Private Eye | Winners & Losers: For all its growth, Wendover still hasn’t grown up 

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Three of our writers at City Weekly got some happy news this week. Stephen Dark, Scott Renshaw and Ted McDonough were all recognized by the Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) at a recent soiree held by that group. Ted was given an honorable mention in the very competitive Best Reporter category. City Weekly is grouped with Utah’s top dailies for the SPJ competition, so that’s some pretty good company Ted’s competing with.

That’s all well and good, of course, but City Weekly is especially noted for just making things up according to certain readers and bloggers. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to even those nitwits that Scott Renshaw was given a first place in the Review/Criticism category where not only can he make things up as he goes, he makes things up about things that are made up—movies. His excellent review of the movie Superbad,Groin Pains,” won the judges over, possibly because he put dick jokes in a review about a movie that has lots of dick jokes.

Stephen Dark won four awards. He got a third place in Criminal Justice Reporting for his story “Fuel-Injected Lunatic” that covers a man’s tale through mental-health issues and into the realm of inventions to increase gas fuel mileage. He garnered a second-place award in Military Reporting for his superb telling of the lives and deaths of three local soldiers who were killed in three-week span 40 years prior in Vietnam. Incredibly, Dark was able to locate fellow battlefield soldiers who knew Tom Gonzales, Jimmy Martinez and LeRoy Tafoya, which added a very special element to that piece. “The Things We Carry” provided voice and healing to the families of those men, two notions that seldom surfaced for them in the prior four decades.

As a nice riff is to a rippin’ rock & roll song, Stephen’s two first-place awards gave signature to a great evening for him. He won a first for “Crap Shoot” in the category of Minority Issues Reporting and for “Sex Machine” in the Personality Profile competition. “Sex Machine” was the story about Belladonna, the stage name of a Utah girl turned mega-porn star—a gonzo star at that—that both fulfills and destroys all clichés about virtuous Utah girls. It’s a good thing this story ran in 2007 because, next year, the personality profile winner and runners up all will be stories about David Archuleta. Dark’s own Archuleta draft is called “Text Machine: Confessions of an American Idol Addict” that promises even more local myth explosion. You’ve been warned, Deseret News.

As for Dark’s story “Crap Shoot,” the proverbial crap hit the fan as soon as the story came out, so there’s a certain validating irony associated with it. That story took place in Wendover where many residents, including illegal immigrants, have a difficult time adjusting to life in the west desert boom town. No sooner did Dark’s story hit the streets when two things happened very quickly: One casino told our sales folks to bugger off and never come back and that our papers were no longer welcome on their property, either. We got booted.

I can vouch for this since I worked in casinos for a couple of years—casinos only like it one way: theirs. Some Wendover residents sent us nasty letters. They were mad at us for not giving Wendover props. Sorry—we don’t do Danger Cave or Enola Gay stories. They were mad because they said the story was one-sided. They were mad because they said a graveyard photo was unduly insensitive (it was a generic, unplanned shot). They were mad because they didn’t like how the white people of Wendover were portrayed. They were mad at how Mexicans were portrayed. But, mostly they were saying, “Yeah, they’re Mexicans, but they’re our Mexicans!” Or worse—“Those are bad Mexicans, and I should know, because I’m a good Mexican.”

I worked in Wendover as a dealer 30 years ago when some of the first Mexican laborers began arriving in town. We were all young, and they became my friends. Dark’s story was already unfolding then, except it wasn’t being told by Mexicans. Wendover had basically no health care nor clinics. It was the fun Wendover dealers, the ones I hung with, who were shooting at each other, lying on the railroad tracks trying to get run over by a train or dying on the road to the whore houses in Wells—not the Mexicans. The children of Wendover played there and died there, lived there and left there. Depending on whom you talked to—same as in Dark’s story—Wendover was a trap or a haven.

I loved every bit of Wendover, and everyone I met there. But Wendover, for all its growth, still hasn’t grown up. After the story came out, I spoke to a casino executive who gave me an earful about what “true journalism” is. That would be like me lecturing him on how to make a precise 10-spot bet on Keno. He said he’d never advertise with us because we didn’t say nice things about Wendover or Mexicans. I told him he had never spent a dime with us anyway but, since he felt that way, he could have at least said thanks for 20 years of free entertainment listings—and that Stephen Dark, who speaks fluent Spanish, did not target Wendover or Mexicans; he is, in fact, highly regarded locally for his service to the Hispanic community.

This win for Stephen for that particular story was not only a great riff, it’s a belated “up yours” to certain category of people who will never see the forest for the dollar sign. That story will be told again in 30 more years. I’d bet on it.

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