I think Ted Wilson was mayor of Salt Lake City at the time. Maybe it was Jake Garn or Palmer DePaulis. I don't know. But as I recall it, a long-ago mayor was walking around downtown Salt Lake City with the ebullient Ed Koch, the late mayor of New York City, who was visiting, perhaps as a humanitarian, perhaps out of curiosity, perhaps to grab our self-conscious notions by the collar and drag us into the modern age. Of all the things he said, of all the wisdom he could impart, of all the puffery that those nearest the mayor of the greatest city in the world could puff their swelling heads around, that the most profound thing he had to say about Salt Lake City was something to this effect: "Your sidewalks are very clean."
That was the apparent highlight of a short tour around downtown with local dignitaries. Well, right, it had to be a short tour since—and it's true—add up all the office space in downtown Salt Lake City at that time, and it would have fit inside the World Trade Center, just a fraction of the realm that Mayor Koch ruled. Still, the beaming pride of his words could be felt from Logan to St. George, and by God, we were thrilled the mayor had the good sense to notice our essentially cigarette butt- and bubblegum-free sidewalks. One of the most powerful men in the country was speaking about us. He was complimenting us. It was something we could build upon.
And we did. We beautified Main Street twice, killing it twice in the process. We installed Trax and killed it a third time. We put in bike lanes that have actually helped draw new residents downtown, but those bikes have killed 43 innocent pedestrians over the past three years alone. None of them, by the way, died on our clean city streets or sidewalks. They died at home from racing hearts that exploded at the dinner table after four hours of barely contained high blood pressure inspired by pent-up anger at nearly being run over—again— by a biker speeding and texting down the middle of the sidewalk (bike lanes are for sissies). Mercifully, since those 43 people died outside of downtown, this statistic is never counted against Salt Lake City as a great place to live. With cleaner sidewalks than ever, and 43 fewer pedestrians, I, too, attest that downtown Salt Lake City is better now than I ever remember.
Then, as now, we are proud of our sidewalks. Also, then as now, we are proud when someone from outside of Salt Lake City reassures us that we are good, clean people, by paying notice to us and saying something flattering about us. Yes, we have clean sidewalks, but while we treat our sidewalks with great respect, we litter our campgrounds and fishing holes with so many baby wipes, empty water jugs and tangled fishing lines that even a certified New York City dumpster diver might migrate westward if he or she knew such bounty could be had without the trouble of actually diving inside a dumpster. We seldom show our visiting dignitaries what it actually looks like at those campgrounds in the Ashley and Uinta national forests—we just show them the flyover videos or wait till they're covered in snow. It's our dark secret, and it's staying there, right? Utahns are clean, but they're also dirty. Most people are like that. Most people have dirty secrets.
We just like to show our good side. We want to embellish what others say about us, even when they say something as trivial as having clean sidewalks. As I wasn't exactly sure what Mayor Koch actually said—only remembering the gist of it—I did a Google search and found an article that pretty much cements Salt Lake City as a place that just yearns to be loved. In the Church News section of the Deseret News dated Feb. 4, 1989, I found a quote by Mayor Koch—plus quotes or citations of visits to Temple Square by similar celebrities (who are wiser than pissants) in the prior year, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis, an ambassador from Norway, boxer Muhammad Ali, actress Shirley Jones, actor Hal Linden and British author Shirley Harrison, who said about the building of the LDS Tabernacle, "They certainly must have had God's help." She was raised on tasteless British food, so she would know what God's help actually is.
In the midst of that article (BTW—yes, it was assumed back then that when the words "Church News" were used in newsprint, one knew which church was newsworthy) was a separate quote by Mayor Koch. I'm not sure if it was declared during the same trip in which he spoke of our clean sidewalks but it ranks equally on the importance scale. Here's what he said about our seagulls: "God sent manna to save the Jews; God sent seagulls to save the Mormons. The same God, wasn't it?"
And today, Salt Lakers are again talking about gods and seagulls. The Book of Mormon is playing at the Capitol Theatre, and some people are judging the musical on the Koch relevance meter. Is the content of the play the important thing, or is it that somebody cared enough (or didn't) to use Salt Lakers and Mormons to make a point about religion in the first place? As with Koch, Salt Lake City is reacting like a self-conscious ninth grader, combing hair over its forehead acne. Time to see past the acne. Salt Lake City has become a great and desirable city because we have ever clean sidewalks, gluttonous sea gulls—and thanks to God's help, more than two nightclubs on a city block.