In the aftermath of 9/11, Pete Dixon’s job changed. The then-new airport express shuttle driver said he found himself, with other Christians, standing as a human wall between praying Muslim cabbies and the traffic that sped by them.
Between the racial slurs and thrown bottles, it was the least Dixon, now 63, could do for his new friends, who as Muslims pray five times a day.
“They need to get back inside,” he recently called out from his van, where take-out Somali food sat beside him. “This [building] has been a model of good relations, and that’s been spoiled.”
The building Dixon spoke of is the modest brick one beside the lot where, until earlier this week, taxi and shuttle drivers queued up before making airport pick-ups. The doors to the then-vacant building opened in 2001, offering refuge for drivers who, on slow days, might wait several hours before being dispatched. Inside were a restroom and a break room, vending machines, a television and a microwave.
There also was the small area deemed a “quiet room,” where drivers, presumably of all faiths and backgrounds, could offer prayers, meditate, take naps or simply sit in silence, away from public taunts.
But fallout over this room, in fact the whole building, has been anything but quiet. One man filed a complaint in October with a federal agency, and last month he was charged with assaulting a Muslim taxi driver. On Jan. 18, amid the growing tensions, the Salt Lake City International Airport closed the small building permanently to drivers. (MORE)