It's hilarious to consider the things we take for granted when we're kids. Absurdities we assume are standard procedure just because we've never known anything else. I never thought it was strange that a local farmer had managed to preserve a plus-acre fully-functioning farm right in the middle of heavily developed suburban Davis County, neither did I think it strange that JC Penny's had built a massive department store at the end of my street in Bountiful.
This is what sprung to mind Monday as my sister and I stood in the Penny's parking lot with several hundred locals. Years ago, JC Penny's was a vast department store, filled with products and people, then gradually business decreased until the public store was closed and the functioning structure was downsized to one corner of the building that staffed catalog employees. And in the era of eBay and Amazon, I imagine even that couldn't have lasted too long.
So a while back the powers that be decided it was time to redevelop the area, to level the old building and make room for a brave new frontier of residence and commercial development, which, according to one banner, included a brand-new Arctic Circle. To celebrate the JC Penny's legacy, local authorities put together a public demolition on Halloween.
When word of the public demolition first reached my ears, I was inspired by visions of what a true public spectacle should be: a dramatic display of violence amid clouds of fire and smoke. The stuff I see on TV.
It wasn't totally out of the question. I still remember the destruction of the Hotel Newhouse in downtown Salt Lake twenty years ago, when footage of the dramatic implosion was broadcast all over the news.
So as my sister and I wandered down our street yesterday, cameras in hand, to join hundreds of other locals for the big show, we expected something a bit more cathartic in terms of violent destruction. Our first suspicion that this would not be the case came when we saw the crowd gathering about thirty yards from the building itself. We thought that maybe we were about to take part in a historic catastrophe that would be documented for years to come on "The World's Most Amazing Videos" shows.
"This next video was taken during the legendary 'Mormon Massacre of '05', when 537 residents of Davis County, Utah were swallowed up in a tragically mistimed explosion connected with the demolition of a local JC Penny's. If you look in the upper right corner of the screen, you'll see a piece of debris that is in fact Josh Terry of Bountiful, Utah."
My sister feigning awe.
In my opinion, the story of Penny's even being there in the first place was an equally amusing story. According to legend (legend being anything that took place before I was born), years ago the plan was to have a freeway exit at Pages Lane about a block north of my street in Bountiful. Expecting a boom in traffic and commerce, the JC Penny's folks dropped a huge department store at the corner of Main Street and Pages Lane, the first of many big developments to come. Then someone changed his mind and moved the exit to a different spot.
I can still picture a handful of JC Penny's guys in suits at the construction site, beaming as they inspected the erection of the first structure to capitalize on the burgeoning Davis County economy. Then some young guy in shirt and tie, the prototypical lower-rung pee-on grunt, jumps out of a car and runs up to the group to drop the bad news: the freeway exit has been moved. Worse yet, the suits are going to have to drive all the way back to Salt Lake to find a structure tall enough to jump off of.
Such is the nature of real estate and commercial development, I suppose. Makes me feel a little better about being a poor teacher.
Anyway, this poor teacher and his sister were quickly getting the idea that yesterday's big event wasn't going to be as big as we thought. Especially when we realized that the term "demolition" had no legal connection to a word like "implosion" or "explosion". Technically speaking, "demolition" could be used to describe what I did every weekend when I mowed my lawn.
Over at one end of the building, a large crane was posed next to a large banner shaped like a pumpkin, a pumpkin that looked suspiciously like a target.
The next step in the evolution of the customary pumpkin-smash.
But before the ceremonial demolition, we had to endure the ceremonial blabbing from local political figures I didn't know. Remember, this is coming from the same guy who had to enthusiastically introduce these people at the last Pioneer Day parade. And like my parade experience, these guys had lousy sound equipment as well. No one heard a word they said until some guy that looked like he might be a mayor yelled "tear that building down!" to a moderate ripple of cheers.
Can you hear me now?
A minute or two later, the crane groaned into action, and revealed a big orange wrecking ball suspended from the end of its massive arm. With the violent intensity of a mid 1960's Disney film, the crane systematically began pounding one end of the building, knocking out chunks of bricks and cement and inspiring a number of "ooh's" from its attentive audience.
And here...an action-packed Davis County demolition.
After grabbing a few shots of the crane, I realized that the true spectacle of the event was the audience itself, a true cross-section of Davis County brand suburbia. All around me were parents with their kids in strollers or straddling their shoulders, and milling between them were preteens and teens stalking about skeptically in Halloween costumes sneering at a sight that couldn't hold a candle to even the worst action movie they had seen in the last week alone. I'm sure there were a number of people that had been among the group that tried to block the Wal Mart in Centerville a few months ago, folks that had to be glad to see the destruction of at least one of the wretched big-block businesses they loathed so much.
But the people I noticed the most were the older members of the crowd, those closest in age to my grandparents, who probably hated seeing the JC Penny's built in the first place, and only wished the crane could move on to wipe out more of the commercial blights in the valley while they were at it. Even as a relative youngster, I have to admit that the Bountiful I grew up in is not the Bountiful I live in now.
I wonder what's going through the minds of the elderly couple in the middle?
So as Katie and I joined hundreds of other jaywalkers as we crossed Main Street to walk home, I was left with conflicting emotions. Was I disappointed that the spectacle wasn't as action-packed as I had hoped, or was I amused at the picture perfect suburban crowd that pretended to be entertained at the whole thing? Was I happy to see the end of the big-box blight at the end of my street, or was I somber as I realized just how much Bountiful has grown out of the garden community my grandmother loved so much as a child?
I can't really answer the question, other than to say this: I probably felt them all, and mostly I was just glad to get a little writing material.