Provo: Not the Armpit of the State?


When I first flew the nest and started out on my own, I somehow came up with the saying that Provo and Ogden were officially the armpits of Utah, a statement that always inevitably offended half of Utahns while simultaneously delighting the other half. This judgment was based loosely on two things:

– the few short stints (none longer than the equivalent of a week) I spent staying in Provo, and
– the stereotypes perpetuated about Provo that abound throughout the state

Granted, I seemed to find evidence of the stereotypes wherever I went. Take the most recent time I stayed down in Provo for an extended time, back in 2008—I was working at an internship in Orem (a neighboring town, for all you non-Utahns) that required me living with, mentoring, and tutoring a bunch of high school students Monday – Friday. When the weekends came, I would drive over to Provo to hang out with people who were actually my age and to check out the local scene.

Maybe it was because I was hanging out with people who went to BYU or maybe it was because the people I was with just happened to fit a lot of the stereotypes or maybe it was because I was simply looking for evidence to justify my own preconceived notions, but I clearly remember that Provo back then was EXACTLY how I pictured it—a town so saturated in Mormon culture that you could almost feel the high tension of dating, the anxiety of competing students at the university, and the overt self-righteousness almost everywhere you went.

(Seriously, the few times I’ve been to BYU’s campus, it was like I could tangibly touch the stress of the students everywhere who were equally freaking out about grades, righteousness, and dating.)


Granted, I was 21 at the time, and more than a little naive. I tended to see what I wanted to see, and I hardly spent enough time in the area to get a good feel for it.

Maybe it’s because I’m six years older now, or maybe it’s because I’m here under different circumstances with an entirely different type of people around me, or maybe it’s because my “photographer’s” eye is getting keener, but Provo’s kind of growing on me this week (a statement I never, EVER thought I would say).

Today I took a long walk after having written test questions in a 60-degree, tightly enclosed room for 8 hours. I took my camera with me and set off from the hotel, without any kind of plan in mind about where I would go, what I would do, or what I would eat for dinner. All I knew was that for once, it wasn’t a billion degrees outside and that I needed to get out of the Birch Room of the Marriott (where I have already spent approximately 14 hours this week and counting).


I quickly realized that in my trips to Provo before, I had very narrowly experienced the city. I had spent mostly all my time in school-approved housing or by the campus, and I had spent all of my time with people who happened to be in the time of life many think of when they think of a typical Provo citizen–BYU students looking to get married (most of them from 21-23 years of age who had just returned home from serving missions).

Today on my walk, I thought about how each city eventually gains a reputation that seems to precede it–that makes strangers to that city pre-judge it before they ever have a chance to experience it firsthand. Whether or not this is unfair, I’m not going to say, but it’s definitely true—for example, thinking of what a “New Yorker” is like will get you a totally different mental idea than what a “Nashville-ian” will. Where I live (Logan), we tend to be known as a laidback college town full of outdoorsy, almost-“granola”-ish people. Since a part of that statement is applicable to me, I’ve never taken offense at it, but I’m sure some city folk don’t like the label that’s been put on them merely because of where they live (Provo-ites included).


But moving on. On my walk today, I discovered that downtown Provo is actually downright charming—the plethora of gorgeous architecture, well-manicured gardens, and aging historical sites made me wish I could be a portrait photographer here because it would give me so many options to choose from. In fact, I almost started asking strangers to pose in pictures for me just to try out some of the various locations (although I managed to refrain from giving into that particular impulse).


And while it’s still too early for me to totally throw away my notions about what many people in Provo are all about (seeing as I haven’t really talked with anyone here all week), I can definitely say that as far as the city goes, Provo is definitively not the armpit of the state anymore.

(And just for the record, I know the people here are lovely–I just had enough friends who attended BYU that I like to give them a hard time every once in awhile.)


And my absolute favorite feature of Provo so far? The fact that in my entire walk today, I didn’t run across a single chain restaurant. I only came across locally-owned establishments, and ones representing about every single cuisine at that. For a foodie like me, downtown Provo seemed to be a bit of a paradise, actually.

(For the record, I ran across another pupuseria (Salvadorean restaurant) again today–“El Salvador Restaurant.” While the red sauce that comes with the pupusas was a little bit better at the place I tried yesterday, I thought the quality of the pupusas at both places was excellent, and the pupusas at the place today were cheaper and bigger, making it a difficult call about which is ultimately better. Guess I’ll just have to eat at them both, ha ha. Then I finished off my walk with a peach cobbler milkshake from Sammy’s, which was delicious, even in spite of being a bit more milky than I like. Thanks for the recommendation, Corina!)


I was a little worried my time here this week (outside the hotel) would be insufferable, but I’ve definitely enjoyed myself so far. Shame on me for judging this place so hard, eh?

Out of curiosity, I want to know if you Provo-ites out there are really bugged by the stereotypes surrounding the city, or if you just think they’re funny? And as for the rest of you, what is the stereotype surrounding your city? Do you agree with it?

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