Deep End | A Streetcar Named Boondoggle: UTA’s European junket gives Utah dignitaries valuable insight. 

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I am exhausted. I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired in my life. I think I can speak for all my fellow public servants just back from our study of streetcars in six European cities when I say that riding streetcars is the hardest work I’ve ever done, not just ever, but in my entire life. In my opinion, The Salt Lake Tribune was unfair to a bunch of hard-working public servants who traveled around Europe on the taxpayer’s nickel, to the tune of nearly $4,000 a head. n

A front page story in the Tribune last week suggested that a gaggle of Utah mayors and UTA functionaries, under the auspices of doing research on the feasibility of replacing light rail with electric streetcars in the urban centers of Utah, were actually having a grand time living it up in the great cities of Europe.


My fellow boondoggler Joe Johnson, the mayor of Bountiful, speaks for all of us when he says, “This wasn’t a vacation.” It’s only a coincidence that we visited such scenic spots as Vienna, Munich, Zurich, Monaco, Nice, Bordeaux and Paris. You can call our trip an extravagant boondoggle if you want, but it was a lot more doggle than boon.


We were all so exhausted from getting on and off all those streetcars that we barely had a chance to see the sights. For example, we were all so worn out that we weren’t able to fully enjoy the physical splendor of the nude beach we went to on the French Riviera. Now I know why they call the city “Nice,” but for some reason the French people pronoun it “Niece.” By the way, the beach is not the place you really want to take your niece to anyway.


We hardly got any sleep at all, we were so tired out from the streetcars and restaurants and casinos (Monaco is a cool place, though it looks better in the James Bond movies) and nightclubs. Fellow boondoggler John Inglish, who is the hardworking general manager of the Utah Transit Authority, estimates that we averaged somewhere around six hours of sleep per night. I think he’s dreaming. Sometimes me and some of the other streetcar students didn’t get back to the hotel until the sun was coming up.


The good thing, however, was that we were able to catch up on our sleep on the streetcars, most of which gently lull you sleep with their rhythmic, rolling, stop and go motion. You could tell who was taking advantage of the nightlife by how much shut-eye they got the next day in the streetcars. Some of the natives, especially the French, got very annoyed when Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Caroon or Salt Lake Chamber President Lane Beattie fell asleep on their shoulders or drooled on their fancy berets.


Despite varying degrees of drowsiness, every boondoggler took full advantage of our junket. It would be unfair to single out just a few of the merry travelers. So, in addition to the aforementioned boondogglers, give it up for Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey, as well as the usual UTA suspects: Mike Allegra, Justin Allin, Larry Ellertson, Kerry Doane, Art Bowen, Lorin Simpson, Bruce Jones and, of course, our token female Andrea Packer, whose specific assignment was to see how long it would take for some native to give up his seat for a member of the weaker sex.


In my role as special assistant for cultural affairs, I came along to scout out locations for our next boondoggle, which has yet to be announced, but plans for which are well underway. I speak of the survey of drinking establishments in various capitals of the world. We want to study higher-density developments, and the role they play in the popularity of neighborhood taverns, or “pubs,” and whether such pubs can co-exist with high-density streetcars and low-impact pedestrians.


So great was the success of our streetcar boondoggle that we are aggressively moving forward with other public-spirited projects, including a study of the effectiveness of tanning salons, for which team members will test out the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, to establish a benchmark against which we can measure the authenticity of store-bought tans, either from a tanning bed or a spray-on bottle. If that works out, we will journey to Greece and hike up to the Acropolis, to get a first-hand sensory experience of using leg muscles so we can do a feasibility study of the degree to which shopping-mall escalators minimize muscle fatigue. 


D.P. Sorensen writes satire for City Weekly.

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