There was a time in Salt Lake City when newspaper boys stood on downtown corners selling evening newspapers to businessmen who were on their way to the Walgreen’s cafeteria to get dinner. It was an age when every conceivable “sin” could be found on'or, more accurately, confined to'a segment of 200 South. An era when a fatherless minority kid from the west side could learn how to make it on the east side with the help of a man looking for someone to be a father-figure to.
This more innocent time is recalled along with an interesting story in No One Makes It Alone, by Andrew A. Valdez. He was the kid who got taken under the wing of Jack Keller, a white businessman who taught the youngster about tennis and life before “Andy” went on to become “Judge Valdez,” a juvenile court judge who now tries to help young people the way the man who called himself “Jack Mormon” helped him.
Stories of rich white people helping poor minority kids who have obvious athletic talent are not at all uncommon and are often told with sticky sentimentality. What makes this story different is that the man doing the helping was far from rich but, instead, barely getting by. Valdez, a young kid hawking newspapers at the corner of 200 South and Main Street, had no discernible sports skills when Keller invited him to hang out and help out at his small downtown print shop to get out of the cold. Instead of pushing Valdez in the direction of one of the big three sports, Keller got him interested in tennis, a sport dominated by white country clubbers from the east side of town. Keller was no country-club member himself. The only reason he had a new racquet for Valdez to use was because he had won it at Lagoon the previous summer. Valdez had to learn the game by hanging out at the Liberty Park courts and bugging older players to let him hit with them.
Valdez is at his best as a writer when describing the rhythms, customs, hangouts and people of Salt Lake City in the early 1960s, retelling in vivid detail the way in which the city looked and felt. He tells the story without sparing the heartbreaking moments while, at the same time, never letting it become melodramatic.
Yet, for all of the strengths of this book, the fascinating story it contains seems frustratingly incomplete. Part of this stems from how Valdez has chosen to relate the story. If we learned one thing from Karl Malone, it’s that it is better to refer to yourself in the first person rather than the third. Valdez tells the story from a third-person point of view, presumably so that he can let the reader in on Keller’s thoughts and feelings. While this is an admirable intention, it would have been interesting to hear directly from Valdez his own thoughts and feelings about trying to balance the west and east sides of the city'and both sides of his life'as he grew up.
The story also ends rather abruptly. We never get to find out how high Valdez rose in the tennis rankings, what Keller did after closing his print shop, how Valdez ended up succeeding academically or how Keller ended up being a destitute old man getting kicked out of a grocery store when a grown-up Valdez finds him and gets the opportunity to pay Keller’s favor back. Valdez only tells us, “I had not seen Jack for years” but doesn’t tell us why.
Valdez’s story is a good one. It would have been nice to hear more of it.