Lost In Pleasant Grove

I sliced my left middle finger open last night doing the dishes.

A hidden butcher knife gashed my finger, leaving a deep incision that has been bleeding non-stop. Thank God for the good people over at Super Glue or this thing would have bled on my jeans by now. As a bartender, I am familiar with cut fingers. It goes with the trade. Fortunately, it wasn’t deep and won’t have lasting memories.

Unlike my last trip to Pleasant Grove on Tuesday night.

Pleasant Grove is a small, picturesque community in Utah County. As a stringer for the Salt Lake Tribune, I have cause to make the drive beyond the point of the mountain to cover high school sports in Central Utah. I like the concept of a road trip to cover a game but hate the fact that I live over an hour away from my bed and liquor cabinet. Nonetheless, my benevolent editor is gracious to throw me an additional $25 to cover a game and in the end, I don’t mind listening to a podcast on the drive down.

Two weeks ago, I went down to cover American Fork at Pleasant Grove girls’ basketball and I had a Hell of a time finding the home of the Vikings. While Pleasant Grove High School might be at 200 East and 700 South, when the inversion is in full effect and you can’t triangulate your position against the mountains I might as well be trying to find the geographic center of Siberia. Living in Utah for the last 12 years, I have become accustomed to navigating along Cartesian coordinates but everything gets thrown into a trashed out blender the second the 801 becomes the 425. Brigham Young’s genius in laying out the cities in blocks seems to take a break when he thought about Pleasant Grove. It is a confusing mess of where-the-hell-am-I once I get off the freeway. Even the most experienced travel can get lost the moment they let down their guard and it becomes impossible to navigate through the city. It doesn’t help that the air quality is the worst in the nation.

I headed down south with a belly full of turkey sandwiches and gusto. I directed my truck southbound on I-15 with every intention of making it to the game with 30-minutes to spare and time to interview both coaches before tipoff. Minus the prerequisite stop at the Pleasant Grove liquor store and swinging by the Purple Turtle to get a picture for my editor, I made it to the game a whopping 45-minutes early.

I set up behind the scorer’s table and got to work talking to fans, coaches and a couple of players. American Fork’s Cavemen (the second best name in the state) were taking on regional rivals, the Pleasant Grove Vikings. It promised to be a good game considering the natural ferocity they play each other and bragging rights in that neck of the woods. Both teams were 2-1 going into the match but the Cavemen might have had better legs—Pleasant Grove just got off a FOUR overtime match against Lehi that they put away in the closing moments.

A couple of things about Pleasant Grove High: one, they have the best God damn prep band I have ever heard. Set up on the opposite side of the court, they are a 16+ piece brass ensemble that sounds like a professional group. Their renditions of modern pop songs and they’re ability to blast out the classics makes the drive to PG all the better. They are genuinely really fun to watch. Best of all, they have a couple of husky kids on tuba—nothing better than a husky kid on tuba. Second, they have a classic court. It is a worn, blond hard court that has seen thousands of games. It looks beat up but has a beautiful, glossy sheen that begs for basketball to be played on it. The bleachers sit right on the court creating a tight, intimate space where the line between fan and player is blurred. You can hear the kids banging into each other and when a player goes to the floor, you feel the violent smack as they hit the deck. It is almost a perfect basketball court with its worn logos hidden under the smooth lacquer. I don’t think there is a better court in Utah with the exception of Olympus High. In the end, I call it a coin toss. Both are great gyms.

Covering basketball is the most difficult sport for me. It involves a ton of stat keeping and trying to take notes, post on Twitter and getting some insight to the game is challenging in the fast pace of the game. To be successful, you need to juggle everything on the court and keep good notes. This takes a lot of practice.

I learned how to keep score from Kyle Goon. You need two notebooks. The first notebook is to keep a running tally of the game’s activities by recording who scored what and what the running score of the game is. The second notebook is to compile totals of players’ scores throughout the game. If I was the Utah Jazz beat writer, I would just talk with a statistician and get these numbers at the end of the game but because I am on my own in a strange land with even stranger people, I have to keep track myself. With my trusty Parker Pen, I put the visiting team in the left column of the first notebook and keep track of their scoring at the top of my second notepad. The hardest part of writing a gamer for a high school game is keeping the numbers right and Goon has never been more sage-like with his two notebook format.

The game was a screamer. Everyone knew that the heated rivalry between these two 5A titans was going to come down to the wire and it did not disappoint. American Fork led throughout the first half but Pleasant Grove made some big adjustments at the half and was dominate in a see-saw match until the final seconds of the game. The Cavemen ran a backdoor swing and tied it at the buzzer. To overtime we went where PG wasn’t able to put AF down and we went to a second overtime. It was a shame that the Viking students weren’t making more of a ruckus considering how well their boys were playing and it was weird listening to the deafening cries of the American Fork fans that travelled to the game. The second overtime was one of the most exciting periods of play I have covered since I started my gig with the newspaper with Pleasant Grove’s Matt Conway going to the line with time expired in a tie match to shoot two free throws with time expired. He missed the first but like a pro, drained the second only to get swallowed by the entire school.

Pretty incredible.

I quickly checked my notes and went to hunt down the coach. Randy McAllister was a really neat guy. He’s been at the helm of Viking basketball for a while and was really generous with his time with both me and the student newspaper. To my chagrin, the student reporter asked better questions than I did but I was able to pony off of his more insightful take on the exciting game. I talked with Matt Conway for a minute, pulled a great quote and headed off to my truck to find a place to right.

Since I started this gig, every reporter and editor has told me to get a MacDonald’s as soon as the game is over to write my gamer. I don’t eat MacDonald’s but they do have the best WiFi connection in the state and they pour a mean Coca-Cola. It sounds funny to say this but I feel like I am ready to write when I smell the grease from the fryers when I step through the door. While I am constantly drowning out the world with podcasts, music, radio and any other distraction, the drive from a game to the MacDonald’s is one where I don’t have any distractions. I try composing my thoughts while making it to the restaurant and want to be able to sit down and start hammering out my story. Those quiet moments are one of the few that I have in my life and they are equally exciting and serene.

To a point. You see, one must get to MacDonald’s to find that place to write and in my case, leaving Pleasant Grove High School, I got lost. Again. I got lost again in Utah County.

I would like to blame the inversion blackening out the mountains and not giving me any geographic markers to find my way to the freeway. I would like to blame the complete lack of street lights making street signs impossible to find. I would like to blame the fact that I haven’t talked to my mother enough nor been a better boyfriend. Nope. I got lost because I am idiot. Where I should have turned left, I went right and started heading east towards the mountains with no hope of finding a way to the freeway. Because I have a very poor cell phone, I wasn’t able to use the GPS function and I became increasingly more frustrated with my situation. Instead of working my lede and getting the quotes laid out to best serve the great game I just witnessed, I started getting more and more upset. When I should have been writing, I was driving further away from not just MacDonald’s but civilization.

As a rule, I am a pretty upbeat guy. I have a good sense of what I can and cannot control and seem to navigate between these two ends with decent ease. That is not to say that I haven’t had breakdowns before. Months before I sold The Woodshed, I had a breakdown. Bill collectors and the weight of the heavens were placed against my chest and I started to cry out of anger for the first time in my life. I couldn’t shake the sense of dread that I put myself and others in and was racked with guilt over running my business into the ground. It was a dark spiral of shame that I couldn’t break and was begging for a lifeline to get me out of the riptide of depression. I have never forgotten that pain and I have used it as a measuring stick against other experiences to qualify my emotions.

Since selling The Woodshed, lost in Utah County, under deadline and completely lost, I started having that sickly bile seep up my throat into my mouth. Where the Hell am I? How the fuck did I get so fucking lost? Where is the fucking God fucking stupid fucking freeway? Who the fuck can help me? Why isn’t anybody helping me? Fuck!!! Fuck!!!! Aughhh! You stupid fucking FUCK!!!! I was punching my steering column, driving like a madman through the London fog of polluted air, looking for any sign of something familiar. Instead of thinking about how the Cavemen let the game slip from their fingers and Matt Conway’s clutch second free throw, I was screaming like a banshee, begging someone, anyone, to help me.

I drove for 20-minutes till I saw Thanksgiving Point. I navigated to the freeway and headed north. All I needed was a MacDonald’s and all would be forgiven. Luck would not have it that way. I ended up on 104 South before I found one and rushed inside to write my story. Instead of being composed and excited about summarizing the game, I was a bundle of emotion and self-doubt. It was exhausting. I couldn’t find my voice and spent 20-minutes looking at my computer before I wrote yet another sub-par story. My facts were right but my tone was a cluster-fuck. I love writing under duress. The deadline is a soft thump that progressively gets louder the closer the piece is due until the sound is a thunderous noise that drowns out any other sound. My gamer started prematurely in that noise and never cleared the clouds of cacophony. Very frustrating. Good stories make me want to go out there and do it again. Bad stories make me want to try it again as soon as possible to redeem myself. American Fork at Pleasant Grove is the latter.

Instead of heading home, I went to Sugarhouse Pub and drank Guinness. They were not earned but needed. I felt like a loser getting lost and for blaming my weak effort on not having the maturity to figure out how the Hell I was supposed to get back home. I am chalking it up to another learning experience to being a travelling reporter. Everything I have done as a reporter for the Tribune has been a learning experience, both good and bad. I seem to have had more bad experiences but the opportunity to correct these mistakes has lured me back with more enthusiasm every time.

The cut on my left middle finger is at the very tip and it hurts to type. When I got home from a couple of beers, I opened my computer up on the couch and saw that there was blood on the keyboard. I guess I had reopened the wound and bled out while typing. I never noticed it. I took a moment of pride in being so focused on finishing that I failed to see blood on the keyboard before realizing that I needed better perspective. In cleaning it up with a moist towel, my take away from the game was that it is the work that is important. To be honest, accurate and professional.

Most of the time, two out of three isn’t bad. On Tuesday, it wasn’t even passing.

Ben Raskin bartends at Keys on Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. Podcast, yep he got one. He is looking forward to a redemption game.

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