I was waiting for the elevator to arrive on the 24th floor of the Hilton and talking to a tiny woman who lived on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “Where are you from?” she asked.
“Utah,” I answered with a gigantic Utah smile.
“Where is Utah?” She looked at me, expectantly.
“Oh you New Yorkers!” I laughed, “You think there’s nothing between New York and L.A.” She just looked at me.
“It’s between Colorado and Nevada,” I answered.
“Oh,” she said.
I don’t think that helped.
“Utah!” I responded to two cute girls, both from New York. It took them a couple minutes to ponder this statement.
“I couldn’t live anywhere,” said Eliana, “Where wild animals could just wander into my house.”
Wild animals...wild animals. I’d never thought of that as a legitimate complaint. I live in a city of half a million people, yet if I drive for 30 minutes, I could encounter a bear. Someone is regularly attacked or killed by a bear, or attacked by a mountain lion about once a year. Rattlesnakes? I don’t think that even makes the news. Probably happens a couple times a week, but only to people who a.) go into the wilderness b.) aren’t listening. I live five minutes from Costco and Nordstrom, but deer eat my plants.
I drew a mini-map for Eliana and Joanne that explained how I lived in a valley between two mountain spurs. “There’s just mountains all the way East until Denver,” I said, drawing little spiked peaks onto the back of a schedule. Eliana regarded me with kind disbelief, secure in the knowledge no elk would stride into her Brooklyn pied-à-terre and start knocking over the baking sheets and making a mess of the vanilla.
In full disclosure, I’ve never seen a bear, and it would take an hour of driving before I would be high enough to encounter an elk, but I think Westerners just live with the awareness that we could. I’ve been bitten by snakes; it’s really not a big deal. Mostly you get pissed off and try to shake the snake off your hand, while your friend gets upset because you could have broken its spine. It’s a SNAKE. It BIT me. When your brother comes home from playing in the sandy foothills with yet another tarantula in a jar, it’s kind of cool. Avoiding a bear attack isn’t hard: don’t sleep next to the food. Believe it or not, a bear isn’t checking the labels when it sticks its nose into your tent; you just smell like warmer, noisier food than the Pop Tarts. The idea that I live close the land is laughable, I really don’t. But I guess compared to Flatbush, I’m in the middle of the veldt.
On the plus side, bears really cut down on the homeless.