Reinventing the Wheel 

Becker rolls out plans for rickshaw fleet

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Mayor Ralph Becker has a bold new plan to regain the widespread popular support he’s squandered the past couple of years with various boneheaded projects, among them plans to impose a vehicle diet on Sunnyside Avenue, shoehorn police headquarters into Library Square and, most recently, shove a streetcar down 11th East.

Most important, however, Becker hopes that his bold new plan will put him back in the good graces of Salt Lake City’s bicycle fanatics, who discarded him like a sweat-soaked crotch chamois after he disbanded the once-powerful Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee in 2012. (Even though the bicycle people were given a seat at the mayor’s transportation master-plan sessions, they invariably complained that the seat was old-fashioned and un-ergonomic and caused numbness in their pelvic regions.)

The always-colorful mayor has been teasing constituents for months with vague hints about his latest transportation innovation. There was so much hype attached to the project that it couldn’t possibly live up to expectations. However, the joke was on the skeptics at yesterday’s big announcement when the mayor rolled out (literally) the answer to the city’s transportation problems.

With his trademark yellow bicycle helmet on his head and a triumphant grin on his face, the mayor pedaled around the corner of City Hall pulling a fire-engine-red rickshaw. After a stunned silence, the audience—city functionaries, news-media types, common citizens and a few scattered bicyclists attired in form-fitting spandex shorts and absorbent chamoises—broke into cheers that morphed into chants of “Rickshaw RALPH, Rickshaw RALPH,” as the beaming mayor did victory laps around Washington Square.

Only when the mayor dismounted and approached the podium did the chants die out. But when he promised every person in the crowd a free ride in the inaugural rickshaw, the chants resumed.

“Rickshaw RALPH, Rickshaw RALPH, Rickshaw RALPH.”

It was hard for the mayor to follow up such a spectacular entrance, but he did his earnest best to inform the audience about the history of the rickshaw and why it was the vehicle of the future. Rickshaw Ralph provided many fascinating facts about the rickshaw: its early vehicular predecessors such as the sedan chair, the Roman chariot (“Remember Chuck Heston in Ben Hur?”) and the Nephite shezdick; its Asian beginnings (jinrikisha in Japan); its great utility in the 19th century in the great cities of Tokyo, Singapore and Bombay; its superiority over the golf cart, which many transportation experts claim is the wave of the future.

“We want to avoid any motor-driven vehicles,” said the mayor, “whether electrical or fossil-fuel powered. What about horse-drawn carriages, some people ask, like the ones down around Temple Square? I say, you gotta be kidding me. We’d have the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on our tail, and what’s more, who would shovel all those horse apples off Highland Drive?”

The mayor then went on to address the perception that he is out of touch.

“I’m sick and tired of all the flak I’ve caught for my Sunnyside diet and my Sugar House streetcar. I still think the Sunnyside diet is healthy, especially with the free sushi samples available on Guardsman Way. As for those cable cars in Sugar House, well, they made San Francisco famous, and they will be just the ticket for a Tony Bennett song about Salt Lake City, instead of that song about Sal Tlay Ka Sity, the most perfect place on Earth, in The Book of Mormon musical on Broadway, which, by the way, will be the first show in my new Broadway-style theater on Main Street, despite the fact that it’s way too big to be a real Broadway theater—that’s why we call it a Broadway-style theater.”

The mayor paused and cleared his throat.

“Finally, I notice several spandexed bicyclists out there in the crowd. I hope you guys and gals will pull on your shorts, adjust your chamoises and get onboard my Rickshaw Initiative. We’ll need experienced cyclists to pull the rickshaws, in addition to the traditional rickshaw runners on foot, who will mostly be fat school kids who need the exercise.

“I can’t offer you any remuneration at the present time, but I hope the pleasure of pulling a rickshaw will be inducement enough. For passengers, tourists or other-wise, who might be offended by seeing your butts in their faces as you pedal the rickshaws, I will make available a translucent modesty shield, the rickshaw equivalent of the booze-obscuring Zion Curtain.”

Rickshaw Ralph strapped on his helmet and wheeled his rickshaw toward the crowd.

“Who wants a ride?” 

D.P. Sorensen writes a satire column for City Weekly.

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