Trip #2: Whitefish, Montana
A few days of Thalia Follies rehearsal in NYC and then it was back on the road, or rather the airways, this time to be the guest of Montana Public Radio. Our earlier Montana trips in past seasons have taken us to Missoula, the university town, and Helena, the state capital. This time the plan was to have us do Billings, preceded by Whitefish, but the Billings people ran out of funding for now, so it was a long trip to read short stories in a tiny town on the edge of Glacier National Park in the very northwest corner of the state of Montana (this was the REAL Upper West Side!). In my boorish Manhattan provincialism I had joked that I had never heard of Whitefish, thought it was only an offering adjacent to the creamed pickled herring in the Zabars’ showcase, but I was to learn that it is a stunningly beautiful ski resort in winter, lake resort in summer, and a place that is proud of its lovely theatre, it’s historic Amtrak station of the Northern Pacific Railroad, its beautiful library, and its impressive literary quarterly, The Whitefish Review. Didn’t I tell you travel was broadening?
Changing planes in Minneapolis was something of a repeat of the madness of Trip #1, but we finally made it out to the Kalispell, Montana/Glacier National Park International Airport, along with Broadway actor Boyd Gaines, and joined there by our old friend who may hold the record for Most Cities I Have Read Selected Shorts In, Christina Pickles, who had a quick flight from her Hollywood home. We made our way by car, with guides from Montana Puiblic Radio, from Kalispell to Whitefish itself, where we were housed in a condominium chalet way way up on Big Mountain, miles from the nearest grocery store, and virtually empty of people in this between-the-seasons time period. I had to assure Jennifer that she could make it through the night miles and miles away from a Starbucks, and she got a grip on herself and did very well. Early in the morning, looking out the windows of the chalet, we could spot real live wolves way up on the ski trails, but, unfortunately no grizzlies, though we were told this was the time of year they came down to fatten up on huckleberries, before lying down to hibernate for the winter.
The lobby of the lakeside restaurant down the mountain had a ferocious stuffed grizzly bear about nine feet tall, but the photo of me shaking his hand, or paw, did not come up to Symphony Space Website Blog quality standards. You’ll have to imagine it. Believe me when I tell you he was one large omnivore.
Greeting audience members in the lobby of the Whitefish High School auditorium, I met people who had driven hundreds of miles to hear a live Shorts program, and a few expat New Yorkers who were finding room for a more expansive life in a lightly populated corner of a state whose entire population is less than half of that of Manhattan.
After a wonderful guided tour of the gorgeous Glacier National Park, which included an approach to the Continental Divide and a high pass closed by snow on the first weekend of October (!), and an alpine lake picnic, but no glaciers, because the glaciers are mostly gone due to global warming, my own flights back to NYC, including , you guessed it, changing planes in Minneapolis/St Paul, were reasonably okay, But Jennifer and Boyd Gaines, who had an earlier flight, didn’t quite make their connection at the opposite end of that airport and were forced to be the overnight guests of Delta Airlines at an airport hotel. End of Trip #2: one small city, four takeoffs and landings, two wolves, no live grizzlies, one small jar of Huckleberry Jam confiscated by airport security.
Trip #3: Salt Lake City, Utah
Did I mention that almost every place we go on tour, I come away with a new T-shirt, tote bag or coffee mug? My latest acquisition, from the third and final leg of this fall’s western tour, is a snappy yellow tote bag from the Utah Humanities Book Festival, of which Selected Shorts was the big closing program.
This trip had no changing of planes, but a direct hop from JFK to SLC. I had been to Salk Lake City before, with Kathy Minton, but only to rent a car there and drive up into the mountains to present a Shorts program at Sundance in Park City. But I had never been in downtown Salt Lake City, to see the State Capital or the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, or Mormons.
After checking into our Marriott Hotel with actor Jack Davidson, and actress Lillo Way from Seattle, two veteran readers in our series, I walked up to the magnificent and ornate Temple Square and tried to visit the Temple itself. The well dressed guardian of the gate told me that I could not enter the sacred shrine unless I was a member of the Church. I protested that as a tourist I have been allowed access to St. Peter’s in Rome, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and the many mosques of Istanbul, but it was no go. I learned that the Temple was not the same thing as The Tabernacle, where I could indeed attend the early Sunday morning broadcast concert of the legendary Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
This I did the next morning. Entering the round, domed Tabernacle is quite an experience. The almost four hundred members of the Choir, aided by the huge glowing pipes of the grand organ, are an impressive sight, and they make a mighty sound. The music they sing, however, was mainly turgid tedious hymns. There are few people of color in the State of Utah, and even fewer in the Mormon Church, and absolutely none were in the jam packed Tabernacle for what I learned was the 4,180th consecutive Sunday morning radio (and now television) broadcast of the MTC. I was glad to have experienced this, though I can’t say it was one of my favorite concerts ever.
I walked back down from the Temple mount towards the hotel. The streets of Salt Lake City are eerily clean and uncluttered to the eye of a Manhattan-dweller. Back at the Marriott, which to the relief of Jenny had a Starbucks right in the lobby, before rehearsal, I leafed through the copy of the Book of Mormon that Bob Marriott has provided next to the Gideon Bible in the bedside night table, and learned that the resurrected Jesus had once visited the Americas and met with the ancestors of the American Indians. Like I keep telling you, friends, travel is very educational.
Our readings took place in a remarkable and lovely venue, the new Salt Lake City Library, designed by the architect Moshe Sadie and built of high glass walled atria, and featuring a superb theatre from which we did a live simulcast on Utah Public Radio for people all over the State. Afterwards we attended a dinner of the Utah Humanities Council where everyone was justifiably celebrating the conclusion of a very successful Book Festival. Then Jack Davidson and Lillo Way and Jennifer Brennan and I adjourned to the bar of the Marriott to watch the New York Yankees clinch the American League pennant. In my life of watching Yankee clinchers I have never done so in such a far off place. Back home the next morning, End of Trip #3: one city, one Tabernacle, no litter, one Humanities Dinner, and very nice people. I hope they ask us back.