Warren Jeffs’ conviction today evoked the memory of an experience I had several years ago. When I was 17, I drove to Moab with five male friends. Somewhere around the southeastern corner of Utah, we stopped for dinner in an ambiguous pit-stop highway town. You know the type: gas station, restaurant, smashed up phone booth, and surrounding landscape dotted with trailers and tumbleweed.
There we were, standing in a restaurant with over a dozen empty tables, a few idle employees, and no one to greet us. We stood around patiently at first, but quickly grew uncomfortable as we noticed all eyes on us from the few occupied tables crowded with men and boys. My boyfriend stepped forward and asked if we should seat ourselves. The teenage employee shrugged and led us to a table. After a protracted delay, we were finally tossed food-encrusted menus that offered standard southwestern fare. On the cover, rather than the usual illustration or a written blurb the restaurant, was written an unabashedly slanted history of Joseph Smith and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Hmm. Given the fact that our breathing was the loudest sound in the establishment, we merely exchanged quizzical half-smiles and kept mum. Several times, I caught severe looks from the male patrons. I was the only female in the joint.
After a protracted wait, our orders were taken. We sipped water and tested the sound of our muted voices for the time that it took our food to arrive. Before the food was served, the waiter dropped the bill on the table. Point taken. We gulped down a few bites, threw a surplus of cash on the table, and bolted.
Back in the van, we exploded with tense laughter and questions. What the fuck was that!? We burned rubber out of the parking lot and promptly rounded out our meal with food from our camping stores for the week.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I read Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, which specifically describes such towns run by Fundamentalist LDS. Outsiders are opposed, but their money is not. I would wager our dinner tab that we stumbled upon such a town. So sad.