September 30, 2016

The Visible People: The Piano Man

Utah Stories introduces you to some of downtown’s most visible, vibrant characters.

Salt Lake City has a population of over 1 million people now. But most are invisible. They drive out of their garages in their cars into the parking lots of their buildings. Very few people ever walk around downtown these days; most just remain cloistered in their cubicles while in the city and hide in their ramblers in the suburbs. But that’s all changing. This past summer there have been so many people to see. As a professional people watcher, I’m always fascinated when I see people who are a bit outside of the norm.

You see them walking, biking, playing and entertaining. You might think, Who are these folks who live downtown? Who actually walks for exercise? Or performs at the Farmer’s Market?

We may get glimpses of their bikes, the way they dress, or how they behave, but too many of us live somewhat insular lives and don’t know many people who aren’t like us. We play it safe and stick to our cliques and social circles and rarely venture out into the wilderness of the strange and unknown. Here is your chance to meet some of the people who are challenging the norm and are maybe living lives quite different from yours. The only thing these people may have in common with you is they all are visible.

The Piano Man

by Jenna Haerr

The piano man of salt lake

Salt Lake's bicycling piano man is Eric Rich

Eric Rich, 25, leads a charming, alternative life. Every Saturday morning he rides to Pioneer Park to entertain the Farmer’s Market with a stand-up piano trailing behind him along with his partner, Corbin Baldwin. A new tradition this month for Rich & Baldwin is to perform impressionist renditions inspired by their favorite composers.

These performances, though they produce a meager income, suffice to support a communal lifestyle. Rich lives in a house known as the Boing Collective, where the conventions of capitalism are kept to a minimum. For eight years, it has existed as a place of literature & leisure, meant for sharing knowledge and ideas. The Boing Collective boasts its own miniature library, with a wide range of books open to the public. Rich says, “it allows people to feel comfortable in an alienating world.”

Perhaps the most remarkable departure from commercialism is dietary. Rich eats only what he describes as “wasted food,” that which has been deemed to not be saleable by grocery stores. It’s an interesting niche: a window period after conservatively estimated expiration dates, but before actually expiring. Whether donated or scrounged from the bottom of supermarket dumpsters, many in the collective eat for free—sometimes for years at a time. Though rather politically motivated and a direct protest against conspicuous consumption and waste, it is not a martyr’s lifestyle. The food is most typically indiscernible from that of grocery stores, particularly if you like riper varieties. Of course, it helps that Rich’s diet is entirely derived from plants. acquiring your next hamburger in a similar fashion entails greater risk.

To his credit, Rich does not deal entirely with expired food. He is also involved with Food Not Bombs, anorganization in which local grocery stores donate legitimately fresh food for homeless and low-income families. Four days a week, Rich is responsible for collecting the food to distribute it evenly among those in need

Sharing resources is essential to Rich’s survival. “You need favors to survive,” said Rich “some just pay for them.” In other words, if help is needed it will be given.