21 May 2017

Hafiz Adewuyi

An adventurous, almost tragic evening at City Creek, Salt Lake City, Utah

This article is part of my Lagos, Nigeria to Salt Lake City (SLC after this point), Utah, US series. Here's a list of all articles in my Lagos to Salt Lake City series. I promise you'll love every bit of it.

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Choreographing fountain at City Creek mall, Salt Lake City
Choreographing fountain at City Creek mall, Salt Lake City

After the day's activities on my second full day in SLC, I and my group headed for the Temple square and City creek mall. We hopped on the train at the Ballpark train (UTA Trax) station for free, even though we later found out that we were not in the free-zone and were expected to pay for the ride.

Oh well. Somehow, that knowledge didn't prompt me to stop my illicit free rides in SLC. I mean, they hardly ever check tickets. You're somehow expected for respect yourself and pay your fare before hopping on. Cute. Before you judge me, a train ticket in one direction, irrespective of your stop is $2.50. Oya, multiply it by 400 and go ahead to judge me for fare evasion. Meanwhile, that's like the cheapest means of transport.

Temple Square
Our first stop once we alighted the train was the Mormon (Church of the Latter Day Saints) Temple square. Here, after looking around for what was a little too long for me, a pair of Mormon sisters (each from a country where English is not widely spoken) took us on a tour around the magnificent temple square. We visited three different places one of which is the temple and another, the Tabernacle. The temple is the most sacred building in the complex.

We were taken into the tabernacle in which everything is allegedly made of wood because the builders were very poor. Getting admitted into the Mormon temple, however, requires a bit of an elaborate process, the most important step of which requires you to answer the question: "Do you think you're worthy to go into this temple"?

Lest I forget, I must mention a couple of notable thing about the Temple square. The attendants at the facility are all young ladies. Second, all the ladies were extremely friendly. Virtually all of the attendants whom I passed by approached me with a smile, introduced themselves and followed with the question: "Where are you from"? It was truly heart-warming to be treated so well by so many people. God bless the sisters at the Mormon temple square, Salt Lake City.


City Creek
Once out of the temple square, we all proceeded to the City Creek mall, which as the name implies is a shopping mall which is built over a naturally occurring creek. Creeks are naturally occurring, right?

Customer service island at City Creek mall, Salt Lake City
Customer service island at City Creek mall, Salt Lake City

The stores in this mall are high-class labels like Nordstrom and Macy's. Google, Microsoft and Apple are also well represented in the store. After a few minutes zombieing around with the group, I got weary of window shopping. Lucky enough, while we were all trudging along the first floor of the mall, I spotted a green bike stand very close to the mall. My heart leapt with joy. I knew at this point that I was gonna part from the group.


Parting from the group
It was not long before I dropped the bomb on my group about my desire to go off on my own. We quickly decided it was wise if we all agreed on a time to re-convene after splitting. I remember the group leader asking if I was sure that 30 minutes would do me for my bikexploration. "Definitely", I replied! Little did I know what fate had in store for me.

Feeling free as a bird, I traced my steps away from the group towards the ground floor. After about five minutes of stumbling around (I suck at navigation) the large mall, I found my way to the GreenBike station. Yaas!


Meeting Rusty And Megan
I brought out my Fidelity debit card from my grey fabric postman bag and used it to check out my choice bike from the station. While dragging the bike out of its lock, a young man and lady reached the station and before long, I could tell they were here to check out bikes as well. I waited for the guy to check out bikes for each of himself and the lady. Then from a safe distance, I said hello. The lady responded first; she was closer to me.

I went ahead to ask if they were biking for transport or for leisure and to my delight, it was for leisure. I told them I would like to tag along and after a few knowing glances at each other, they welcomed me to join them with an "ok". Yaas! Here I was, about to tick off the, "Explore Salt Lake City with locals on a bicycle" box, even though it never existed.

Off we went. The guy, Rusty led the way while we discussed a lot of things first of which was me answering the question, "where are you from"? I went on to find out the basic things about both Rusty and his lady friend, Megan (I never asked if they're in a relationship). Rusty is a final year Computer Engineering student at the nearby University of Utah and is a true local of Salt Lake City, having been there for most of his life. Megan, on the other hand, is not from Salt Lake City. She had come there for school and now, also works there.

I was loving this, you know, this unexpected date with two oyinbo people with whom I could relate easily. It was really exciting and just then, I remembered I had only thirty minutes to do this. I decided at that point not to let that cut my time with Rusty and Megan short. My plan was to make it back in time to the mall to inform my group of my intention to be away for a little longer than we'd agreed. I made this plan known to my new friends and they agreed to come with me. Cool!


Then tragedy struck
Our trio's bicycle ride came to a stop at one intersection where we were approached by a homeless girl. She offered to draw a portrait of Rusty and Megan using a pen on a paper, for some bucks. "It won't take more than ten minutes", she said. My new friends agreed and went on to take their positions on the sidewalk while the girl artist went to work. I took the time out to go check in my bicycle at the nearby GreenBike station (my subscription required a check-in every thirty minutes).

Once checked-in, I decided to check it out immediately so we could continue our trip once the artist was done with my friends. That was when I realised (after searching profusely through all of my clothing and bag) that my debit card (which had over $500 in it) was lost. To get a sense of how terrified I felt upon realising this, you should know that all you need do to use a payment card in the US is swipe it through a POS. No PIN authentication on most machines! Worse still, the only way for me to check out any bicycle on the GreenBike network was to use my card, which I had used to buy the subscription (online).


Finding it
I rushed back to the corner where my new friends sat on their bikes, being sketched in all of their youthful glory. With a forced smile on my face, I broke the news, eliciting an expression of sympathy from them. Then Rusty asked when I last saw the card. I told him I'd used it to check out the bike from the bike station by the City Creek mall. He then suggested that we retrace our steps through the same path we rode through to get here. "Awesome", I said, even though I had very little hope of ever seeing my loaded card again.

I waited a couple more minutes for the transaction between them and the artist to be completed. Rusty collected the paper with both sketches and after a momentary observation, he mentioned to Megan how he thought the sketches were nice. I was too flustered to take a careful look at the drawing but it looked tacky to me from my vantage. Trust me not to have mentioned that.

All three of us set off back in the direction from which we came. I let them know I was terrible with navigation and that I was fully reliant on them to take me back through the exact path we'd come. I offered to jog with them while they each slow-rode their bikes so they wouldn't have to drag their bikes all the way. After about 5 minutes of doing this and no luck, I got the idea to hotlist (block) my card. Worst case scenario, I don't find it and whoever lays their hands on it cannot use it for anything. Best case, I find it and call my team back in Lagos to help unblock it quickly.

My Fidelity Bank Dollar Debit Mastercard Card
My Fidelity Bank Dollar Debit Mastercard Card

Fortunately enough, Fidelity USSD banking *770# (my baby) works for free anywhere in the world with no internet connection (no roaming charges). So I dialled that card hotlisting short-code (*770*911#). I was not so sure it would list my dollar card, so I was excited when I saw the card number in the list of cards I could block. I quickly selected the card and entered my PIN to authenticate.

To my utter dismay, the status message was the very familiar "Service Provider Failure" which I had constructed with my own hands. I knew immediately why this happened because the causative bug came to my notice just a few days before I left Lagos.

No sooner had I seen this message than I heard in Rusty's voice, "there it is". That snapped me right out of my thoughts of how I was having a taste of my own bad medicine. I looked up from my phone and lying right ahead of me, near the top of the only flight of stairs which we'd gone through was my Fidelity dollar debit card in all its glorious colors. Rusty had asked earlier what the colour of the card was, probably why he was able to spot it first while I was distracted.

I totally wanted to give someone a hug at this moment. And I was touched at the core of my heart by the kindness and support that Rusty and Megan had given to me, a stranger who they'd known for less than an hour. Without them, there was an infinitesimal chance that I'd have ever found my lost debit card.


The Adventurous Radical

I picked it up, placed it securely in my postman bag and continued towards the mall with my friends (they opted to continue with me), full of thanks for how kind they had been. It occurred to me how it already was almost an hour after I first split-off from my group. I mentioned to my new friends how everyone is probably furious with me right now for keeping them waiting. To make matters worse, one member of the group kept her wallet in my bag and so, was pretty much shopping-handicapped while I was away.

Five minutes later, I reunited with my group. As I'd anticipated, they were all furious with me for keeping them waiting for so long. I apologised repeatedly; though I was careful to keep the story of the temporal loss of my card from them. No. I could not show any signs of not being able to take care of myself with what I was about to say.

I'm sure they could not see it coming before I dropped the bomb on them. "I want to stay back and do some more cycling around with my new friends", I said. I quickly followed with an, "I'll be okay", feigning a reassuring smile. No one argued with me, even though their unanimous dissent with my decision to stay out late alone in a city I had been in for only two days was palpable. Almost 8 pm.

It didn't help that earlier in the day, the group leader had shared a story of how a Congolese (African) guy had been shot dead by cops in the area, the last time he (group leader) was in Salt Lake City. He had mentioned though, that it was a drug-trafficking issue, so I was not really bothered, knowing it was not a purely racist shooting.


Finding my way back home
I reunited with Rusty and Megan and we went on to cycle the City Creek mall environs for the next 45 minutes before calling it a day. During this phase of cycling, we stopped by a TV studio with see-through walls on the ground floor of a building. A small group of people had gathered to watch a TV news recording in real life through the transparent glass. It was something being behind the camera of a live news session and seeing the text stream along the teleprompter.

I wasn't sure how I was going to get back to my hotel but I wasn't that bothered. After saying our goodbyes, Rusty pointed me to the nearby train station, seeing as I was headed in the wrong direction. I walked onto the waiting platform and noticed there were only thirty minutes left for the trains to halt operation for the day.

There are 3 train lines that run through the Salt Lake city: Red, Green and Blue. I remember we had taken the blue line from our hotel area to the Mormon temple area. So, I waited for the blue train going in the opposite direction (as my group came in) to arrive at the station. That took about ten minutes. Next, I had to determine where to stop. To do this, I had to remember the number of stops done by the train which had brought us in earlier in the day. I settled at 3.

When I alighted at the third stop, I looked around and nothing looked familiar. The area was totally residential, with low lights and no one in sight. After wandering for a few minutes, I figured I must have counted the stops wrong. So I walked back to the nearby train station and waited for the next train that was going back in the opposite direction. I allowed this train take me two stops backwards. Still, nothing in the area looked familiar.

Night temperature was about five degrees below day temperature (which is quite cool). Hence, at this point, my palm needed a bit of warming love. Also, I was tired both in body and spirit as my despair was growing. I walked somberly to the seat on the station platform. There were about four other people in the station area at this time and I was starting to fear for my safety. I took a seat nonetheless.


The Fallen Angels
The closest to me were a homeless-looking man and another young lady that didn't look too healthy to me. After a minute or so, I summoned up the courage to ask the man for directions. I mentioned the name of the hotel and mentioned that it's very close to the Sheraton Salt Lake City Hotel (I hear Obama once stayed at this Sheraton).

Turns out he wasn't very sure how to get there, so he beckoned to the lady. The lady turned out to be my heaven-sent angel because as soon as the man briefed her, she turned to me and asked: "close to Mig (that's how they say Mac) Donalds, right"? "Yeah, yeah", I said excitedly. There's a McDonalds outlet right beside the Crystal Inn Hotel where I stayed during my time in Salt Lake City.

She then went ahead to tell me the closest station (Courthouse) to the hotel was just one stop away in the forward direction. I thanked both of them briefly and hopped on the next train as soon as it arrived. After a smooth one minute ride in a near-empty train cabin, I arrived at CourtHouse, as announced by the female computer voice. With a silent prayer in my heart that I would be able to find my way back 'home' from here, I alighted the train.

Turns out the lady was right. After walking for less than ten minutes, I could see my hotel straight ahead. I was thankful that I didn't have to sleep in the cold streets that night because of course, the thought had crossed my mind. It was not until almost midnight before I stepped foot in my hotel room for the last time that day.

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