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Adventures in Park City, Utah

The outdoor pool at the St. Regis in Park City.

Photo: Ball & Albanese

He stubbed out a cigarette (he has since quit) and extended his hand. “Dana Williams.”

Park City’s mayor was a surprise on every level. Now in his third term, he took office in 2002 by symbolically breaking a gavel instead of banging it, in order to signal the end of authoritarian rule. Despite the building boom and the tourist industry, Williams is hardly a big-business type. His family moved to Park City in 1963, when the only way up the mountain at Deer Valley was a towrope. He first became an alfalfa farmer, and then got into politics by starting a political action group called CARG, or Citizens Allied for Responsible Growth. CARG got 58 local laws changed and became enough of a thorn in the side of its opponents to earn the nickname CAVE, or Citizens Against Virtually Everything.

But cave is one thing Mayor Williams doesn’t do. “As mayor I’m only as well-off as the worst-off citizen,” he told me. And his constituency isn’t like that of other international ski towns. Of Park City’s 8,000 residents, about 40 percent don’t have health insurance. Williams himself, who makes $26,000 a year as mayor, was recently laid off from his second job as a real estate agent. He now works part-time as a guitar salesman and barista at a local coffee shop and performance space called Riffs.

As we walked up Main Street to lunch, we couldn’t get far without being stopped by friends and townspeople who wanted to chat about various sustainability projects he has going. All of the city’s buses and trolleys now run on biodiesel, which is 20 percent vegetable oil, and electric buses will be tested soon. He recently took the city’s municipal building and the police station completely off the gas grid; they now use geothermal power, heating and cooling themselves.

Finally, we got to our destination, a lunch spot called Café Terigo, and over grilled-salmon salads we talked about his days as a farmer (“I was the only Farmer of the Year winner who had a Grateful Dead sticker on his tractor”) and about being ticketed for speeding on Main Street (“I was on a skateboard”). As mayor, he’s raised $30 million of voter-approved municipal bonds to protect land from development; so far, he’s gotten 8,000 acres around town permanently preserved. “One guy called, pissed off, saying my job is to protect his property interests. I said, ‘We’ll get you a real estate agent in Vail.’ ”

On our way out, we ran into resident Adam Bronfman, son of the business mogul Edgar, who was instrumental in helping raise money for one of the biggest achievements of the mayor’s tenure: a health center that guarantees treatment to anyone without insurance. “Park City is an island, I feel,” Bronfman told me. “This may be a red state, but it’s not a red city.”

I left the mayor and headed across the street to the No Name Saloon, where I had been told George the Hack could be found most afternoons.

There are swankier places in town, like the Sky Lodge’s fireside Bar Bohème and the ski-in, ski-out High West Distillery, in a historic building. But No Name is the locals’ drinking hole, and when I entered, seven men arrayed around the corner of the bar eyed me warily. I cast a glance to see if one might be The Hack, but I could only make out a few cowboy hats and bushy facial hair.

A moose head stared down at me. I made my way to the bar. The high, arched ceilings hark back to the days when the building was the home of the Utah Power & Light Company. The men turned back to the television hanging from the ceiling, where a rerun on ESPN Classic of American Gladiators played out.

“Bud,” I said when the bartender came over, and when he put the bottle down in front of me, I asked about George the Hack.

I felt the gaze of the men on me again.

“You know The Hack?” one of them said. He had a walrus mustache and a baseball hat pulled low over his head.

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