Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Another Sign I'm Getting Old: '80s Nostalgia

[The Good Old Maze] I think I may actually know the tunnels this art thief apparently used to make his/her getaway.

You see, back in the olden days, before we knew that practically everybody is a terrorist, we were able to go pretty much wherever we liked without risk of being thrown in Guantanamo Bay. For teenagers in the '80s, downtown Salt Lake City was full of all kinds of strange, out-of-the-way places to explore. (Occasionally, an adult might say, "Hey, you kids! Get outta here before I call the cops!" but on the other hand, there was very little risk of being waterboarded.)

Crossroads Plaza, rest its soul, was riddled with secret passageways. One, which led from the third level near Belezza to the roof, was often packed with mall Christmas decorations out of season and was a good place to torch a spliff--or so I've heard. Many were good shortcuts for getting from Point A to Point B. I was surprised when some other mall rat showed me a tunnel that led from Nordstrom Cafe to Weinstock's Cafe. (That was a very special day, the two cafes being major gravitational focii of our indolent little orbits; I never found it again.)

ZCMI Mall had its share of secret passageways, too; for some reason, I'm thinking the one that may have been used in the art theft was part of a system accessible from an elevator near the mall's Main Street entrance. It jogged around and ran quite some distance before ending up at some loading docks.

Later, when paranoia destroyed the country, a key-card system was probably installed, but in the '80s, all you had to do in order to go just about anywhere was to act purposeful and nonchalant. And nobody dreamed of stealing Mormon art then. I suppose it was an ideal time for all of us.

(Actually, I kind of like Christensen's whimsical art; it just seems it would be more at home at the Golden Braid than at Deseret Book. On the other hand, I always thought Mary Engelbreit would be more at home at Deseret Book than at Golden Braid, so what do I know?)

We were convinced that, if we explored enough, we'd eventually discover the fabled network of underground tunnels connecting the LDS Temple, Zion's Bank, the Capitol Building, Hotel Utah and the COB. We never did--and I realize now that, even in those days, with our shabby clothes and weird hair, guys in suits would have nabbed us before we came anywhere near it--but there was still something exciting, transgressive and adventurous about the whole thing. It was good, innocent fun.

To this day, I'm fascinated by the hidden parts of things--the parts we're not supposed to see. It's clear there's very little of solid, genuine value in the manmade world other than pure things like art and mathematics. And really good towels.

Everything else is a facade--and, these days, the facades aren't even that good--check the tatty material they made The Gateway out of. And then imagine the whole thing riddled through with cheaply built, fluorescent-lit utility tunnels that are uglier than any DMV waiting room.

I'll bet the gigantic mall that is replacing ZCMI/Crossroads will be locked down tighter than a Relief Society president's Tupperware collection, and kids probably won't be allowed to hang out there anyway unless they're spending money. Who knows? Maybe the next generation will buy this corporate illusion and think it's all real.

Maybe they'll be happier. (Brandon Burt)


  1. No they won't. Speaking as a voice of the 90's teens, we still did our fair share of exploring areas of downtown we weren't allowed into. But sadly you needed 2 things.

    A magnet and a multi-tool.

    My generation had to learn the great lesson "if you're not allowed in, there's something good behind here." Many of the secret passages you speak of were either closed off or put in lockdown in my youth, and we had to find "non-conventional" ways around it. So while your generation got to learn the ideals of innocent youth and exploration, mine were taught how to be sneaky trespassers and fast climbers.

    All the next generation is learning is how to be an animal in a concrete zoo.

  2. Wow, I totally thought you were going somewhere else with your "locked down tighter than a Relief Society president's X" allusion.


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