City of Salt

I stepped out for a look around earlier today, getting fairly well drenched in a summer rain storm. Afterwards, I felt like I was in a sauna and finally had to come back to the hotel to cool off. Adapting to the heat and humidity will take me a little time after the relatively cool, breezy San Francisco area.

I used to live in Salt Lake City years ago when I was 15. In fact, I was a “teenage runnaway”, hitting the road and hitchhiking all over the west. I settled in Salt Lake City because I met some people who gave me a place to stay until I found a job as a waitress is a small cafe. Naturally, I lied about my age, telling everyone I was 19.

I have always had ambivalent feelings about Salt Lake. It’s a beautiful city, not too big, not too small, nestled at the foothills of some incredible mountains. If you watched the Winter Olympics earlier this year, then you know that Salt Lake is one of the favorite ski places in the country.

However, Salt Lake has a dark side – an underground population that exists in the streets and the backways, usually ignored by the good citizens of the town. While it’s true that all cities have underground populations, Salt Lake seems to have people who are either Ozzie and Harriet or Undergrounders – no slightly left of center, somewhat in, somewhat out people such as, well, myself.

When I lived in Salt Lake City years ago I was part of the Underground, hanging with kids who did drugs and partied all night. Once a friend OD’d on speed and we had to rush him to the hospital. The ambulance pulled up to the ER room, the nurse came out, took one look at my friend, and told the drivers to take him to the county hospital. Luckily he didn’t die because of the delay. But if he had, I suppose the good people of the City would think that it was one less Undergrounder, one step closer to God for the city.

I remember walking all night with a guy named Blue and looking up at the gold figure on top of the Temple, thinking that if the city was truly based on the foundation of God and brotherhood, why were I and my friend walking around all night, carefully steered away from the ‘good parts’ of the city by the police. You could die knifed to death in the city as long as you didn’t bleed on the sidewalk in front of the Tabernacle.

Today when I was out and about I could see the changes in the city, particularly from the Olympics. Salt Lake has a new light rail system, which is nice. There’s a large new outdoor mall near the city, which I’ll try and visit later this afternoon. Lots of new shops, but many of them look closed.

I also noticed people wearing clean khaki shorts and cotton blouses, hair conservatively styled, several children in tow. Clean cut, wholesome Americans who most likely vote for Bush and fly the American flag from their front door, their reading restricted to those works that bring comfort and feelings of peace and tranquility.

In between the good people were individuals wearing spiked collars and shaved heads, black t-shirts, jeans riding low until the cracks of their butts showed. Haunted looks in their faces – lone wolves trying to find the rest of the pack among all the sheep.

Pardon me—whose unwanted baggage am I tripping over?

The storm had cleared and with it took much of the humidity. The temperature was still warm, but manageable. Best of all a gentle breeze was blowing down off the mountains.

I went walking around Temple Square, drifting in and around wedding parties, tourists, and Mormon Sisters who were helping folks. I walked by one Sister and she gives me a big smile, asking how I was doing and if I needed help. I realized I was next to the Tabernacle and had hoped to hear the Choir sing. When I asked the young lady about choir performances, she not only gave me times when they were playing but enlisted the help of another sister to work out a strategy for me so that I could get excellent seating. They worked with the precision of enlisted soldiers determined that I, visiting from San Francisco, had a chance to hear the choir at its best (tomorrow morning, be there early, sit in this location – got it, Sergeant).

I also splurged on a horse-drawn carriage ride throughout the city – I am a sucker for horse-drawn carriages. My driver, Emily, obviously loved the city, and the horse, Cleo, was young and very spirited. I had a wonderful trip, not only seeing what really is a beautiful city – a unique city – but also talking with Emily and enjoying the antics of Cleo (who does NOT like loud rock and roll by the way).

After the ride, I asked someone on the street for directions and she not only pointed me out where I needed to go, but also took me by the arm, walked me to the end of the street and literally pointed out the building I was looking for, chatting with me the whole time about making sure I see the Beehive house and the Joseph Smith Museum and…and…

Sometimes we can view things, people, and places through glasses shaded by past trauma and sadness. Rather than rose-colored glasses, these are smoky at best, fogging our vision and impacting on our interpretation of what we see. When I walked out this morning, comparing the City of Salt with young memories, all I could see was Ozzie and Harriet on one side of the street, Undergrounders on the other. This afternoon, I took the glasses off and I saw a city made up of Undergrounders and Ozzie and Harriet, true; but I also saw people like me, like you.

I walked around downtown enjoying the beauty when I noticed a crowd gathered around a group of young women with harps. These were students and friends of Elizabeth Smart the young girl kidnapped from her home June 5th. They were performing at a concert to raise awareness of Elizabeth’s kidnapping and to provide support for Elizabeth’s parents.

Elizabeth’s parents spoke first, not 15 feet in front of me, mother stoic, father breaking down in tears. In another place, in another time, they would be Ozzie and Harriet. Today, they were the grief-stricken, terrified parents of a little girl who was stolen from everything she knew, a family of love and taken for what reason we may never know.

And then the harp players, ages 4 and up, started playing:

Bah, Bah, Black Sheep have you any wool?

Yes, marry have I,

Three bags full.