X – Welcome to “Screw-tah”, er um, I mean Utah

Some of these states that comprise the United States are well-known throughout the world. You can go to practically any country, and they will instantly recognize the names California, New York, Florida, and even Nevada, if you mention Las Vegas. Other states will draw a reaction of huh? Utah is one of those states. Hell, many people in this country couldn’t tell you what Utah is. That is, unless you mention the name “Mormon”.

Utah. The state where I currently reside—I’ve been here for 28 years now. I’ve grown accustomed to many things here, for better or worse. Yes Utah is synonymous with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, colloquially known as the Mormon church. The name is a mouthful. Though I was born and raised in that religion, I do not participate in it anymore. I won’t go into specifics as to why at this time. That discussion can happen elsewhere. But, the headquarters of the Mormon church is in Salt Lake City, the capital of Utah. As of 2014, around 62% of Utah’s population was of the Mormon religion. Since most of the state’s lawmakers are of the predominant religion, the state’s laws are based around their beliefs. It may seem like the Mormon church runs the state, it does not. However, its teachings influence the laws.

If you’ve ever been to Utah, there are two things you will find dominate the land: Mormon church buildings and Maverik gas stations. It has been humorously and satirically compared to the Cripps and Bloods gangs—fighting for territory. It feels like Mormon church buildings and Maveriks are everywhere in Utah. Utah I the home of several National Parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Escalante-Grand Staircase, etc. There is no lack of places to go hiking or outdoors things to go to. If you like camping, hiking, biking or anything else in the outdoors, you’ll have a lot of choices.

If you like to gamble, this is definitely out of the question here. All forms of gambling are outlawed in Utah. No slot machines, no lottery. Want an adult drink? Some restaurants sell alcohol. You could also go to the state-run liquor stores (which are closed on Sundays and all holidays). Going to the store? There you can only get beer. And it’s not even real beer. Most places call it near-beer, with a 3.2% alcohol content. It’s funny how most businesses get into legal trouble for having a monopoly, but it’s okay to monopolize something. [facepalm] In most states, it’s legal to buy tobacco at age 18 (six states have raised it to 21). Utah is one of the four states where the tobacco age is 19.

Help me understand the logic in this: at 18 years old, you’re legally an adult, and don’t need parental permission for anything. You can get a tattoo if you desire. You can join the military and die for your country. You have to give express permission for doctors to share your medical information with anyone (including parents). You have to file your own taxes. BUT, you’re not old enough to buy your own tobacco in 10 states, or legally have alcohol in any state. You can gamble in California, but not in Nevada. Why is there such a disparity? I get the argument about health and whatnot. But, if a person is determined to buy booze and smokes, they’ll find a way to get them, legally or not.

Something else peculiar about Utah: marijuana. Though almost every state surrounding Utah has legalized weed, either medically or recreationally (Idaho and Wyoming still outlaw it), the mere possession of a tiny fraction of an ounce—even one little joint—can land you in jail for 6 months, and put you out a grand in fines.

Now, I don’t use marijuana myself. I never have and don’t intend to. I don’t disabuse anyone of their choice, though. You wanna light up? Go for it. I don’t care if someone else uses it. It’s their prerogative.

I’m not going to say that Utah is the worst place to live. Compared to many places, it’s relatively safe. You don’t hear constant gunshots, emergency sirens aren’t totally common. There are our fair share of traffic accidents, but that’s usually attributed to drivers’ stupidity (there again, that’s another post). You don’t really hear a lot of car horns honking, come to think about it.

That’s a little about “The Beehive State”. Here’s a trivia tidbit. Had the original Mormon pioneers who settled Utah had their way, they would have named this state “Deseret”, supposedly a word meaning beehive (according to the Mormon scripture the Book of Mormon). However, the name Utah prevailed, after the Ute Indian tribe.

Like it or hate it, Utah exists. A weirdly-shaped state bordered by Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona and Nevada (and touching New Mexico at Four Corners Nat’l Monument). Once, while working at a gas station, I carded a kid for his tobacco. He was upset about it, and the guy behind him sarcastically remarked, “Yeah, welcome to Screw-tah, the Behave State” (taken from the state nickname, the Beehive State). Everyone had a chuckle about it, but it does ring true in some aspects, as I mentioned previously.

You know now a little of what Utah is like. So if you’re passing through, hide your weed, don’t expect a buzz from the beer, don’t be a left-lane “camper” on the highways and don’t look for a slot machine or lottery tickets. Wherever life takes you, be it Utah or anywhere else, be safe and be well.

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