December 30, 2018

Op Ed Narrative: Cycling Down and Out

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by Justice Morath

I bike throughout the city whenever possible, but one day last fall I was running late to an important meeting and had to drive my van. Heading south down 900 West, I see the dreaded train stop on the tracks ahead. I hear that they are only legally allowed to block roadways for like 10-15 minutes, but anyone on the west side knows this is not enforced, and it will be a long sit here on the wrong side of the tracks. Instead, I swerve into the left turn lane to drive down North Temple.

Driving past the infamously problematic Gateway Inn, I spot my friend’s bike. Two gaunt, white men are just standing by it. I know the deal; my friend’s bike was stolen the week before. It’s distinctive – specifically built for bike polo (a niche sport with a strong scene here in the newly repurposed tennis courts at Jordan Park). So I whip around the block and park.

The Arctic Circle next door had recently closed down. They claimed the crime right there was the culprit, but franchises were shutting down all over the state. The police and mayor’s office had announced that they were going to turn it into a satellite police station to fix the issues on North Temple.

Boom, I think to myself. I’ll get the cops!

But I peek in through the SLCPD decals on the window and it’s just an empty fast food joint. As useful as a scarecrow, I see, as I side-eye the men with the bicycle.

I’m standing there with no time to wait for help from the police or my friend. So I go for it and dart up, spooking them with my accusatory finger and pissed off voice yelling that I’m taking the bike NOW. They feign confusion and ignorance about the origin of their new bike as I reach between the two and take the thing back muttering “You f------ know what’s going on. I’m taking this back.” By the time I turn my ignition, they are gone.

Since then, the authorities have threatened the Gateway Inn owner and the loitering, although less egregious, has moved over to the Rancho Market parking lot. I’ve come to find out the Arctic Circle never was intended to be a station – just a place for bike patrol cops to stop in and warm up or use the restroom.

One week after taking my friend’s bike back, my girlfriend and I are riding home on the Jordan River Trail late one night.

The Jordan River Trail is complete now. With the bridge over the rail yard, we can avoid the trains when we bike. But the cynical me always wonders why it was under-prioritized for so long. I hear they want to put more pedestrian bridges over the tracks, like on 300 North by the FrontRunner. They say it’s so kids can get to West High. Interesting, though, that the plan wasn’t moving until all those massive luxury apartment buildings popped up right there. Paths get better once people “matter.”

As we are cruising around the underpass by the river on 200 South, we hear screaming. We come upon a woman clutching her arm with a BMX-style bike twisted on the ground beside her. Next to her is her friend, grasping a Big Gulp and her own bike. The wine in the Big Gulp is subtle but noticeable once you know what to look for. It gives you much information to stereotype with. These ladies show all evidence of being down and out. (I must admit that we, too, had been drinking, and if you hold difference between these, you might consider checking yourself.)

Her arm looks badly broken, so we ask how we can help. We tell her a hospital visit is likely necessary. We know an ambulance is going to cost, so we offer to call her a Lyft. We soon realize the folly in asking that. The lady doesn’t want to go to the hospital. She insists instead to be sent to her boyfriend’s house. She promises us he’ll take her to the hospital.

I didn’t believe her. It’s clear her avoidance is couched in the cost of our perverted health care system. I’m all too familiar, as I’ve been in her place before. Years back, when I was jobless and living out of my old Subaru, I crashed on my bicycle. I never was able to pay the ambulance or ER bills.

A few days after helping them, I’m riding down the Jordan River Trail once again, past a group of people with Big Gulps. I double back and they stare, rightfully distrustful, until I ask, “Are you the woman we helped on the trail on Saturday?”

“Yes!”

“I didn’t know if I’d see you again!”

She was holding her arm up against a pack of ice. She claims that she did go to a clinic and it wasn’t actually broken. But she talks about how much we helped and how appreciative she is. I never caught her name.

The cynical me also wonders why we live in a society where, when faced with a serious medical emergency, we must weigh the pros and cons of seeking treatment, even if we can afford the emergency transportation.

It seems that everyone that “matters” in town is up-in-arms about what to do with the people that don’t “matter.” They are quick to denounce people in and around places like the Gateway Inn or the Jordan River, concerned about their own paths, not seeing how these paths are all of ours.