David Rodeback's Blog

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Friday, July 21, 2006
Urban Musings

I spent the afternoon and evening in Salt Lake City and had a few thoughts along the way.

Here are some notes on my afternoon and evening in Salt Lake City, for whatever interest they might present. I am fond of large cities such as New York, Boston, Washington, DC, Seattle, and others. Salt Lake City is not that large, but it is developing its urban pleasures and conveniences. It's cleaner than those other cities, too.

I spent much of this afternoon at Primary Children's Medical Center, where an extended family member was having some surgery. (Don't worry. It went well.) I mention that simply as context for saying this: I continue to be impressed by the professionalism of every facet of the patient's, family's, and visitor's experience there -- and, for that matter, at the adjacent University Medical Center. I wish a similar level of professionalism were a more common experience elsewhere.

When that was done, I had a few hours to wait before some other family members arrived downtown for some activities. It turned into a very pleasant evening, despite the high temperatures.

I like to park a few blocks east of downtown, near the beautiful Cathredral of the Madeleine, because parking is free and the walk doesn't hurt me at all. I didn't enter the cathedral, but I have been there several times for concerts. It's beautiful, of course, and the music is superb, when there's music.

I shared a crosswalk across South Temple Street, at Main Street, with a bride, a groom, their two photographers, and some of the wedding party. The photographers were busily filming even the crossing of the street; I'll resist the temptation to find some larger significance in that. I assume the couple had just emerged from the Salt Lake Temple. If I were to draw any conclusions from the tasteful, deep-purplish hue of the bride's dark hair in that setting, it might be: We so want to be of the world, but not in the world!

My first actual destination was Borders, just to the south of Temple Square, in the nearly-vacant Crossroads Mall, which is about to be razed to allow for more modern development. It turned out to be their last day open before closing. Some shelves were bare, boxes of books were stacked here and there, and everything was 15 percent off. I browsed a while -- always a pleasure -- and left empty-handed. I hope Borders comes back in the new development. (Later in the evening, someone noted that a downtown Borders which closes at 8 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. or midnight is convincing evidence that there is no night life downtown.)

The next stop was three blocks south, on Main Street, at my favorite bookstore in Utah, Sam Weller's. I reviewed Sam Weller's a few years ago; it has modernized and rearranged a bit since, but is still a bibliophile's Mecca -- perhaps even more so than before. I found a couple of used David Lodge books, one novella and one novel, and left quite pleased with myself. At the register I noted a new publication of Benjamin Franklin's autobiography in the "Signed Copies" section and asked the obvious question. Apparently, those copies are signed by someone other than the author -- the editor or compiler, perhaps, but no one I'm going to get excited about.

Mental note for later: Does Salt Lake City have its own Soup Nazi now? (In case you didn't watch Seinfeld, I note that the emphasis there is on "Soup," not "Nazi," and no political statement is intended.) A couple of doors down from Sam Weller's is "Big City Soup." Unfortunately, they open for lunch, even late lunch, but not dinner, so I was too late for soup today. Maybe next time. (Be advised if you go: It's not discount soup.) Apparently, there's a Gateway location, too.

I had a quick meal of Chinese food at the ZCMI Mall downtown, browsed Deseret Book there, and then set out in search of a good place to read a book for two hours. When it's 95 degrees outside, a nice garden with shade is not enough. I finally esconced myself in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building's basement, in the relatively comfortable, superbly air-conditioned employee lounge, where I sipped grape juice and nibbled a Klondike from the vending machines while digesting a delightful novella, David Lodge's Home Truths, which I had purchased an hour earlier.

It was my favorite two hours of the week, so far.

I finished the book and had 20 minutes to wander two blocks to where my family would be getting off the Trax train. En route . . .

  • I wondered if street musicians, which I generally enjoy, actually help attract downtown traffic, or simply are part of it. (When American Fork has street musicians, at least on Friday night, we'll know we have a downtown.)
  • I smiled at the sight of three guys helping someone whose car had died in the middle of traffic. They didn't just push it over to the nearest sidewalk. They pushed it to the intersection, waited for the light, then continued around the corner and down the next block to an appropriate parking space. They didn't slow traffic much, either. Now those are urban instincts.
  • I waited near the intersection of West Temple and North Temple for about ten minutes, watching traffic and waiting for the train. (Three arrived in those ten minutes.) Every time but one, as the traffic signal at that intersection cycled, cars were left in the intersection, blocking perpendicular traffic and causing gridlock. Those are not urban instincts. In a city, you don't enter the intersection in heavy traffic until there is a place for you on the other side.

The family arrived, and that was the end of my urban musings, though not the end of my pleasant evening.

Later, walking alone back to my car near the cathedral, I picked up a Salt Lake Tribune, where I read that housing prices have risen sharply in American Fork and elsewhere in the last year. That article will be recommended reading in tomorrow's list.

Salt Lake isn't quite yet "the big city" that I enjoy in the East and Northwest, but it's getting there -- except for those drivers, of course. I took a walk, browsed three bookstores, read a book, had dinner, enjoyed several street musicians, found a new restaurant to try next time, and visited a museum or two -- all in the same evening, all without moving my car, and all without sore feet.

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