Stansbury Park, Utah, is a normally quiet and peaceful suburb of Salt Lake City, on the southern edge of the Great Salt Lake and just over a ridge from the city proper. But one local car enthusiast reluctantly took advantage of Friday’s government shutdown and managed to create a small empire in its absence.
As insurance actuarial manager Joe Williams and his friends sat in the parking lot of the Fresh Market grocery store in Granger Heights (just outside of Salt Lake City), they enjoyed a typical Saturday morning of “Cars and Coffee,” a loosely-organized series of impromptu car shows that take place around the country every Saturday. Williams’s Cadillac CTS-V station wagon gleamed in the morning sun.
Pleasant conversation quickly turned to the government shutdown. Fellow member Rick Hodges quipped that, since emissions testing centers and the DMV were both closed, the group could technically drive whatever they wanted. The discussion spread and, within a few minutes, several members had returned to their homes for their heavily modified hot rods and race cars – vehicles that were not normally street legal.
Bearing the name, costume, and persona of his internet handle, Mormon Joe, Williams returned to the parking lot with his supercharged 1930s-era Chevy hot rod, a car he had been restoring and modifying for over 20 years. He was soon joined by other attendees with lifted “Brodozer” trucks, a 2017 Ford Mustang GT named “Innocent Bystander,” and even a 2004 Nissan Skyline dubbed “The Gutted Cat.” As Fresh Market shoppers began to quietly leave the parking lot in fear, the assistant manager of the store came out to confront the club.
“I’m not quite sure what came over me,” Williams explains. “I just offered the manager a ride in my car and all was forgiven. He even chose to ride in my custom seat that I added to the nose in honor of the movie Titanic. You can really feel the wind in your hair up there. It’s glorious. It makes you feel like the king of the world.”
The group’s casual cruise ended up passing right in front of the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle. “By that point we were getting a little hungry,” explains Williams, “I knew they had about 50 years’ worth of food stashed in the basement. So we just..uh,” Williams stammers. “We just walked in and took it. I kept apologizing to the secretary, but she didn’t even try to stop me.”
The group quickly took up temporary residence in the nearly-empty Tabernacle, sending junior club members out on errands under the club’s new name “Church of the LSD” [Limited Slip Differential, a traction device used on high-powered cars]. Those errands began as supply runs, but quickly evolved into negotiations with fellow car clubs, many of who had also turned ruthless in the wake of the DMV news.
“We had to get all of our dirty work done before the Sabbath rolled around, that’s for sure,” Williams continues. “I’m not making anyone labor on Sunday, it just wouldn’t be right.”
As Williams’s wife and four kids called his iPhone repeatedly, he simply used the Apple autoreply “Can’t talk now, pillaging.” Williams claims he knew they would be worried, but that he often works Saturdays at the office to catch up on insurance claims, so it wouldn’t seem unusual.
“It was just then that my fourth wife, already three hours pregnant with our first child, turned to me and said I should give my old family a call. I felt pretty guilty about what I had done.”
Despite the guilt, Joe spent an additional 27 hours in the Tabernacle, leaving only to help secure a perimeter around the building. As the choir arrived at 6am on Sunday for practice, Joe and the club forced them to perform several White Zombie songs, as well as “In the Garden of Eden” by I. Ron Butterfly. However, as churchgoers and tourists began to pour into the pews, Williams knew they would have to leave or end up stuck in heavy traffic with antique manual transmissions.
As the dust settles and reality again takes hold, Joe Williams faces the misdemeanor charge of operating an unregistered vehicle – a crime that could cost him $115 and take him away from his family for up to 45 minutes.
“I realize now the error of my ways – you can’t achieve world domination through violence and fear. You have to do it through showing excessive politeness, friendliness, and having lots of kids. Speaking of kids, Christmas is going to be pretty awkward this year.”
Editor’s Note: The Salt Lake City DMV was not actually closed on Friday or Monday.