Monday, March 30, 2009

The Holy Grail is in West Valley City

I thought it was just a big pile of dirt and garbage. And maybe a feature story. But I had no idea.

Several years ago, every day driving to and from work at the old KUTV studios in West Valley City, I passed a field of dreams. An empty weed-strewn lot. What remained of a 50-year-old garbage dump.

There they were every morning and every evening. And during some of the hottest days of the year. Armed with shovels and metal detectors. Treasure hunters prospecting for antique bottles.

Like Brandy. Blonde and 20-ish and covered with a thin veneer of dump dirt.

Photographer Adam Eakle and I decided to make a story out of our neighborhood dirt pile. And she was our interview subject.

Alongside a half-dozen other dirty souls, Brandy spent her days looking for old glass. Sorting marbles and bottles, she said, from false teeth and toilets.

"I've done it like like a job every day. I'm here at eight o'clock in the morning until sundown."

So dedicated a digger, she was, Brandy said she was out there with shovel and child when her water broke.

Brandy was more than willing to show us around the dump, but we could tell not everyone wanted the media exposing their hunting grounds.

"People are weird out here," she said, "They really get 'you jumped in my hole, you got that from my hole.' I mean it's seriously, it gets bad out here. It's like gold mining, it is. It gets bad."

She pointed out a worn, thin man. He was the best bottle digger of the dirt pile. At one point he walked over, look at us, kicked the dirt, and walked away.

Looking for other interviews, we approached a couple men screening dirt on the other side of the field. The more heavyset of the two, it turned out, was a preacher. A man of God and bottles.

He didn't want to be interviewed and tried to convince us not to air our story and share their garbage dump with the world.

He'd make a deal with us.

Hold the story a few months and he'd grant an interview and tell us what he was really digging for.


He leaned in, lowered his voice, and whispered with all apparent seriousness, "The Holy Grail."

I can't believe that he believed what he was telling me. But I think he believed that we believed it.

Brandy kept digging.

"My mom just looks at me and shakes her head. I come home all filthy. My nails are dirty, she's like where's my little girl," she said. "I need this dump over. I need to get a job."

A few weeks later the dump was over.

In preparation for development, the property owners fenced off the lot and the bottle diggers disappeared. Brandy among them.

But, even though Dan Brown's never said so, could the best treasure of all still be under the dirt?

You'll have to go ask the preacher.

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