Heavy Utah snows mean big floods are coming to a river near you. | Private Eye | Salt Lake City Weekly

Heavy Utah snows mean big floods are coming to a river near you. 

Private Eye

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I barely remember what the coming of spring was like in 1983, only that I lived in a little white, brick home on Main Street in Midvale, just a few yards across the road from one of the largest Superfund sites in the country.

The basement was the first office for what became this newspaper in 1984. I had a nice garden—thanks, Superfund site!—a golden retriever named Doochie and neighbors who never spoke to me, setting in motion a tradition that lives on to this day.

I remember getting ripped off by a kid with a fancy lawnmower (who but a dummy like me would pay $75 to have their grass cut in 1983?), but I don't remember shoveling the big snow they say we had that year. I surely didn't hire the kid who had already picked my pocket. Still, by the end of May, there were growing conversations that, "Geez, is that snow up there ever going to melt?"

It did, and soon every stream along the Salt Lake Valley rim—even those over in the Oquirrh Mountains—began to overflow their banks. The Jordan River bordering the Superfund site was flowing strong enough to scrub away the crap that had accumulated for decades in the neglected river, exposing a tossed away washing machine here and an auto chassis there. Few back then cared about the Jordan River, though.

It wasn't until waters flowing out of the Cottonwood, Millcreek, Parleys and City Creek canyons riled up the finer residents living on those banks that serious action was undertaken. Famously, City Creek—long ago a surface, free-flowing, exposed waterway—exploded out of its subterranean hiding place and ran downhill along State Street. I believe it was diverted west along 400 South, so there was a river there, too, memory being that I had to step lightly to enter Club Cabana (now The Green Pig).

One day, as I was driving home, the radio announced that help was needed to fill and distribute sandbags. One of the sandbag-loading stations was close to home, so I got a shovel and volunteered.

There's not much to filling a sandbag—that was easy. What wasn't easy was filling them among hundreds of short-attention-span Boy Scouts, the normally lazy people like me who worked night shifts, the elderly who remembered pitching in during the Great Depression and other sundry people just trying to do a good thing.

I was just catching my stride when I heard my name called out. Huh? Who could I possibly know here? Then it came again from amid a dozen or so guys in orange clothing that I quickly guessed as a prison gang. Not only were they not mingling all over the place, they clearly had a guard among them. I walked their way and one of the prisoners shouted my name and waved me over.

There was a brief discussion between him and the guard and, pretty soon, I was filling bags with the prisoners. Those guys were really, really good at loading sandbags. They were the members of the Flame N Goes—prisoners who could earn good behavior points and a few bucks by fighting fires in the Intermountain West. On this day, they were filling sandbags.

That dark evening, I tossed those bags along homes in upper Millcreek and along Big Cottonwood Creek near what is now Hog Wallow Pub, before the area was ruined by big homes. The Flame N Goes didn't get that duty.

There's no need to bring up the prisoner by name, but I grew up with him. He graduated a couple of years before me at Bingham High School and had, up until his imprisonment, what one can generously say was an interesting life. We were always friends, hiking in Bingham Canyon, nursing baby rabbits, hanging out in the crazy State Street bars of the 1970s, him disappearing for stretches with his motorcycle buddies. I was one of the very few who stayed in communication with him after he was incarcerated.

He appreciated that. I never asked him about the night he killed a man. He appreciated that, too. Court reports and news accounts told the details as they were exposed, so there was no need to do that anyway. He was found guilty by a jury of his peers.

What no one ever knew, though, was why the shooting that ended a promising young man's life—my childhood buddy was a near perfect marksman—occurred in the first place. But it did, emotionally destroying the victim's family and altering the course of so many others lives, mine included. Yet, there he was, those many years later, filling sandbags.

I can attest that while he had a genuinely gentle side, nobody messed with him prior to prison. He was a notoriously good bar bouncer. To say he had some influence among his fellow orange-clad Flame N Go bunch was obvious. He earned his way into time release, too, evidenced one night at about 3 a.m. by him awakening me at home with a bottle of rum, ankle bracelet be damned.

He was released in the early 1990s and later died alone. I don't know why looking out my window this snowy day reminds me of all that, but it did. Something must be telling me that come warm weather we need to get our act together, fill some sandbags and be on the alert for circumstances that will change our lives.

It also reminds me that lifelong sandbagger Donald Trump will have his day, too. But everyone is already talking about that.

Send comments to john@cityweekly.net

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About The Author

John Saltas

John Saltas

John Saltas is a lamb eating, Bingham Canyon native, City Weekly feller who'd rather be in Greece.

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