Monday, August 27, 2012

Idaho: The Gemiest State of them All

At the pre-dinner event at Ironman Texas, the announcer asked the crowd, "Let's see if I'm in the right state." Then he began to sing, "The stars are bright, they're big and bright..."

To which the crowd clapped four times in unison and belted out, "Deep in the heart of Texas."

I'm not going to lie to you: I thought that was pretty cool. Being proud of one's state hits near and dear to my heart.

Outside of Texans, Idahoans are pretty dang proud of their state.

Really? Why? You ask.

For one thing, it's bred into us as fourth graders learning about our state history. Everyone memorizes the Idaho state song, which I'm pretty sure ranks up there as one of the coolest, and possibly proudest, state songs ever penned.

There's only ONE state in this great land of ours, where ideals can be realized.

Did you hear that? Only one state in all the United States where ideals can be realized.

Let me continue with the chorus:

And here we have Idaho--
Winning her way to fame.
Silver and gold in the sunlight blaze
And romance lies in her name.

Oh we'll go
Singing of you,
Ah, proudly too,
All our lives through
We'll go
Singing of you,
Singing of Idaho.

Are you in love with Idaho yet?

I have yet to find one Utahan my age that can sing their state song from memory.

We were also taught that if you ironed out Idaho's mountains, it would be as big as Texas. So take that, Texans!

However, taking that pride and placing it outside the state of Idaho is met mostly with jeers and laughter, at least in Utah. Let me illustrate this with an example.

On my first week at the best job I've ever had (and my current job), I introduced myself to my fellow co-workers of about 200.

I'm pretty sure I began with something like, "Hello, my name is Cindy Fisher. I am from the fantastic state of Idaho."

No sooner had I said the "o" than the crowd erupted in "boos" splattered with a few cheers. What I learned that day was that a real Utah/Idaho feud had been brewing in my workplace.

I'm not clear on how the love/hate of Idaho people had begun, but I suspect that when people from Idaho said they were from Idaho, other Idahoans in the room probably cheered. That probably got old to everyone else who wasn't from Idaho, and they probably started responding with "boos," which likely outnumbered the Idaho "yeahs."

That's not the only example I have of this stigma I feel from some Utahans about Idahoans.

Other co-workers of mine throughout my career have also made little backhanded remarks that made me think that they thought Idahoans were backwater hicks.

For example, I guess I don't always pronounce words correctly. And sometimes I flat-out use the wrong word. Let me assure you that is entirely due to my own stupidity.

So whenever I say the wrong phrase or mix my metaphors, I inevitably get a "your Idaho is seeping through," or a "I can tell you're from Idaho."

Idahoans, I'm sorry. You can blame me for reinforcing the negative stereotype of Idahoans being backwater, naive hicks. Me and George W. Bush: nukular cousins.

But where I falter on brain skills, I make up for in work ethic.

Idahoans are hard workers, and that's a stereotype I don't mind having.

In addition to my dad being a car salesman, he and my mom thought of a brilliant plan to teach us all to work. They started a night-time custodial business.

At first, my dad hired young men from our church group, but as we got older, we became the main employees.

On very busy nights where we had ball practice or games of one kind or another, we were awoken at 5 a.m. to do our menial jobs in the family custodial business.

I hated those mornings. But dang it if I'm not still getting up at the wee hours of the morning. I've learned to like the mornings. I paid my way through college working early morning custodial.

When I was 14, I joined my friends and worked in the beet fields all summer. To be fair, we worked from 8 a.m. until about 10:30 a.m. when it got too hot, and then we'd drive to the local canal and swim and pretend we were at a European spa having a mud bath. Working was a subjective term.

Still, I think we worked harder than most 13 or 14 year olds.

After a summer of work, we usually only made enough money to buy ourselves a pair of Birkenstocks and a trip to Lagoon, the amusement park in Farmington, Utah.

One time I tried working for my sister, who managed to secure a beet hoeing gig from some farmer. She fired us after one hour of work. I guess our weeding wasn't up to her snuff.

It was probably my own making in my own head, but sometimes I felt "less than" being from Idaho. Look a guy in the eyes at Lagoon or anywhere outside the state of Idaho when I was a teenager? Forget about it! They could probably see the potatoes growing out of my ears.

"Yep, she's from Idaho all right."

I just felt painfully out of my element in a big city, even though I loved big cities--still do.

When I was 20, my best friend Keri and I both found jobs in the Salt Lake area for the summer. At the end of summer, we agreed we'd take some of our hard-earned cash and go out to a nice restaurant.

We drove around for hours, but we couldn't find a place, or we didn't feel comfortable paying such high prices. We ended up eating at Taco Bell.

I wish I could take back that night now that I have more confidence and also more know-how of the ins and outs of high-end Salt Lake City restaurants. I'd plop down a $100 and say, "Dang it, I'm from Idaho. Make me something with a potato that would blow my socks off."

I've always been glad that I actually worked in a potato plant for at least one summer. Shouldn't that be some Idaho law: must work with potatoes for at least a month to officially be called an Idahoan?

My friend Keri, again (she's pretty much in every story I have from kindergarten to college), had a boyfriend whose dad operated a potato-processing plant called Mart Produce in Rupert, Idaho.

It was made up of probably 98% immigrant workers from Mexico, and then there was me, Keri, and the brother to Keri's boyfriend (by now, Keri's boyfriend was on a mission for our church).

We felt like Laverne and Shirley experiencing the blue-collar life. We helped bag the potatoes.

We had it down to a science, not like that's any big achievement. I would put a bag on the bagger, then Keri would push the button that would drop the potatoes into the bag; or vice versa.

We made $4.40 an hour, which was about .20 cents an hour more than minimum wage.

We made friends with a woman who knew Spanish and English, and she taught us some key phrases to say to our co-workers.

Through our extremely limited Spanish (we both took German in high school), we made friends. At the end of the summer, Keri took a picture of all the guapos we'd made friends with. It was a great summer, one of the best of my life.

I'm so proud of my Idaho roots and the things I learned. My cousin Chet, who is my age and works at the Idaho Department of Workforce Services in Burley, calls me every now and again with some job offer to tempt me back home.

"Cindy, they need a prosecutor in Cassia County. Do you think Kulani wants to move you home?"

I think of my Idaho summers swimming in canals; water skiing on the Snake River; working on beet farms; going to teen dances; cruising Overland.

Then I think of my current family home nestled in the foothills of Mount Timpanogos; our trips to Thanksgiving Point; the BYU football games, Bean Museum, and BYU Creamery; the concerts, plays, and culture within a short driving distance; various stores to shop.

I'm not ready to go home just yet, Chet. But I'll always have these potatoes in my ears, and in my heart.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Utah/Idaho: My two home states

As of late June, I have now lived in Utah longer than I've lived in Idaho. I moved away from my birth state of potatoes and irrigation canals to Utah County exactly 18 years ago.

I love Idaho, and I love Utah. But what I've found is some Idahoans don't always love Utahans, and some Utahans think Idahoans are backwater hicks.

Like a child caught in an ugly divorce, I'd like to offer my opinion as to why I love both states, and recognize in an ever kindly manner that perhaps both states also have their weaknesses.

Please note that these are my opinions based mostly on generalities of my home states, or more importantly, people who live in my home states. My apologies to people from California who may find themselves reading this and rolling their eyes and thinking, “Please. You do realize you’re talking Utah and Idaho? That’s like talking about which one’s better: the New Jersey Nets or the Washington Wizards.”

Sorry, Californians. We know you’re superior in every way.  

But if I’m to be honest, Californians do have a point. Saying I’m from Utah or Idaho to anyone outside the western United States causes all sorts of stereotypes to jump into one’s head.

When I say I’m from Idaho, it’s a glazed-over look, where I assume people are trying hard to think back to their 5th grade puzzle of the United States and think, “Where does Idaho go?”

When I say I’m from Utah, I can tell only one thing comes into their mind … “how can I change seats on this airplane—I’m sitting next to a Mormon.” No, I’m exaggerating—for effect. I do that from time-to-time. Ask my children. (“Girls, your poor mother has been working her fingers to the bone all day, and if I see one more mess in this house, I will likely die.”)

Let’s be honest, western United States. Most of the world looks down on us a little bit.

Even amongst our own kind, I’m pretty sure the coastal states don’t want to claim us as part of them. I’m talking Oregon, Washington, and of course, California.

So in an ever-picked-on way, I present to you my thoughts on my two terrific home states. If I could, I would build my home straddling the state line and never have to leave either one.

My Thoughts on Utah

People are prone to hyperbole and exaggeration, but poor Utahans get blamed for everything: both good and bad. I’ve heard Utahans seriously accused of all of the following:

·         Highest number of plastic surgeries.
·         Highest number of suicides amongst teenagers.
·         Highest usage of anti-depression prescriptions.
·         Highest number of foreclosures and bankruptcies.
·         Highest number of happy families.
·         Highest number of kids.
·         Highest number of porn viewers.
·         Lowest number of teen pregnancies.
·         Lowest number of DUIs.
·         Most racist state.
·         Most sexist state.
·         Healthiest state.
·         Unhealthiest state.
·         Crappiest beer.
·         Highest per capita Brazilian waxes.

That last one seems thrown in there, but I have actually heard a person make that claim. How they keep statistics on such a thing is beyond me. It only takes a thinking person about two minutes to discount this so-called Brazilian-wax “statistic.”

What did the person mean by repeating such a statistic, anyway? I can only guess at the implications:
  • Utah women want to look porn-star perfect for their porn-addicted husbands.
  • Utah women are always trying to keep up with the OC.
  • Utah women enjoy pain.
Note: Mom, if you are reading this, DON’T Google Brazilian wax. I’ll define it for you quickly: hot wax on your nether regions then ripped off your skin for the purposes of removing hair. Youchie!

If you are like me, you see those statistics and think, “Mormons.” Mormons have the highest number of plastic surgeries. Mormons have the highest number of suicides amongst teens. Mormons are the most in debt.

People at large tend to lump all Utahans in with the Mormons. It doesn’t matter to me, as I am a Utahan and I am Mormon. I can’t run away from these statistics. But to non-Mormons living in Utah, it makes it easy to say, “Well, that’s Mormons in Utah, not all Utahans.” They get a pass.

But I don’t. I am part of the 70% of Mormons who make up Utah. Without ever having a Brazilian wax, a prescription for anti-depression medication, a tummy tuck, or a bankruptcy, I reflect these statistics.

I have issues with these statistics in general, and some are obviously just dead wrong, but I have more grievances with people who use these statistics in a narrow way to prove Mormonism is evil and dangerous for people.

I guess conversely I should have issues when people use the “good” statistics to show how “good” Mormons are, but strangely, I don’t mind that so much. Crazy how that works.

I’m of the opinion that you should bloom where you’re planted. If our family would have ended up in Flatdry, Oklahama, I’d find something great about that place. But even still, if I could choose any place on earth to live, Utah County would still be high up on my favorite places. Maybe that says a lot about me already, and many people would be embarrassed if those words ever escaped their fingertips.

If you don’t get living here, that’s fine.

I do get it.  
  • I love the way the sun bounces off the mountains at sunset.
  • I love the unruly seasons.
  • I love how you can see the “Y” on the mountain as you get closer to ProvOrem.
  • I love the Murdock Canal Trail that allows me to run for miles on a flat route with amazing views of the valley.
  • I love the hold-out cherry and peach orchards, and that I can get fresh corn and fruit at various stands around the valley.
  • I love BYU campus and the Wilkinson Center and the Creamery and Lavell Edwards Stadium.
  • I love Orem’s SCERA.
  • I love all the canyons that are within minutes of my house: Provo Canyon and American Fork Canyon.
  • I love that if you love a sport, such as soccer, you don’t necessarily need to make the high school team to play. They have divisions for all skill levels.
I love every nook and cranny of this place. To me, it’s a magical place and I audibly say frequently, “I can’t believe I live here.”

Kulani feels similarly. When we were younger, Kulani’s family and my family both vacationed in Utah County. The Christensons would stay with either Uncle Fred or Grandma McEuen and we’d soak in all the valley’s warmth and charm.

We’re both from rural towns, however, so maybe Utah County felt big city enough for us without being too big city.

To me in those younger years, the Orem Fitness Center and Classic Skating were the coolest places on earth. And that we could walk there on sidewalks! In Heyburn, the town I grew up in, we only had one road with sidewalks.

When I became a teenager, I thought Utahans just seemed so much “cooler.” They had a mall. And they knew about the United Colors of Bennetton. And they knew how to rat their bangs a little bit, but not too much. And the guys…oh my goodness. Utah guys seemed so gorgeous to me as a teenager.

I still love the feelings that come over me when I drive by certain places.

I’m not sure Utahans who were born and raised here feel that same sense of wonder and awe. Sometimes I get the feeling that they’re almost ashamed of this place.

Having lived here 18 years, I know a little of what they’re feeling.

Saying you’re from Utah returns a mixed bag of thoughts and feeling. It’s not uncommon to hear disparaging remarks about Utah from people who’ve lived in other states and then moved to Utah, and I’m not just talking  Californians here.  

We’ve been admonished by our leaders to never say, “If you don’t like it, you can leave.” So when someone says something disparaging about Utah, I try to earnestly listen to their complaint and try to understand them.

But another part of me wants to voice an oft-repeated saying from my dad at the family dinner table: no complaining!

Or maybe there is a way to voice a little frustration while still conveying the message that you love living here, such as, “I love Utah, Cindy, you know that, it’s just that I’m not so in love with this infatuation with the Republican party….or the watered-down beer….or the keeping up with the joneses…sexism…or the fill-in-the-blank-with-the-oft-repeated problem.”

I know—I need to get out more. I hear that one a lot too.

The way I see it, every place has its virtues and vices.

I happen to love Utah. And I’m not ashamed of it.

Next up: My thoughts on Odahi.