When Luke Anderson, 19, sees the cupboards bare at his father's house, he notifies the mayor — Salt Lake City's Rocky Anderson who is often too busy to notice the need for grocery shopping. A midnight trip to the market would be prudent, Luke advises his father.
"That's the only time we can get anything done," the younger Anderson says. Try going out with Rocky during the day, and you'd better be ready to run into a dozen or more people who want to opine on city, state and national issues, or just have their pictures taken with him.
"I actually begged him not to run for mayor," Luke says. He was anticipating what it would be like trying to run errands — or talk with his peers about something besides his father's latest cause.
"I could tell he really, really wanted to do it," however, and the 28 months since the elder Anderson's landslide victory haven't been so bad. Luke had the opportunity to go to Sydney, Australia, for the 2000 Summer Olympic Games, and he had near-unlimited access to all the best events during the Salt Lake Games.
Now Luke is preparing for his own trip, without his father. Next Sunday he'll depart for India, to spend three weeks studying politics in New Delhi, seeing sights such as the Taj Mahal and finishing construction of a primary school in the tiny village of Kotwara. The trip, part of a set of courses at the University of Utah, is led by Hinckley Institute of Politics director and former Salt Lake Mayor Ted Wilson.
Rocky Anderson's feelings about Luke's departure are mixed. He's worried about recent unrest in India and neighboring Pakistan. But he also sees the trip as an irresistible opportunity. "Ted (Wilson) tells me I should go over for a week. But I can't," he says, clearly disappointed. Anderson and Luke have traveled together to Central America several times and to the Middle East; the elder has talked to his son in recent years about them going to India. Luke didn't seem interested then; he is now. A first-year student at the U., he's still deciding on a major but is leaning toward international relations.
Wilson said the trip, which begins with a 36-hour ordeal in the air and at airports across Asia, will be no vacation for his five students. "We want to change their lives. It's a shock initially" upon arrival in New Delhi. "That shock turns to curiosity. That turns to respect, and that turns to awe. When you go to India, you see people living on a subsistence level, and they're entirely happy. They're totally committed on a spiritual level," Wilson said. "You become educated in a way that you can't be in any other way. The students come back and dedicate themselves to international relations. They become excited about making the world a better place."
Luke is looking forward to getting away. He lived in the dorms at the U. until they were converted into the Olympic Village; since then he's been staying at his father's house. He works at a Salt Lake movie theater part time and skis when he can afford it. He hopes to transfer to New York University or Georgetown by his junior year — but he expresses no typical teenage disgust with his hometown.
"I'm sure there are cities on the East Coast, or Los Angeles, where kids my age are jaded" about where they grew up. But Salt Lake City "is still safe. It's technically a big city, but it's not soulless. It's not overcrowded." Living in a city without access to open space "really affects the psyche of people."
Wilson only recently met Luke when he signed up for this semester's courses on Indian politics and Hindi. "What a great kid. He's articulate, and he's sensitive."
Rocky Anderson said Luke can also be shy and circumspect — and certainly not as talkative as his father. "At tense times," however, "he can be very funny" and has been known to dispel discomfort between father and son.
Luke says he's had to get used to receiving earfuls about the mayor. Across the state, Rocky Anderson is under heavy fire, and he's wildly popular — "a lot of both at the same time," Luke says. Being the mayor's son is difficult "when I'm in a group of people I don't know that well, and that's all they want to talk about — that's all I am."
And alcohol seems to be all some want to talk about. "There are people who think (Rocky Anderson) wants to turn this into a New York City, a big party town, a 'sin city.' He's lived in Utah almost his whole life, and he loves that it's clean and safe and a great place to raise a family. He wants it to stay that way. He just wants to give people more options . . . and he's pretty sick of hearing about what he calls 'the alcohol thing.' "
Yet being related to the Salt Lake mayor has also led to some pretty exciting moments, including during the Olympics. Sitting in a Rice-Eccles Stadium suite a few seats away from Vice President Dick Cheney and International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge was an interesting part of closing ceremonies, Luke said, using his gift for understatement.
Luke went to a number of Olympic competitions with his father — but often didn't know he'd be going until a few hours beforehand. He doesn't usually carry a cell phone, but he did during the Games so he could receive updates on the mayor's plans.
When asked how he liked running around with the mayor, who defies schedules and who can't cross a room without meeting a half-dozen constituents with his enthusiastic, "How ya doin'?" Luke delivers some deadpan humor.
"I envy his youthful energy," he says of his 50-year-old dad.