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A Community Toast


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In early April, I got a call from my old dear friend, Lara Jones. She's the spirited host and executive producer of RadioACTive on KRCL 90.9 radio, Utah's dial point for grassroots activists and community builders. We met in the early days of this newspaper in a galaxy far, far away. In the decades since, she's been a DJ, a business reporter, a radio reporter and producer and rose to become Salt Lake City's first civilian public relations director for the Salt Lake City Police Department. She lent her fine singing voice to bands ranging from punk rock to honky-tonk. Like us, Jones is engaged in telling stories. She gives voice to persons with no voice, and frankly, she needs to be awarded for that.

Here you go, Lara: You're the very best.

Back when Salt Lake County was in the "Stay Safe" mode (it's been so long—is that what it was called?) of coronavirus closures, Jones asked if City Weekly would like to join her show nightly for "a couple weeks, until things open up again" and we'd talk about how Covid-19 impacted persons in Utah's hospitality industry. The hook, she explained, was the show would feature a different local merchant who would offer up a special "quarantine cocktail" and we'd all do a toast to an event, to something newsworthy, to the community or to someone in it.

It didn't take many shows before I had to quit with the real spirits, and I began toasting with water, soda or coffee. Good thing because the show has lasted well beyond the two weeks we envisioned, and we are now finishing month three. That's a lot of day drinking. More than 60 guests have proffered words of wisdom, lent community support and shared tales of soul searching and pain. It wasn't supposed to be like this. None of us believed COVID-19 would keep Utah's hospitality industry shuttered this long. But it has. And it may get worse before it gets better.

When I met Jones in the early 1990s, she was collecting cover charge money at The Word, an iconic nightspot that launched a thousand attitudes. For instance, the original SLUG Magazine, the very definition of attitude, was basically hatched there by J.R. Ruppel (he of Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons), a well-known Word musician and graphic artist.

Back then, the 400 South viaduct stretched all the way to 300 West and everything from there, basically hiding Pioneer Park and then all the way to Interstate 15, was considered "under the viaduct." The Word was in the red brick building at the corner of 400 South and 400 West. It also housed Raunch Records for a time, and musicians could rent rooms upstairs in which to practice (and do other things). The area was sketchy even in broad daylight.

The Word, along with the Speedway Café, particularly, operated by Paul Maritsas and Zay Speed were the epicenter of all things regarding Utah's young and burgeoning punk rock scene. It was a historic time and place for Salt Lake City, one that even an older, non-mosh pit diving fellow like myself could enjoy. Plain and simple, it was vibrant, alive and creative. Anyone who set foot in those places must be in their 50s now, maybe arthritic like me. That makes me chuckle, frankly—Utah's underground scene is closing in on AARP benefits.

The scene grew, became a thing, peaked, and then either self-immolated or dithered, but one day, it was simply gone. Now, as we near four months of coronavirus confusion, we need to all recognize that Salt Lake City itself may never be the same either—which means Utah will never be the same. Despite of how our governor and our backwoods, moralizing Legislature have done all they can to kill Salt Lake City (as I've written about previously), Utah would be a fart in the wind without the capital city. Salt Lake City is Utah. Not Fairview, not Park City, even. For sure not Provo or Cedar City. If Utah is going to recover, Utah must pay attention to Salt Lake City first. And Salt Lake County also.

There will be many places that will suspend business or close before summer ends. Our leadership gap has left citizens and merchants alike confused about their responsibilities and options. A café may open, but if customers are afraid to show up, what's the point? Without openings, why live in an urban center with no vibrancy? If it's not vibrant, why would a major company relocate a business here, or build apartments, even, if persons have adapted to working from home, take out, curbside service and virtual concerts?

Quarantine cocktails ends this week. Friday, July 3, will be our final show, although we may continue at a later date. May you all be around for that. But, I just saw a social media message from downtown's Alamexo restaurant. It's not terribly optimistic: "It is with a heavy heart that I come to you with the following. In light of the current pandemic conditions, we have decided to suspend our operations. We greatly appreciate our guests and staff, we will miss you all. We are hoping to comeback once it is safe to do so. We will keep you posted & look forward to seeing you all again in the future. Chef Matt"

So, Lara and KRCL friends, here's a toast to the in between: "We'll miss you, Alamexo. Great guac! May our state leaders learn to lead and may they wake up or get the hell out of the way. May KRCL continue to keep our communities healthy. May City Weekly survive to tell the story of how. May everyone get through this. Ya mas." CW

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