If you haven’t been to Salt Lake City, you may not know what to expect when I reference its downtown. You may picture something like New York City, the way I know it from films (alas, I only know it from films). Take that mental picture, reduce the height of the buildings by 80%, double the width of the streets, mute the honking, and divide the density of people on the sidewalks by something like one hundred. If you’re picturing it at night, remove the pedestrians entirely. In a valley filled nearly to the brim with suburban sprawl, what I consider downtown consists of perhaps a square mile, if I want to be generous.
What we in Salt Lake do have in common with other cities’ downtowns, however, is a homeless contingent. This brief anecdote concerns a pair of apparently homeless men sitting atop one of the planters that lines the sidewalk outside of my office building. In search of lunch (inevitably to arrive at one of pretty much the only four places I eat), I was making my way up the street, just coming into the invisible cloud of sweet-smelling putrescence generated by this pair. One of the men held out his arm, his hand a fist. The sidewalks in downtown Salt Lake are also quite wide, so he had hardly put himself in my path. Regardless, I took note of this strange gesture. As I stepped closer, his companion clutched the outstretched limb, pulling it down slightly by the elbow. This companion implored the other, “It’s cool, man. He’s a long-hair.”
From what I can’t be sure, but the man relented, his arm falling back to his side, allowing me and my noted long hair to pass in peace. Naturally, when one is granted clemency by some grace, yet the consequence one is saved from remains unknown, one does not stop to inquire as to what would have otherwise transpired or why such an attribute spares one from such. One just keeps walking.
Lately, I’ve been of the mind that perhaps I should cut my hair. However, knowing that it fosters an apparent sympathy with the local, dejected transients, I wonder if there isn’t some benefit to keeping it. You know, in case of a homeless uprising.