officers mean well, I'm sure, but when you ask them a question, they growl back something like "Juskeepitmovin, huh, pal?"
So I'm sure you'll understand my continuing adjustment to the neverending politeness of the Salt Lake culture. When I walk in any of several different neighborhoods in the city, children of all ages speak to me cordially and smile. If they're approaching me on the sidewalk on a bike, they stop, pull over, apologize, and let me go by.
That's not the way kids act in Boston.
When I approach a crosswalk, I'm accustomed to great care as I look way in the distance to see if a car is far enough away for me to risk running across. Even then, the chances are good that I will be hit. But in Salt Lake City, all of the drivers patiently slow up and stop cold at the crosswalk and don't even sneer as I cross. It's almost as if I have an innate right to do so.
That's not the way they drive in Boston.
As I walk in Salt Lake City, in malls downtown, on the streets, in the grocery stores, people I don't know invariably smile and speak to me. People who wait on me in stores are invariably gracious and solicitous of my welfare. The incredible part is that it actually seems sincere.
That's not the way they act in Boston.
Several times, my old Western sensibilities have driven me to purposely start up a conversation in Boston while waiting in line in a store just to see what will happen. They not only don't respond, they look terrified.
Even on the Salt Lake freeways there is an unsettling civil quality that cannot quite be believed. People exhibit courtesy in stopping at stop signs, and let the person already at a four-way stop go first.
That never happens in Boston.
At various times of the day I can drive into downtown Salt Lake City and actually park on the street. Not only that, I can park close enough to get somewhere in a reasonable time. When I get back, my car is still there, and it has not been vandalized. Or given the Denver Boot.
Just try to do that in Boston.
Smoking, whether it be cigars, pipes, or cigarettes, is rare in Salt Lake City. Whether it be in public places or in quiet neighborhoods, it is hard to find a smoker. So difficult, in fact, that when you see one, it seems shocking. You do a double take and wonder if you should ask him if he knows that smoking does not exist any more, or if he would care to be ashamed of himself.
In Boston, everyone smokes, except me.
There is an unmistakable cheeriness about Salt Lake City. I've wondered if it has any direct connection to the prevalence of the sun. My teenaged daughter, for instance, seems to have a psychological attachment to the sun. When it shines, she is always happier. Maybe Salt Lakers are happier because the sun shines so much.
But they are. They smile and laugh a lot, and it is contagious. There is also an undercurrent of optimism that pervades conversation, and a tendency to tell a recent joke.
That's not the way it is in Boston.
I realize that if I were here for an extended period I would probably get accustomed to everyday life and would start grousing and complaining. Maybe idealism would shrink. The civil tongue might slip and turn nasty. Until I was adjusted to everyday life. After all, there are always things that bother us.
But I'm confident that the nastiness, no matter how bad, would never equal that of Boston.
Maybe that's what I like about it.