Spring has sprung in Salt Lake City, though I wouldn't blame you if soaking up the sun, catching a concert and socializing with friends isn't at the top of your list at the moment. Going on five years as an honorary Utahn, I still haven't fully grown accustomed to winters here, and given the state's unique weather patterns, I find that we can't fully trust a calendar when it comes to deciding when one season ends and another begins.
As stupid as it might sound, my very own Punxsutawney Phil is an LED display along 3300 South outside Quality Flowers & Plants. The sign lists the nursery's specials, with a little pause between the items. Filling this gap is an anthropomorphic gopher doing a hula-meets-truffle-shuffle dance. Adding to its simple charm, the blink-and-you-missed-it clip displays the words "Pansy Dance" in a groovy '60s font. During the cold months, however, the electronic mascot goes into "hibernation"—usually when the special on poinsettias rolls around—to burrow into his digital tunnel till springtime.
It goes without saying this past winter was a doozy. Leading up to the current COVID-19 pandemic, like many, my travel plans unraveled, and flu symptoms seemed to linger. Living near the crossroads of South Salt Lake, Sugar House, Millcreek and Canyon Rim, I'd often find myself gloomily traveling up 3300 South. Each time, I'd glance at Quality Flowers' sign with hopes of seeing my animated friend. No dice. He's never wintered for this long before, I thought.
As recently as last week, I figured perhaps the nursery had changed its ad strategy, and my pixelated pal had gone to that mascot retirement home in the sky. (Staying out of trouble, Noid? Who's a good boy, Spuds MacKenzie?)
That all changed on Sunday. News surrounding the virus had gotten even more dire, with the state recording its first COVID-19-related death. Days prior, in response to still-developing events, we scrapped our slated cover story and came up with a pandemic-themed activity book spread. In a weird twist of fate, I ended up in the hospital after sending the paper to press. Since then, my days have been spent continuously blogging, editing other writers' blog posts and funneling everything on City Weekly's social media channels. I hadn't left my place in a few days, but a teleconference session with my family to celebrate a niece's birthday lifted my spirits. I'd run out of creative uses for peanut butter and barbecue sauce, about the only sustenance I had left, so I decided to head out to pick up some quick groceries. "I should get a pizza," I thought. I'd earned it. "Shit, I better get gas while I'm at it." Well, it just so happens there's a magical stretch of road that could lead me to fulfill all those needs: 33rd South.
Tired and a bit discouraged, I started to glanced up at Quality's display as I drove by. But why bother? I thought. He's long gone.
Then it happened.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted him in full Technicolor glory — riding on a red Corvette and dancing his little life away. I was overcome with joy. Hell, I could have very well caused an accident had the streets not been empty. For one second, something so banal filled me with optimistic excitement, and, in a way, let me know things were somehow going to be OK.
Yes, I know how that sounds. But I figure we all have something, tangible or not—an unexpected giggle, a favorite picture, a prized heirloom—that somehow brings us instant solace. As a stranger in a strange land who memorably moved here in the dead of winter 2015 (read: the weekend before Christmas), that electronic gopher is weirdly mine.
Experiencing a temporary reprieve from the fucked-upness of the real world, I also witnessed people leaving their homes to promenade—some holding each other with arms interlocked, as if they were about to square dance. Earlier in the day, I was reading about one of the subjects of this week's cover story—and other groups like it that are helping those most in need during this time, no questions asked—and spotted a Facebook post from a friend with pictures of chalk paintings left throughout his neighborhood depicting vibrant flowers and messages like, "Even the tiniest flowers have the toughest roots."
Not to sound too much like a booster, but it reminded me of the words spoken by Gov. Gary Herbert on March 2. I was at the Capitol's Emergency Operations Center when he announced the creation of a special state coronavirus task force. "There is no state better prepared than Utah," Herbert said about the impending pandemic in his usual rah-rah style. "We have a culture of preparedness, we have a culture of caring about your neighbors, our spirit of volunteerism is legendary ..."
While the current health crisis has brought out the worst in some, it has also brought out the absolute best in many more. It's hard to be numb when businesses and community leaders across the valley are standing up to fill the gaps left by the federal government. At every corner it's apparent that our roots are indeed tough. I would like to think City Weekly is also playing a small part in nurturing those roots.
I'm sure that we will come out of this together, and we will somehow come out stronger. We'll laugh, live and dance together again—that's a promise. And together, we will flourish.