Thursday, July 7, 2016

A is for Atom

Note 1: Inspired by a much shorter, more artistic list about New York City features today on Buzzfeed, I present this ABC List for East/Eastern Idaho.

Note 2: This list is meant in a lighthearted manner. I won’t apologize if someone gets offended. If you can think of something better to go with a letter, include it in a comment, don’t’ just announce your offense.

A is for atom. Folks who are new here hear talk of a mysterious place called “The Site.” Ask about a quarter of the population here, and they’ll tell you “The Site” is where they work, though some of them cheat and work “in town.” But if you’re a fan of nuclear energy or a foe of nuclear waste, you’ll be sure to learn “The Site,” a sprawling research facility the size of Rhode Island, is the birthplace of commercial atomic power and the nuclear Navy, and is a major employer here. A could also be for Ammon, Idaho Falls’ neighbor to the east, where all the businesses are moving and all the citizens are building houses but where, if you ask everyone else, nobody wants to pay taxes for the services they want so desperately. I live in Ammon. I don’t quite see it. And I do pay my taxes.

B is for BYU-Idaho. We’re so infatuated with Utah (see “U is for Utah”), we’ve transplanted a bit of it here in Brigham Young University-Idaho, in our own Little Provo, Rexburg. Some locals are still going to call it Ricks College, and some might even call it Rick’s College, and they will still have the t-shirts that say “Who is Rick, and Why does He Have A College?” It’s where a good portion of the population went to school, and where a good portion of their children will go to school. May as well surrender to that now.

C is for cotton. Pioneers who settled the area wanted trees. The closest thing they had to trees were cottonwoods in the river bottoms. They’re called cottonwoods because their seed is parachuted to the ground in cottony fluff. That gets EVERYWHERE. I could have knit a sweater with the cottonwood fluff I scraped off the fins of my air conditioner this summer. Alternatively, C is for “the church,” as in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), the predominant local religion. If someone asks if you’re a member of “the church” that’s the church they mean. The gleam in their eye if you answer “no” is normal. Just get ready to meet the missionaries. And if C can stand for one more thing, it would be Chubbuck, Pocatello’s neighbor to the north. For the rest, see “A is for Ammon.” It’s the same story.

D is for Downtown, and that’s downtown for every city in the area, with the exception of Rexburg. Downtown is where all the transplants and hippies and Californians hang out. They’ve got it cleaned up quite nice, though. (See “R is for Rexburg” for an explanation of its exemption from this description.)

E is for East. Or Eastern. See, in North Idaho, they’re very adamant it’s not “Northern” Idaho. Here in East or Eastern Idaho, we’re a little bit more laid back about it. Unless you’re from California or Utah. Then whatever you call It, you’re wrong.

F is for “the Falls,” a nickname for Idaho Falls, largest city in Eastern Idaho, or “the Flats,” a defunct nuclear weapons assembly plant outside of Denver, Colorado, where many Site (see “A is for atom”) workers used to be employed and who are reminded on a daily basis that “this ain’t the Flats,” whatever that means.

G is for government. As Westerners, we have a pretty sketchy view of the federal government. And as you may recall from A is for atom, a good portion of us work for the government. For entertainment, we try to reconcile our sketchy federal government views with our not-so-sketchy federal government paychecks. Sometimes our heads explode. And as for state government, that’s over there in the capital. Boise. We don’t have much to do with them. There’s a reason I-15 links us to Salt Lake City, you know. Local government is fairly progressive as far as Republicans go. Idaho Falls is on its second female mayor. Ammon is on its first. The rest, well, white guys.

H is for Hippies. Who live mainly on the numbered streets. Or in Pocatello. Or particularly in Teton County, Idaho, and Jackson, Wyoming. We still call Jackson “Jackson Hole,” by the way, and when we talk about Hippies (anyone transplanted from California or, increasingly, Colorado) we put emphasis on the “hole.”

I is for inversions. Though it looks like a plain, when you drive from the Idaho National Laboratory to the Iona foothills, it’s clear the Snake River and the cities that line it are in a valley. And in the winter, warm air in the valley gets trapped beneath cold air rolling off the plains. Which traps all that lovely car exhaust and wood smoke and everything else in the valley for weeks on end. It’s the only time we pray for wind.

J is for J. As in 1J. Here in Idaho, you can tell what county a person registered his or her vehicle in by the first two numbers/letters on the license plate. 1J means Jefferson County – and Jefferson County means the state’s worst drivers. Except for those from Madison County. Or Bonneville County. Or those damn BYU-Idaho kids. Especially if they’re transplants from Utah.

K is for Karol and Jay. Karol Honas and Jay Hildebrandt, our local news anchors. They’ve been on Local News 8 for donkey’s years. Jay kinda lost his mystique for me, however, when I spotted him in his front yard, wearing his TV News Suit, watering a tree while wearing hip waders. K could also be for Kenny Rogers Roasters, as ours was the last in the chain to close. I never went there. It’s a KFC now.

L is for La – an extremely popular name appendage for women of a certain age in this area. Another Utah transplant (see U is for Utah) has got many ladies in this area named LaRene, LaDean, LaRue, etc. Sensibly, the younger generation has moved on to more conventional names, also imported from Utah.

M is for “mute.” Not mute as in silent, but mute as in mute point. More commonly known as a “moot point” in areas of the nation where people know how to pronounce “moot.”

N is for Napoleon. As in Napoleon Dynamite. There are so many East Idaho in-jokes in that film we just can’t get enough of it. And secretly, we ALL believe we woulda won state if coach woulda put us in fourth quarter.

O is for Ochi. Fred Ochi is perhaps East Idaho’s most famous artist (though fans of Werner Gisin might dispute that). Ochi is known for watercolor paintings of landscapes and barns. The finer establishments in Idaho Falls all have Fred Ochi art. O could also be for Oh My Heck, our most popular Utah-imported expletive (see U is for Utah).

P is for Pocatello. Pocatello is the other large city in this area. They have Red Lobster. They have Costco. Judy Garland sings a song featuring Pocatello, because Pocatello is fun to say. Pocatello Pocatello Pocatello. Other than that . . .  And yes, P could have been for potato. We do grow an awful lot of them around here. But we’re not obsessed with them as the rest of the nation appears to be.

Q is for quilts. Every year at the Eastern Idaho State Fair, I have to spend a good portion of my time sitting on a metal chair near a fan, evading the ruling ladies who don’t want people sitting in metal chairs by their fans, as I wait for my wife who is looking at the quilts on display. Drive in any direction out of town – any town – and you’ll find some quaint business like the Quilt Barn or the Quilt Shack or the Quilt Emporium or Crazy LaRene’s House of Quilts selling quilts. Half of the boxes in my garage hold old jeans destined to become denim quilts.

R is for Republicans. Many years ago, I was working with my brother on a construction job in Jefferson County. There was a lone thunderstorm blowing through that produced a rather brilliant bolt of lightning followed by a loud clap of thunder. “There goes the last Democrat in Jefferson County,” my brother said. I don’t think I need to say any more, aside from the fact we recently had a candidate for precinct committeeman named “Sadie Despot.” The emphasis was on “spot,” by the way. R is also for Rexburg, which has been billed as the most Republican city in the most Republican county in the United States. There are finer shades of conservatism in Madison County, however. Sugar City is where folks move to get away from the RINOs in Rexburg. And Archer is where folks from Sugar City move to get away from the liberals in Sugar City. As for the downtozn exemption mentioned earlier, Rexburg does in fact have a nice downtown. Just no hippies. A few RINOs is as close as Rexburg gets to hippiedom.

S is for smoke. Those cottonwood trees the pioneers planted? Many of them are old now. Too tall and gangly. They’re being cut down in droves because the wood is weak and the massive branches fall and smash cars. But the frugal folks here never waste anything. Someone in our neighborhood burns cottonwood in their wood stove all winter long. Cottonwood stinks like a skunk when it burns. And thanks to those inversions (See “I is for inversions”), I get to smell cottonwood smoke ALL WINTER LONG. S could also be for Sunnyside, a major east-west thoroughfare in the Ammon/Idaho Falls area, where most of the worst drivers in the state ply their horn-honking, lane-weaving, fence-crashing trade.

T is for Tetons. Technically, this mountain range is in Wyoming. And technically, you can only see the tips of the mountains from here if you’re in the right spot and if the sky is really, really clear. But you’ll see them everywhere, in local business names, in logos, at the mall . . . And we know secretly there are many French-speakers who laugh at the “Grand Tetons,” but we just don’t care.

U is for Utah. Utah is where ALL of our bad drivers come from, with the exception of Jefferson County. Or Madison County. Or Bonneville County. Your results may vary. Because, generally, we’re all sucky drivers. But we blame them all on Utah. Or California. Or the BYU-Idaho kids.  It’s also where we import most of our conservative politics from.

V is for Vandersloot. As in Frank Vandersloot, mogul, Melaleuca founder, billionaire Republican political donor, and the most popular local member of Democratic enemies lists. Chances are if you don’t work at The Site, you work for Melaleuca. Or you enjoy the Melaleuca Freedom Celebration (our Fourth of July fireworks show) or watch the Idaho Falls Chukars play at Melaleuca Field. Or you listen to one of the radio stations he owns. Or visit the popular local news website he owns. You’d better check to make sure he hasn’t written his name on your underwear. And inc case you think I'm being too mean to him, I'll point out he's pretty decent to his employees, to the tune of a combined $1.2 million in bonuses he just handed out to his employees -- a feat he repeats year to year.

W is for wind. The joke is if the wind stopped blowing, everyone in Eastern Idaho would fall down because we’re so used to leaning in it. Seriously, when we moved to Sugar City, one of the windier places in the valley, the wind chimes on our front porch NEVER STOPPED CHIMING that first summer. Alternatively, W could also be for Wilson Rawls, who re-wrote and published “Where the Red Fern Grows” while working at The Site in the 1950s. He’s the local literati, and there’s a statue honoring him at the Idaho Falls Public Library.

X is for . . . I don’t know. It’s never for anything interesting really. I mean I could put something here about X-rays due to the Site connection (see A is for Atom) but that’s lame.

Y is for Yellowstone. As Yellowstone National Park is only a 2-hour drive, we consider it our back yard. And every year we swap Stupid Tourist Stories. So far, with the Bison in the Backseat, the Canadian Sign-Ignoring Bros, the Bison Petter, and the Portland Hot Pot Wanderer, 2016 has been a bumper year for new stories.

Z could be for Z103, a local radio station popular with the kids, but since I’m middle-aged now it’s lost its significance to me over time. I mean, it probably still means something to some folks around here, so I’ll include it or otherwise I got nothin’. Like X.

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