Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Welcome to Utah

I've been in Utah a little under 48 hours. Just enough time to really be welcomed back. It's been about nine years since I lived in Utah, but I've been back to visit often enough that I felt like I was on top of what's gone on in my absence. I was wrong.

I commuted by bike today from my sister's house in Cedar Hills to the end of the Trax line at Sandy City Center. Pedaling through Sandy and Draper took me right past the neighborhood where I grew up and many of the places I would frequent.

Things have changed dramatically. The open fields where we used to shoot BB guns at each other are all now commercial developments. In fact, they're in their second generation. The Wal-Mart that used to be there has been redeveloped into another retail complex. It's campaign season, and I noticed from the signs that my high school principal is running for the state legislature. The site of my high school is now a large office building, and the school down the road that replaced it plays football in a stadium that is nicer than the one San Jose State and I'm sure many other small (from a football perspective) universities play in.

The nostalgia notwithstanding, I really knew I was in Utah after two things happened during the train ride. First, there was a man walking around the station carrying a gun case. Sure, it COULD have been a violin in there, but it's more likely it was a deer rifle. Or an automatic weapon. The amazing part, though? Nobody said a word to him or even acted as if it were out of the ordinary to be walking around the city center with a high-power firearm.

Towards the end of the train ride, five or six kids got on and sat near me. These kids were pretty rough and talked about foster homes and other things that suggested that they'd had a tough go of it so far. When they used some profanity, I thought "at least they're not getting high on the train or mugging the other passengers." No big deal. But one of the other passengers, while exiting (pansy had to wait until they couldn't retaliate), paused to let the kids know that the profanity was unacceptable in a public place, and he would go tell on them if they kept it up.

So let me get this straight: a man, walking around the crowded city center with what appears to be a gun, gathers no attention at all. While some kids, who were not hurting anyone and were frankly quite nice and personable, but used some foul language, deserve a talking to? Welcome to Utah, I guess.

The other welcome to Utah moment is courtesy of my sister, who teaches at Orem Junior High. Today was their red ribbon week drug awareness assembly, which was put on by a local magician. He was incredibly funny and entertaining and had the complete attention of the audience, including my sister, who only attended because she had to. During the presentation, he informed everyone that Ford was coming out with a new vehicle designed specifically for the Utah market. It was something a little more than the Explorer, Expedition, or Excursion, since those vehicles didn't offer quite everything needed in this unique market. The vehicle will be called the "Exaltation" and will have row upon row of seating for up to 12 passengers. Each of the 12 seats will have its own jello holder. Of course, with fuel prices where they are, powering a vehicle that large is certainly a concern. But this one is special and should be just perfect for the intended market because instead of running on gasoline, it runs on guilt.

Today's commute was also the day that it finally happened: I crashed on my road bike. In the thousands of miles that I have ridden on the road, I had never crashed until today. Unless you count the time I was doing a track stand at an intersection and fell over before I could unclip. Anyway, I was riding from the office to the train station, and as I crossed the tracks, thought "be careful not to get your wheel caught in there." Within one second, I was down. Fortunately I wasn't going too fast and just banged up my hip and scraped my hand. I hadn't put my gloves on yet, so my hand felt pretty beat up but somehow didn't get cut. Nice to finally have that out of the way.

Though the crash has nothing to do with it, I also decided that with more darkness than daylight, trying to do a 70 mile round trip commute by bike and train is not the best idea I've ever had. It can be summed up quite succinctly as follows:

Likelihood of something bad happening * consequences of said bad thing > personal and societal benefits of biking to work

I may still take the train, at least from time to time, just because I prefer reading to driving. But since the bike commute starts in the morning while it's still dark and finishes in the evening after it's dark, I think I'll play it safe. Riding through an intersection only to discover after I got through it that there was no pavement on the far side pretty much sealed it for me. That and significantly overdriving my headlight at 20 mph and having an Escalade pass me with four inches of clearance may have also had something to do with it.