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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Oquirrh Hills Middle School student Maquel Reginek drinks ranch dressing in Riverton in 2014.

I’d never be caught dead putting ranch dressing on a salad (I love it as a dipping sauce) but man, its history is inspirational.

In a recent New York Times piece titled “Ranch Nation,” the dressing’s unique path to national dominance is mapped. The dressing was born on a construction site in Alaska around 1950, migrated to a California steakhouse and seeped its way into salad bars, Doritos and the mouths (and hearts) of Americans over the consequent decades. Ranch has evolved into an industry all its own, spawning entire restaurants dedicated to the creamy condiment. It might be America’s most successful export since, well, jazz?

“In case you don’t believe that ranch flavor represents the pinnacle of American culinary achievement, consider that ranch dressing is already called ‘American dressing’ in many European supermarkets, and that the Doritos flavor we know as ‘Cool Ranch’ goes by ‘Cool American,’” the piece’s author points out.

No one could have predicted ranch’s trajectory, but here we are in 2018, putting it on salads and wings and pizza and, yes, even in beverages.

Our modern information age can breed a certain level of cynicism: The more things we see, the less surprised we gradually become. I’m increasingly convinced, however, of reality’s power to do the opposite. For good and bad, the future is not fixed.

Deseret News staff sports reporter Amy Donaldson recently interviewed Tommy Caldwell, the rock climber who stunned the world in 2015 when he climbed the Dawn Wall, a 3,000-foot rock slab in Yosemite National Park. Caldwell and his climbing partner, Kevin Jorgeson, were the first free climbers to ever scale the imposing rock face. Their exploits are captured in “The Dawn Wall,” a new documentary that’s received some recent screenings in Utah.

I saw “The Dawn Wall” a few weeks back. Rock climbing is not my forte — I feel no affinity for the sport or its culture — but it was impossible to be unmoved by what Caldwell and Jorgeson accomplished. (Caldwell, by the way, was already missing two thirds of his index finger — because this climb wasn’t hard enough.) Its degree of difficulty, the years of pre-planning, and all the setbacks Caldwell and Jorgeson faced made the task seem genuinely impossible. When you see Caldwell thousands of feet high, his sinewy, outstretched limbs plastered against that smooth rock face, it’s a wonder he could even move at all, let alone ascend.

But he did ascend, for 19 consecutive days, until he and Jorgeson stood atop the Dawn Wall.

The future is not fixed.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Ron Stallworth speaks about reducing and preventing gang activity and violence in Utah on June 26, 2009.

Between seeing “The Dawn Wall” and now, I finished writing a piece on the film “BlacKkKlansman.” The film’s real-life story, of detective Ron Stallworth infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1970s, first became public knowledge in a 2006 Deseret News article. His story’s details are astounding: Stallworth impersonated a white man and befriended David Duke (over the phone, of course), and got Duke to sign his KKK membership card, all while outing some Klan members who were also high-ranking officers at NORAD.

I decided to track down Stallworth and a handful of others who helped get his remarkable story into the mainstream. As those interviews transpired, I thought back to “The Dawn Wall,” and eventually read and pondered the New York Times’ ranch dressing piece. The world is full of unexpected news that can depress, exhaust and terrify. It is inescapable, especially when you work in a newsroom. The unexpected and unprecedented, though, isn’t reserved for doom and gloom. It takes the unlikely form of a salad dressing, or a 3,000-foot rock face, or a 40-year-old police sting.

4 comments on this story

These days I think a lot about dismissiveness. I can’t help but think about it — it dominates this newspaper's comments section. Dismissiveness is easy. It takes no work, no intellect, no reflection. It is, by its nature, purposely ignorant and inhumane. I’m amazed how often dismissiveness takes the position, either explicitly or implicitly, that the future is fixed — that we’re all going to hell in a hand basket, or conversely, that everything will work out in the end. Accepting either of those positions means accepting that your engagement is trivial. Yet so many of the world’s most unexpected developments start with individuals who believed his or her engagement did, in fact, matter, if only in their respective circles of influence.

Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but: The future is not fixed.

Ben Margot, AP
In this Jan. 14, 2015, file photo, spectators gaze at El Capitan for a glimpse of climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, as seen from the valley floor in Yosemite National Park, California.